My wife and I both work for the same college, and we have roughly equivalent schedules. Because of this, chores tend to get distributed evenly, at least in terms of quantity. We have, though, found some areas in which we each excel, which we’ll casually take the reins to do. One of the things I tend to volunteer for is preparing meals.
A person with whom I shared much of my childhood, whose company I never much enjoyed, had a habit of saying at the dinner table, “There are two type of people in this world: people who eat for enjoyment, and people who eat to survive. I eat to survive.” I’m firmly on the other side of this argument. I love the process of eating, which for me has developed outward to include finding or growing the food, processing and preparing it, cooking it, making it look nice, sharing it, reusing and repurposing leftovers, and recycling what’s left. In this way, the process of eating resembles the life cycle itself.
This love of eating and recognition of its place as a natural, even spiritual act, is one of the Important Life Lessons I want to impart upon my children. It makes sense, then, that it’s one of the things I’d like to share on A Child Grows in Brooklyn. With that in mind, I’ll be regularly incorporating my family’s “Adventures with Food” into my posts here. Because much of our eating is seasonal, hopefully you’ll find recipes and tips you can use right away. For my first, I’d like to relate my own coming-around to one of the great winter warmers, potato-leek soup.
Before I met my wife, I’d never had potato-leek soup. I’d seen any reason to, honestly. I’ll even be completely honest: I didn’t really know what a leek was until maybe ten years ago. I had seen potato-leek soup at just about every deli in the city since I moved here, but had zero interest. I have a specialized gag reflex that’s triggered by pretty much any cream-based soup or sauce—Alfredo, a la King, Boston chowder, stroganoff, you name it—and pretty much every version of potato-leek soup looked, well, cream-based.
“It doesn’t have to be creamy,” my wife told me. Yeah, tell that to Google. I looked and looked, online and in my cookbooks, and pretty much every one of the recipes called for at least a cup (many times two cups!) of heavy cream. For at least a year afterward, I left it at that.
Then, walking through the farmer’s market one late-autumn day, I noticed what looked like giant green onions. Did I mention how much I love green onions? The raw bite on top of chili or in a salad, the deeper hues cooked into chili or simmered in olive oil—heck, I love the Booker T and the MG’s instrumental a little bit more just because of its title. And these were the biggest green onions I’d ever seen!
You can probably see where I’m going with this. I looked down, saw the sign labeled “Leeks,” and immediately bought two of the beautiful giants.
“They are pretty,” Christine said on my return home. “Now what are you going to do with them?”
“I guess I’m going to learn how to make potato-leek soup,” I said, and began frantically searching again through my cookbooks for a recipe that sounded remotely palatable. After an afternoon of scanning recipes for the nefarious “___ cups of cream” on the ingredients list, I opened the aptly-if-boringly-titled Soups, Starters& Salads, a giant tome an old roommate had given me years earlier. The cookbook’s pages belie its title—I’ve frequently leafed through it just to look at the beautiful full-color photos of each recipe—and when I found its recipe for potato-leek soup I noticed the pictures attached appeared notably non-creamy. The ingredients list was simple: six ingredients, none of which involved dairy. I had my recipe.
I’ll get to the recipe, paraphrased with a few of my own notes and alterations, below. First, I should say that my first experience with those two beautiful leeks was four years ago, before either String Bean or Butter Bean had joined our family. Potato-leek soup has become an integral part of our winter table. String Bean, who thus far is still a bit soup-averse, has become a master at the art of the dip with the chunks of crusty bread that are essential to the potato-leek experience (the cookbook actually listed it as the seventh ingredient in the recipe). I even tried to grow leeks in our garden this year, though they now, eight months after I germinated and planted them, still look more like disgruntled green onions. (If anyone has any advice or know-how on what I might be doing wrong, please do let me know!)
So, the recipe.
- 2 leeks, chopped into rings—I like to use the whole leek, including the green part which I find most tasty, but know that if you do the soup will have a greenish, pea soup-like color. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
- 3-4 tablespoons butter and/or olive oil, in any combination—The more butter, the richer (and less healthy) the soup.
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3-6 cloves garlic, minced—This is our family’s addition to the original recipe, as we find it hard to eat anything savory without garlic. Use as much or as little as you like.
- 1 lb potatoes, cubed—I think Yukon gold are the best combination of pretty and floury, but Idaho are also good. While I generally love red potatoes, I don’t think they work well in this soup.
- 3 cups Stock—We use vegetable, as my wife doesn’t eat meat. Chicken stock works well as well, and probably even beef stock. Come to think of it, probably any stock will do.
- Salt and pepper—To taste, of course.
First, get the butter/oil, leeks, onions, and garlic sautéing in the soup pot, stirring occasionally until everything’s soft and getting translucent, but not quite brown.
Next, add the potatoes and give it a stir. After a couple of minutes add the stock. Bring it to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer and cover.
Finally, play with the kids for about 45 minutes while the apartment fills up with one of the deepest and truest scents of winter. But don’t forget to stir occasionally. Serve with large hunks or rolls of crusty bread.
John Proctor is our resident dad and will be writing on his experience living and raising his two children in Brooklyn. He has lived in Brooklyn since 2000, and been a father since 2009. Besides keeping company with his wife, two daughters, and chihuahua, he also writes memoir, fiction, poetry, criticism, and just about everything in the space between them. His work has been published in Superstition Review, Underwater New York, Defunct, New Madrid, Numero Cinq, McSweeney’s, New York Cool, and Gotham Gazette, and he serves as Editor for Hunger Mountain Journal of the Arts. He teaches academic writing, media studies, and communication theory at Manhattanville College. He can be reached at email@example.com and would love to hear from all of you!