Leek and potato soup…

As you know I’m always attempting to channel (nearly wrote Chanel…which is appropriate too) Nigella and find myself increasingly pushed for freezer space as I sling more and more stuff in that might ‘come in handy’ for a later food event (that’s known as lunch or dinner to some people). Well, I had a proper NLM (Nigella Lawson Moment) and no, before any of you wisecrackers say it, it did not involved porcelain skin, buxom curves and my cavorting in the Trevi Fountain in a posh frock…but oh how I would trade up if I could!! It involved stock (and I think the lady herself would agree that is pretty high peaking on the scale of luscious moments) – vegetable stock to be precise.

Okay, okay…

I’m over egging this. My damnable conscience is prickling my skin with disbelief at the egging, bigging and pursed-lipped bragging that just occurred. I’ll level with you, it’s just the water from various blanched, quick cooked and short boiled vegetables. In my defence I can only say I dream of Nigella’s freezers (not a euphemism) and aspire. Also, in my pitiful defence I will say this, the water from those various blanched, mostly cruciferous vegetables, is surely better to use in a soup than just flinging plain water in?!? What about just using some form of pre-made stock I hear you say, half stifling a mocking laugh. Well, I have indeed considered this idea and am a multi-user of the Marigold bouillon brand (reduced salt or organic natch) but I also wanted to create a health laden soup that can sit snug in its bowl brimming with borderline smugness at its lack of any additives except those endowed by the mother of us all…nature! What nutrients actually survive the cooking process is debatable but the water is flavoured which gives a deeper taste and loads less sodium than the bouillon. Win, win…

Jeez I needed rousing violins underscoring all that didn’t I?!

Anyhoo…at the end of the day (as people insist on saying to which the only real answer is, ‘…it gets dark’) I made a leek and potato soup that is seasonal, locally grown, the simplest ever recipe and super healthy. Hoorah.

It must be these endless wintry months that is triggering this soup obsession! Or maybe the #leekgate situation in the root vegetable bake recipe that is as yet unresolved. AND unlike the tomato soup, previously posted, this is in season now and therefore we can gorge on it without any fear of karmic damage to our carbon wotsit. Hoorah.

So literally all I do is chop up the leeks and potatoes into smallish bits. Use as much as possible of both.

Keep the skins on the potatoes. Rinse the leeks to remove any lurking soil. Then I always sauté them for a few minutes in a smidgen of olive oil. If they colour up a tad (the heat is too high?) no matter it adds a certain something, and this version isn’t going to be winning any beauty pageants any time soon…! Then I sprinkle on a touch of white pepper (adjust this seasoning later) and the bouillon powder (I usually use Marigold brand and often the reduced salt).

Then I cover the whole lot in water – the vegetable water aforementioned – stir and bring it to the boil. Don’t worry if there are any bouillon lumps they’ll soon be beaten into submission. Once it boils reduce to a simmer, partly cover and leave for fifteen/twenty minutes or so till the potatoes are cooked.

I’ve no idea how long actually I just check it and when it’s done …it’s done. Unlike boiling potatoes for mash or some such it doesn’t really matter if the whole boiling lot fall to pieces! In fact I usually let the potatoes  crumble a bit then set about the whole thing with a potato masher.

The decision on the consistency of your soup is, of course, as ever, yours. Exercise this right of personal taste now. If you like a chunky, brothier soup then just mush the potatoes and leeks with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher to break them up until your happy. Otherwise get a trusty hand blender thingie and give it a few short blasts for a half puréed feel, or keep going until it’s a smooth blended loveliness.

Taste and adjust the seasoning…essentially the white pepper. You don’t need to add salt. Really. You don’t. I’m sure Nigella would add a swirl of cream too…but she’s a minx and I’m too vain…but I do sling a few chopped herbs on top for an added taste and nutrient kick

The winter months challenge our drive to eat locally grown produce but leeks are a fantastic gift to us. They are in season pretty much from the start of November right through till April. Chock full of healthy things like vitamins and minerals, folates and specially, like garlic and other alliums, antioxidants (notably allicin) which does lots of wondrous things like help lower cholesterol, help reduce blood pressure and, if that wasn’t enough, it acts as a general anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal…leeks rock! If you don’t like them then either learn to like them (don’t be so nesh!) or just chuck one under your pillow to have a vision of your future loved one. Hmmm…the wives tale says ‘husband’ but I can’t believe leeks are so sexist and wouldn’t also conjure up the vision of a future wife, partner, or whatever takes your fancy…after all it’s your vision…

The humble potato, the staple of millions of tables, has a fair bit to offer on the nutrition front so rethink your opinion and, more importantly, your cooking methods. First don’t believe everything you read about GI indexes and all that, because in truth, the results vary hugely depending on considerations like type, origin, the method of cooking, even the temperature they’re eaten at, all play a part in how it breaks down in your body. Complex carbs keep you fuller longer and release slower so you have sustained energy. Potatoes (with their skins!!) have vitamins B6 (crucial for cell regeneration) and C (healthy cells, growth and repair of tissue, boosts the immune system and much more), folate and minerals such as potassium (water balance, blood pressure management, nerve function), iron (transports oxygen, helps make red blood cells, fights fatigue of body and mind) and manganese (helps utilise key nutrients, protects nerves, helps build strong bones, protects cells). They are a good source of fibre and a handful of those handy phytochemicals we need (potatoes store nutrients to fight infections and promote new growth which are thought to have antioxidant properties for us too).

A note about the Reduced Salt Marigold Swiss Vegetable bouillon. I love it, don’t get me wrong but like many, many things these days it contains palm oil. I’m a little perplexed over the palm oil sitch. Palm oil demand is huge and growing ever bigger. It is used as a cheap, trans fat free alternative to partially hydrogenated oils (which are bad and wrong) in thousands of products from foods stuffs to cosmetics. The demand has meant mass deforestation – critically in countries (like Malaysia and Indonesia) where there are several species already on the verge of extinction. Although the Marigold brand makes of point of saying their source is sustainable I wonder what the plantation replaced? AND the jury is still well and firmly still out on the health claims. The makers of the stuff claim it has a cancer fighting form of vitamin E whereas others say the high processing it goes through destroys any nutrients and health benefits and just leaves a saturated fat that doesn’t even assist cholesterol or indeed anything! Hmmm….

Tomato and rice soup…

Basically this story starts with a can of Campbell’s condensed soup – ‘mmm mmm good’ and all that. I loved this soup so much and then, as seems to happen with favorite items, the company discontinued it. Thanks Campbell’s. Okay, okay…they haven’t discontinued it, but they have repackaged it with the twee new name of ‘Old Fashioned Tomato Rice soup’…’You may also like Chicken With Rice…’, they chirrup…well, no, actually I would not, so naff off. Anyway, as I’m the snippy sort, I’ve turned my back on the tinned version and started making my own.

Hold on though, let me tell you something else. It’s december and I’m buying tomatoes?!?! What’s wrong with me?!? They’re not in season! Britain’s growing season is officially March till October (and that’s pushing it, love) so what in the name of Devi Annapurna am I doing buying tomatoes in December? Pur-lease. They’re not that great at the best of times but come on, some flown-in, carbon footprint wrecking, insipid tasting, red orbs that have been bred to please our body fascist aesthetics in some far flung land are hardly the way forward. No wonder I’m roasting the poor forced darlings…(breathe, breathe…)


As I’ve said before I’m a bit rubbish with the whole recipe malarkey as I usually make it up as I go along but I’m bowing to pressure and attempting to include one here…well…it’s a recipe of sorts…don’t judge me!

  • 16 tomatoes (cos that’s what I had) – try greengrocers or market stalls for tomato deals. Chances are they might think the tomatoes are at the end of their tether but that’s when they are ideal for this soup. Don’t be afraid of produce that’s not body-beautiful or a tad past it’s prime – everything has its time and place.
  • A right big beggar of an onion – chopped up
  • A couple of medium sized carrots – washed, trimmed and chopped up
  • Few choice herbs. I flung some dried basil in. Ubiquitous to add basil I know but the dried stuff seems to work and you’re more likely to have it as a store cupboard staple (arent you?!) I’ll be honest and tell you that as I was rummaging for a green herb to add I saw paprika so I pinched a soupçon (terrible pun) of that in too…I’m on the edge arent I?!?
  • Chicken broth – obviously this could be/should be vegetable stock (Marigold boullion being my choice of the powder form. This only applies if you’re not a pupil of Nigella and don’t have a freezer full of old ice cream containers with various stocks you’ve made earlier…) – anyway, I like the chicken undercurrent and it’s all there was today so…
  • A mug of rice. I use brown as it’s just better for you and the nuttier taste adds a certain something I think, but the original was of course bleached white grains that mushed in your mouth. Hmmm…gak!

Chop the tomatoes across their middles and place them on their heads and tails on a roasting tray. Brush a touch of olive oil over them and season if you fancy. Bear in mind the stock will be salty, unless you use a reduced sodium version, but even so go easy on the salt please. Let the flavour of the tomatoes be the queen here and not usurped by salt! Roast these for a good 40 minutes in a hottish oven or until they are starting to colour and seem to dry out as-it-were.

You could turn the oven down really low and just let them shrivel and intensify (not burn though!) and you’d have delicious slow roasted tomatoes which you can keep in the fridge for a good while (especially if you keep them in olive oil) and add them to everything. Bliss.

Anyhoo…after you’ve put the tomatoes in put the rice on to cook and then when the tomatoes are nearly done sauté the onions and carrots with the basil (keep them moving as you don’t want them to catch, just to surrender). After a few minutes add the stock and let the whole thing gently simmer till the tomatoes are ready. Add them to the broth and carry on simmering them to get them all to mingle like a middle class suburban swingers party. Get in! Or just turn off the heat, put a lid on it and let it cool down.

Once it’s cool enough to blend, do so. I use a hand held jobbie as I can’t be faffed with all the back and forth of a blender…but do what you have to do. Blend it to the consitency you fancy…that’s your choice and let no one take it from you! Add the rice…and voila!

BTW tomatoes are pretty good for you too. These fruits contain vitamins (A,C and E) and flavonoids (anti-inflammatories) and minerals. The biggest fuss is about their lycopene content. This is an antioxidant that mops up free radicals (that damage your cells), and therefore help in the battle against cancer, and has been linked recently to healthier, less wrinkly skin – score! Two very important factors to consider are that, firstly, the tomato must be eaten whole to get the true benefits (surely life’s too short to peel a tomato anyway…sheesh…!) AND the ‘meddled-with’ tomatoes that arrive from abroad have usually been bred to last longer and this can potential negate their health benefits…so, as I like to say at any opportunity, gorge on them when they are in season and then forget about them for the rest of the year…

…thank you.