Saturday, February 10, 2007

potato-leek soup

Teresa was from Spain. She had dark brown hair cut in one of those simple, short styles that look chic on European women but frumpy on me. She had the knack for finding the one cool, whimsical pair of earrings in an antique shop full of junky knick-knacks. She spoke English with an exotic accent and showed us artistic pictures she'd taken of her American boyfriend on vacation on Majorca. She seemed so sophisticated. I was a little in awe of her. She and her boyfriend were part of a group of friends of an ex-boyfriend of mine, a guy who was all wrong for me, though at the time I clung to him, embarrassingly, like a codependent fool. One Thanksgiving, the year I was 23, we drove up to Champaign-Urbana, where he had a friend in grad school, to spend the long weekend with them. I'd never met them before then. They were funny and friendly, well-traveled and intellectual, hipsters in an almost nerdy way, and we spent the weekend cooking, going to antique shops, talking about books ... just talking, talking, talking. I'd have enjoyed myself immensely if I hadn't been obsessing over the fact that they all had known my predecessor quite well and worrying that I didn't measure up to her. I ended up never seeing them again because the boyfriend and I broke up not long after that. But something good came from it because it was that weekend when I learned to make this soup.

Teresa made it for one of our meals that weekend. She didn't use a recipe but directed us as some of us peeled potatoes and others washed the sandy insides of the leeks. The simple soup is a staple of French cuisine, I have since learned, and is served hot or cold (which makes it Vichyssoise). All I knew then was that it was hearty and delicious, perfect for a chilly fall weekend in the Midwest. So good, in fact, that everybody pestered her for the recipe. I scribbled down notes on a piece of looseleaf notebook paper as Teresa — occasionally grasping for the proper terms in English — took us through the process. It's a pretty easy soup to make. She explained how to separate the layers of leeks to get them completely clean. She told us to sauté the onion and leeks under a "low fire" until they were "translucent." To cut up the potatoes into small pieces and add them, and the beef broth ("consumée"), cooking them until the potato falls apart easily when you press it against the side of the pot with the back of your wooden spoon.

The sheet of paper has become messy and stained with time, and I don't bother to pull it out anymore because it's mostly in my head. Over the years, I have fiddled with the recipe, sometimes upping the number of leeks, sometimes using chicken broth instead of beef broth, sometimes skipping the onion altogether, sometimes, throwing in garlic and various spices. A few years ago, I saw a similar recipe in one of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks, but he added chick peas, so now I often do that, too. Tonight, I mashed six cloves of garlic through the garlic press and scraped them into the pot to sauté with the leeks and added two teaspoons of coriander because I was curious how it would affect the flavor. It wasn't bad. In fact, I think Teresa would be proud.


Kristine said...

ahhh...memories! i always love when you can make something by memory instead of needing to use the recipe that was once written down. it's neat to look back at it and see how much you have chnaged it to meet your own likes/dislikes.

Susanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susanne said...

That is just classic - the wrinkled, stained recipe, with the best soup in the world!!!

Out of curiosity, who was the boyfriend you clung to like a "codependent fool"? Was it DT? Don't worry, we've all had such a relationship (myself absolutely no exeption).