Creamy Leek and Potato Soup

The season of soups and stews is in full swing!  I’ve always been curious about trying a leek and potato soup, with its earthy flavors and creamy texture.  However, let me preface the rest of this post by saying that this isn’t Julia Child’s famous recipe.  I wanted a healthier version that didn’t use heavy cream.  I came across a vegetarian version of the soup on Life As a Strawberry, but used chicken broth instead of vegetable stock and also changed up the way I dealt with the potatoes.  On a gloomy day like today, I thought I’d share my version below!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 leeks, roughly chopped (rinsed thoroughly to remove any dirt)
  • 4 large yukon gold potatoes, roughly chopped  (I used 3 red potatoes and 1 russet for this post because…that’s what I had in the pantry)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 1 cup milk

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a large saucepan or pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  2. When oil is hot, add leeks, potatoes, garlic, salt and pepper. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes or until leeks have softened.

    Saute Leeks, Potatoes, and Garlic
  3. Add vegetable stock to pot and stir to combine.
  4. Strip leaves from thyme sprigs and add to pot. Stir to combine.
  5. Bring soup to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are cooked through and easily pierced with a fork.
  6. Add milk to soup and stir to combine.
  7. Remove soup from heat and carefully remove potatoes from the soup, and place them in a large bowl.  Mash potatoes with a potato ricer (or pastry blender in a pinch!).  Blend the remaining liquid contents of the soup in a blender until smooth, or use an immersion blender.

    Puree Leek Mixture
  8. Stir riced potatoes back into the soup, and season with salt and pepper as needed.*

    Mash Potatoes Separately

*I don’t like the idea of blending potatoes, because the blending process changes the potato texture to be gummy.  This soup won’t be silky smooth, but I prefer that texture to that of gummy potatoes.  That being said, if you don’t mind that glue-y texture and really need the soup to be silky smooth, use an immersion blender to blend all ingredients together in step 7 instead of removing the potatoes and mashing them separately.

Yes, I am fully aware of how very not photogenic this soup is.  We can toss this into the as-tasty-as-it-is-ugly category!

If your soup is too thick after blending, thin it out with a splash of milk or vegetable stock. Too thin? Bring it back to a simmer and cook until it’s reached your desired consistency.

This soup is easy to make in advance and it freezes well.

To make this soup vegan, replace the milk with additional vegetable stock, coconut milk, or almond milk, and omit the heavy cream.

Vegetable Soup with Lentils and Seasonal Greens

Diet starts…yesterday!

Happy New Year, everyone!  Ahh, January. The month of resolutions, fresh starts, and attempts to undo all of the hefty holiday indulging.  Here’s a recipe I really enjoyed that falls in the healthy eating category, while still being tasty!

I came across a pretty clean eating recipe at Saving Dessert for vegetable soup but made a few edits.  I upped the butternut squash because you can’t cut up a butternut squash and just end up with 1 cup.  I also threw in a zucchini just to mix it up a bit, and used purple kale instead of the pound of bok choy.  With the extra veggies added, there isn’t a ton of broth in the soup, but I also don’t mind it that way.  Perhaps this is more of a stew in that sense.  Anyway, we are all about efficiency in this household with the baby around, and this is a great easy way to get our veggies in without having to cook every night!  Hope you like it as much as we do!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small sweet onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small leek, cleaned and sliced (white and light green parts only)
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped butternut squash (1/2″ cubes)*
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 3/4 cup green lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups (32-ounces) no-salt or low-salt vegetable stock
  • 14 ounce can chopped canned tomatoes (low salt)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 bunch kale, swiss chard, cabbage, or other seasonal leafy green (I used purple kale)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like things spicy!)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Drizzle the olive oil in a large soup pot or dutch oven with a heavy bottom. Heat on medium until hot. Add the chopped onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is softened.
  2. Add the leek, celery, carrots, butternut squash, and the lentils. Stir gently to coat all vegetables in the olive oil then add the zucchini, vegetable stock, and chopped tomatoes. Add paprika and cayenne, and season with salt and pepper.  Cover the pot with a lid and gently simmer for about 15-20 minutes until lentils are soft.

    Loving All the Color
  3. Add the tomato paste, chopped greens, and thyme. Simmer until the greens are just tender.

Smoked paprika might be my new favorite spice.  I really wasn’t expecting this soup to be so tasty because… how good can vegetable soups really be?  The smoked paprika really adds that addicting smoky flavor to the soup, and the little bit of cayenne adds a warm tingle to the tongue.  I’m not big on spicy food, so this is just the right amount.

*If butternut squash isn’t in season, you can sub it with rutabaga, turnips, or other hard squash. I bet potatoes or sweet potatoes would even work in this!  Be sure to cut vegetables about the same size so they cook evenly.

Vegetable Soup with Lentils and Seasonal Greens

Slow Cooker Moroccan Chicken Tagine

I am a creature of habit.  I’ve been posting recipes that were inspired by things I’ve eaten at Nook Bistro for years, and I find myself still going there and getting the same thing every time.  I love their butternut squash stew, but don’t love that I can’t make a knock-off of it at home year-round with butternut squash really being a fall/winter squash.  Then, I had chicken tagine for the first time at a work tasting with a catering company that was vying for new business a few years ago.  It had a somewhat similar flavor profile to the butternut squash stew, but the ingredients would allow me to make it year-round  I absolutely fell in love with it (and the caterer!), and have tried a number of different chicken tagine recipes trying to mimic what I had and FINALLY found one.  I’m so happy to finally be sharing it!

Here is the recipe as adapted from A Hint of Honey:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 1 T all-purpose flour
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 T honey
  • 4 t ras el hanout
  • 1 t turmeric
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 t ground coriander
  • up to 1 t cayenne pepper (skip this altogether if you don’t like it spicy!)
  • 1 C low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 6 oz. dried apricots, diced
  • 3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped for serving (frankly, this is more for aesthetics)
  • cous cous, for serving

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until softened. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the flour, tomato paste, honey, and spices and cook for another minute.

    Waiting for the Liquids
    Waiting for the Liquids
  2. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes and cook for several minutes, making sure to get out any lumps of flour. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Combine the tomato/spice mixture with the chickpeas, apricots, chicken thighs, and carrots in a large slower cooker, mixing well.
  4. Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours, or until the meat shreds easily with a fork. Serve over cous cous or rice, topped with fresh cilantro.

Ras el hanout can be purchased online, but I’m not sure where to find it in stores. You can make it from scratch using this recipe, and it’ll yield enough to make this tagine a few times. Make sure to store it in a glass container, because it’ll make your plastic tupperware smell like the mixture forEVER. I use an inexpensive spice jar one from Crate and Barrel (thanks Joyce!!), but a small Pyrex could work too!

Ras El Hanout - from scratch!
Ras El Hanout – from scratch!

This stew is great the day you make it, but Kevin and I both think it tastes better the next day.  I’ve probably made this five or six times in the last year and it never lets us down.

Slow Cooker Moroccan Chicken Tagine
Slow Cooker Moroccan Chicken Tagine

It also freezes well, and makes a HUGE amount.  Kevin and I use two crockpots to make this one recipe (he has an old school Rival Crock-Pot, and I have a 6-quart Crock-Pot).  If you have anything under an 8.5-quart, you may want to finish step 3 and then divide your recipe in half, freezing the half you’re not cooking today.

Butternut Squash Apple Soup Recipe

Butternut squash and pumpkin are the two produce staples that make transitioning into cold weather so much easier.  Butternut squash soup is one of my favorite go-to’s on a cold day.  I personally am not a fan of the cream-based version, as it feels like I’m eating ice cream without the satisfaction of…eating ice cream.  The butternut squash soup at Fresh Corn Grill in West LA is hands down my favorite butternut squash soup – dairy-free, not too sweet, not too salty – perfect every time.  I wanted to try and recreate it as one of the courses for the Christmas dinner I made for my dad and I last year (yes, this post is VERY late).  The ingredients in a recipe I found on Simply Recipes seemed like it would taste pretty similar to FCG’s.

Let me just start by saying – ANYONE can make butternut squash soup.  You basically just chop up a bunch of veggies, cook it in broth, and then blend it all together.  If you overcook it, it doesn’t matter!  I broke out the blender I had been neglecting since I bought it on black Friday a couple years ago.

Here’s the recipe!

Note that the smaller you chop your vegetables, the faster they will cook. 1/2-inch chunks work just fine for the apple and butternut squash, but I would recommend finely dicing the onion, celery, and carrot.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 rib of celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, chopped
  • 1 tart green apple, peeled, cored, chopped (squash and apple should be at a 3 to 1 ratio)
  • 3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinches of nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Set a large saucepan over medium-high heat and heat the butter for 1-2 minutes. Do not let it turn brown. Add the onion, celery and carrot and sauté for 5 minutes, taking care to turn the heat down if the vegetables begin to brown.

    Soften Your Veggies
    Soften Your Veggies
  2. Add squash, apple, broth and water. Bring to boil. Cover, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until squash and carrots soften. Puree, and return to a clean pot.

    Blend!
    Blend!
  3. Add salt and spices to taste, and garnish with chives or parsley.

Christmas Dinner is Served
Christmas Dinner is Served

I paired this as an opener to the Filet Mignon with Balsamic Pan Sauce and Truffle Oil that we had at Christmas dinner.  It was definitely sweeter than Fresh Corn Grill’s – probably because of the apple.  I think if I were to make this again in an effort to mimic FCG’s, I would nix the apple and triple the amount of celery and carrot and lessen the amount of spice.  I was definitely heavy-handed with the latter.  I still couldn’t get enough of this recipe though – I’ve made it two more times since.

Paleo-Friendly Thai Almond Chicken Soup

Let me preface this post by saying that I am not embracing the paleo diet, but I did consider it for about 24 hours.  My friend Jer is doing an 83-day paleo challenge through his Crossfit gym and was looking for moral support via strength in numbers.  I’ve always turned down invitations to try Crossfit and self-torture diets, just because I’m a slave to my sweet tooth.  However, earlier last week, Jer brought up a good point after I feebly tried to rebuttal that I couldn’t give up al dente pasta in exchange for a washboard stomach.

Jeremy: al dente is nice
but this is amazing
http://pinterest.com/pin/15551561182987787/

Ok, Jer.  You won that argument.  I read the paleo how-to packet, said I would consider the 30-day “lifestyle change”,  and did a serious assessment of my eating habits and how vastly this would change my day-to-day.  For those that aren’t familiar with paleo, the basic principle is that you give up alcohol, legumes, dairy, sugar (real and artificial), and starchy carbs (i.e., corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, etc.) – altogether purging most processed foods from one’s diet.  This would mean giving up the smidge of cream and sugar in my morning coffee, morning bowl of milk and Kashi, afternoon Fage yogurt, and worst of all – desserts.  I shared the idea with my boss (also a dessert savant), and her response literally was, “AT!  WHAT NO!  YOU CAN’T DO THIS!!  Well, I’ll have to buy you a cake to send you off from [our favorite bakery]!”  She was serious.

I ended up not going through with it mostly because I’d have to give up baking as well. I also don’t eat a lot of meat and have thus turned to legumes and dairy over the last few years as an additional source of protein to balance my workouts.  Going paleo for 3o days would mean a big Meatfest Month (#TWSS), and I just wasn’t that interested.

My cube neighbor at work also brought up a good point when he said, “Instead of doing paleo, maybe you should quit vaccuming up 4,000 calories worth of food in a single sitting like Kirby.”  Sorry for partying, Dan.  My boss ended up getting the cake after all, and we even won a dozen free cookies for guessing the baker’s favorite cookie when she made the call.  It was a very happy day.  I felt like a 12-year old girl who just saw Justin Bieber for the first time.  Office productivity pretty much stopped when the baked goods arrived.

Anyway, I swear this is all relevant.  So my near-conversion to paleo got me to reevaluate what I’m doing wrong with my diet (e.g., binge-eating, too many sweets, etc).  Feeling inspired (as well as disgusted with myself from the three slices of the aforementioned cake), I looked up healthy recipes on WholeLiving.com (one of Martha Stewart’s sites) – most of which happened to be paleo-friendly – and found one for Almond Chicken Soup with Sweet Potato, Collards, and Ginger.

Ingredients!

Instead of collards, I used kale… because I didn’t read the recipe closely enough.  Whatever, kale is healthier anyway.   I also added some fresh corn and red and yellow bell peppers for some extra texture and vitamin A.

Paleo-Friendly Thai Almond Chicken Soup

The sweet potatoes were nicely soft and the almond butter mixed in added an almost coconut milk flavor to the soup.  The soup itself had a not-too-thick creamy texture.  I would absolutely make this again!  Yum!