The history of leeks is colorful. They have been cultivated both in Europe and Central Asia for thousands of years; they are considered to be native to Central Asia and the Mediterranean, though historical texts from other areas mention them as well.
There are Biblical accounts of their presence in Egypt-in northeastern Africa-during early world history. When times got tough in the wilderness, the children of Israel longed for this delicacy, to the point that they were willing to return to their captivity under Pharaoh; archaeological digs support the presence of leeks in the Egyptian diet for the past 4 millennia.
Shortly after Christ’s presence on earth, during the first century A.D., the Roman Emperor Nero consumed them daily, for he adhered to their healing power in strengthening one’s singing voice. Greek philosopher Aristotle concurred with this commonly accepted belief in ancient times, for he attributed the clear voice of the partridge to its diet consisting of this vegetable.
As the Roman Empire spread, its soldiers allegedly brought this choice food to the tables of the United Kingdom, where its popularity grew greatly. According to legend as far back as the 6th century A.D., Welsh soldiers were wearing a leek in their helmets for identification purposes-a tradition that was carried on in subsequent centuries. Shakespeare, whom I studied in London in 1974, refers to this Welsh passion in Henry V. Such enthusiasm continues in Wales in present times, for this member of the onion family is now its national emblem, along with the daffodil.
My first encounter with this Allium occurred in the 1980’s in Billings, Montana, when an Irish friend taught me how to make leek soup, as part of a complete Irish meal. I had need to know how to cook this national cuisine authentically, for I had contributed a catered St. Patrick’s Day dinner to a fundraiser’s auction, which the local radio station had promoted well; thus, I had ten eager winners expecting the best. My friend, whose roots were in Ireland, put his heart into equipping me for this fun event; he even made a huge Irish flag, which I still possess.
Leek soup is prevalent in many different nationalities; I serve a Potage Bonne Femme, a potato and leek soup, in a 19th century French banquet, from my repertoire of historical meals. This present version, however, is superior. For more recipes and information on leeks, go to Zucchini Chicken with Leeks and Shallots and Kale, Leeks, and Chicken.
Enjoy this fast soup recipe both now and for years to come; it is that good.
Leek Soup Yields: 2 qts. Total prep time: 1 hr.
3 leeks, white and light green part, 2/3 lb trimmed
1 med/lg yellow onion, chopped small
2 celery ribs, in small dice (If desired, may omit the celery and double the potatoes, or vice versa double the celery, omitting the potatoes, to be diabetic friendly.)
5 tbsp butter, preferably Kerry butter (If using only celery, 7 tbsp butter will be needed.)
2 small Yukon potatoes, 2/3 lb, peeled and chopped in 1/2″-cubes (May substitute sweet potatoes, which have a low glycemic index; these add great flavor to soup.)
4 c chicken broth (Bone broth is best for food value; for easy recipe, see Tortellini Soup.)
1/2 c water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt, or to taste (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)
1/2 tsp white pepper, or to taste
1/4 tsp nutmeg, or to taste (Fresh ground is best.)
1/2 bunch, or 1/2 c chopped, Italian flat parsley (Organic is only slightly more expensive and much healthier.)
2 tbsp flour, 2 tbsp butter, for roux
1 c whipping cream
1 tsp Better than Bouillon soup base, or to taste (Chicken flavor is best, but vegetable flavor will also do.)
- Spray all vegetables, including parsley, with a vegetable spray (a mixture of 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide is effective and inexpensive). Let sit for 3 minutes; rinse well.
Remove dark green top off leeks, leaving the white and light green part. With the root in tact, cut leek in half lengthwise (see above photo); fan out under running water to remove dirt. Holding the two halves together, cut each leek in 1/4″-thick-slices; place pieces in a large container. Rinse well with water, stirring with hand (see photo); drain in a colander.
- Chop onion and celery, set aside.
- Melt 1/4 c butter in a large stock pot over medium heat; chop the celery in small 1/4″-dice. Watch butter so as not to burn. (Use 6 tablespoons of butter, if doubling the celery, by omitting the potatoes.)
- Add leeks, onion, and celery to melted butter, distributing it well throughout vegetables; cook covered for about 8-10 minutes, stirring several times (this will sweat the onions and leeks, or turn them translucent).
- Peel and cut potatoes in small 1/2″-pieces, placing them in a bowl of water to keep them from turning color.
- When leeks and onions are translucent, add drained potatoes, broth, 1/2 c water, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to pot.
Cover and bring to a boil over med/high heat; lower heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are soft. Stir occasionally
- Wash parsley, remove stems, chop, and set aside
- Make a roux by melting 2 tbsp butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; blend in 2 tbsp of flour with a wire whisk. Cook until golden brown, mixing continuously.
- When potatoes are soft, whisk 1 c of the hot soup broth into pan of roux; add a second c of broth, blending thoroughly-this mixture will be quite thick-then, add this back into the soup.
- Mix parsley, cream, and roux into soup in stock pot; add a tsp of Better than Bouillon, to heighten taste. Adjust seasonings and simmer for another five minutes (see photo of finished product).
Serve hot and enjoy! (Flavors meld best after sitting for a day.)