Going with the flow

I’m still using Imperfect Foods for bi-monthly deliveries. They are on time with reliably packed seasonal produce and products—a pleasure during this Covid debacle when shopping is frequently less than enjoyable.

Key cooking options recently got down to a small bunch of leeks and one sweet potato. It looked like it was time for a nutritious soup. I’d put my Zen on and shoot for uncomplicated {Sweet} Potato Leek Soup—and see what happened.

Sweet Potato and Leeks

Oops, as I started peeling the sweet potato I discovered it was white inside. What? Apparently this sweet potato variation can be drier and less sweet than its redder cousins. Okay, fine.

With so few ingredients it’s hard to screw up this soup. I did add a touch of flour to stabilize the soup, just in case it turned grainy. Most important, the leeks need to cook 30 minutes to soften and release their full sweet-herbal flavors. For stock base, I opt for chicken broth, but I suspect a good vegetable broth would be just as good.

The cubed sweet potato is hard but cooks fairly quickly. The only other seasonings used were herbs with the leeks, nutmeg with the sweet potato, salt and white pepper. When ready, an immersion blender quickly pureed it all.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although I was prepared to thin it with milk or stock, I kept it slightly thick. Ah, yes. The soup was creamy and delicious with soothing herbal notes and a touch of sweetness (likely more so with a red sweet potato). It needed no tweaking.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup

The garnishes also took on a life of their own. I especially liked it swirled with salted Greek yogurt and threads of green onion.

On another occasion, for textural interest, I dusted the top with dukkah (below), a favorite of Yotam Ottolenghi.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup with Dukkah

Dukkah is a nutty Egyptian mix laced with coriander, cumin and sesame seeds that I learned about on his MasterClass. Oh, yum.

Dukkah mix

The point is, any type of potato will work here, just go with the flow… it’s even good straight up in a cup—fast, filling, and refreshing.

{Sweet} Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients
1 Tbsp coconut oil or butter
3 small leeks, mostly white parts, clean well, trim and slice
½ tsp thyme and/or savory
1 bay leaf
salt and white pepper
1 Tbsp flour
2-3 cups chicken broth, divided
1 medium sweet potato (any kind!), peel and small chop
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 cup evaporated or whole milk approx., optional
Finish: plain yogurt light salted, green onion slivers

For Dukkah mix: 1 tsp coconut oil, 2 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp white and or black sesame seeds, ⅔ cup total any combo slivered almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and or pistachios. Each ½ tsp paprika, dried oregano or sage, and sumac if available. Optional ½ tsp salt and/or sugar. (see below)

Directions

  1. In soup pot heat the oil over medium add the leeks and toss; then the spices. Cook 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, blend in the flour and cook 2-3 minutes.
  2. Stir in 1 cup stock, simmer to thicken. Add the potato cubes and nutmeg; stir in more stock to cover. Simmer the vegetables until soft, 20-30 minutes.
  3. Carefully puree with an immersion blender until smooth; adjust seasoning. Set aside until ready to serve soup.
  4. To finish, heat the soup mixture. If desired, stir in milk to thin; avoid boiling. Finish with salted yogurt, green onion or dukkah. Serves 4
Dukkah

inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi

  1. In a small skillet, heat coconut oil over medium/high heat, add the coriander and cumin seeds and cook until aromatic, 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add sesame seeds and toss until toasted scents begin to develop. Add nuts of choice. As mix begins to toast, add paprika, oregano or sage, sumac if available. Adjust with a pinch of salt and/or sugar as needed to balance. Toss until well toasted but not burnt. Let cool.
  3. Process briefly in food processor into a coarse blend. Cool and store well covered, the blend holds well.

Surprise! Surprise!

I was raised by a mother who took mealtime very seriously. Mom believed that dinner was a time to display our best manners, to chat, and enthusiastically enjoy all that she had lovingly prepared. She was a great cook, and dessert was always a highlight.  My brother and I were expected to arrive promptly for dinner and stay until we had polished off all that was served. If we balked too much, dessert was definitely off the table.

There were those painful nights when the most dreaded vegetables were served— like lima beans or asparagus—and Gary and I would eye each other knowingly. This could be a long night.  Mom was wise to our attempts at diffusing the situation: we’d spread food across the plate as if it had disappeared; we’d casually spit disgusting bites into a napkin, or desperately drop the worst to our loyal collie, Duke, who sprawled sympathetically under the table.

Mom finally relented and allowed us both to pick one item that we could pass on, but we couldn’t arbitrarily change it the next week.  For years, lima beans were my biggest contender: they were big, dry, and wretchedly hard to swallow with no redeeming flavor.

Overall, I pride myself on being open to new foods and welcome new taste treats; but still, I’d dismiss lima beans whenever there was a choice.

All that changed recently when I watched Rick Bayless prepare a dish called Banana Pepper, Leek Soup with Lima Beans and Smoked Meat. I was fascinated by the creamy, thick, green soup that was reminiscent of Vichyssoise, the fabulous chilled potato-leek soup. The concept was just enough to open the door and give me a reason to give it a try. I reasoned the bean’s texture might actually work in its favor!

Leek-Lima Bean Soup

The soup is prepared much like its French counterpart, but substitutes lima beans for the potatoes and eliminates the cream.  It begins with a quick sauté of smoked meat, like shredded ham hock (yes, it works!), then removed and saved for the finish.  Sweet root vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips are roasted or grilled ahead and held for the finish.

The actual soup is quite simple. Leeks and shredded peppers, such as pasilla, are sweated in the smoke-flavored oil and cooked down until meltingly soft.  All of this is pureed with half of the defrosted frozen baby lima beans and a good chicken stock. I opted to not over puree the soup, which added to its rustic appearance and charm.

The soup is returned to the soup pot and reheated with the other half of the lima beans. The smoked meat and roasted vegetables can be reheated with the soup, too. Since they are colorful and have so much flavor, I preferred to strew them across the soup when serving—visible and not lost in the soup.

That’s it.  Add a sprinkling of cheese, a little fresh herb such as cilantro or parsley and be prepared for a surprise!

Leek-Lima Bean Soup with Root Vegetables and Smoked Meat

Inspired by Rick Bayless’s soup: Crema de Chile Güero y Poros con Carne Ahumada

Ingredients
½ pound root vegetables (2 carrots and 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into thick slivers)
6 ounces smoked meat, like smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg or smoked jowel
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ pounds (about 6 small) leeks, washed, roots cut off, cut in half lengthwise and each half sliced crosswise into ¼-inch pieces
3/4 to 1 pound (about 4-6) fresh güero or pasilla chiles stem, seed,  slice ¼-inch thick
1 pound bag frozen baby lima beans (defrosted)
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper
Garnish:  handful cilantro or flat leaf parsley
A few tablespoons grated Mexican queso añejo or other such as Parmesan

Instructions

  1. Toss the vegetables lightly with oil, salt and pepper, and roast the vegetables at 450°. Toss one or twice, cooking 20 minutes. Remove and set aside. (Can be grilled 2-3 minutes.)
  2. Using fingers to shred (or a knife to cut), break the ham hock (or one of its stand-ins) into bite-sized pieces. In a large (5- to 6-quart) soup pot, add about 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat and add the smoked meat until crisp. With a slotted spoon, scoop the meat onto a paper towel to drain, leaving behind as much fat as possible.
  3. Add the butter, leeks and chiles into the pot, cover and return to medium heat.  Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks and chiles are very soft, about 10 minutes.  Uncover and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks and chiles look thoroughly melted and are just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes more.  Scrape the leek mixture into a blender jar, add half of the bag of the lima beans (about 1 ¾ cup) and the broth.  Blend until smooth and return to the pan.
  4. Add the remaining beans and the charred vegetables to the soup and bring to a simmer over medium heat, add more stock or water to thin if very thick. Taste and season with salt, usually a scant teaspoon depending on the saltiness of your broth.  Let simmer for a few more minutes, then ladle into warm soup bowls, sprinkle with the crispy meat and garnish with fresh herbs and cheese. Serves 6-8.