It all started one Saturday this summer, when we lunched at the home of friends. Maria served a delicious potato-leek soup that my family fell in love with. The next day, the New York Times Magazine featured several summer soup recipes from Mark Bittman (one of my favorite cookbook authors), including one for potato-leek (aka vichyssoise). I made it that night.
The recipe could not be easier: Sautee three chopped leeks in a small amount of butter, add three cubed potatoes (I used leftover baked potatoes) and four cups of stock, boil, simmer until potatoes are soft, puree with an immersion blender. Done in less than half an hour, start to finish.
Always one to enhance the health of any recipe, I sauteed in olive oil rather than butter and kept the skin on the potatoes (the recipe called to remove them). The soup was delicious, and gone in a flash.
The next time I prepared this soup, I used two sweet potatoes and one white potato (again keeping the skins), since sweet potatoes are healthier than white. My children don't like sweet potatoes, so I didn't tell them until after they tasted it. Still delicious -- and, surprisingly, you could neither see nor taste the sweet potato. Unfortunately, I had to promise not to use sweet potatoes again (me and my big mouth!), but felt determined to find a way to pack more nutrition into this recipe.
The next time, I went back to white potatoes, and added a well-rinsed can of white beans. Again, delicious. Again, you couldn't taste the difference -- and now the soup had protein! I've tried for years to like beans, but always had a hard time with their mealy texture.
The next time, leeks, beans, no potatoes. As delicious as the first time, no white carbs. Bingo!
Now I add beans to all of my vegetarian soups, and I never need to add cream. If I want identifiable vegetables rather than a smooth puree, I mash only the beans in the food processor before adding to the pot. I'm happy because it's such a healthy source of protein and fiber, you can't taste it, and it adds a nice thickness to the soup that I find preferable to a runny broth.
I use white beans in light-colored soups like leek and mushroom -- dark beans create a very unappetizing color once pureed in otherwise light soups -- and red or black beans in tomato-based soups, since darker beans are generally more healthful.
My other secret ingredient: fresh herbs, like rosemary, tarragon, cilantro, basil, oregano and sage in various combinations. In the summer, I grow these on my deck. In the winter, I use "fresh-frozen" herbs that I stock in the freezer -- much tastier than dried.
One final tip to pump up the nutrients of your soups: canned pumpkin. Like beans, it takes on the flavors that surround it.
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