Although spring is here in the Foothills of California, we have been having blustery days that roll into cold evenings. My favorite way to stave off chilly weather is warm soup, particularly of the creamy variety. Since I now live a dairy-free existence, one might think that this would be a challenging feat. In fact, for the first two years of eating dairy-free, I used to yearn for creamy comfort foods. I felt like I had suffered the loss of an old friend. No longer could I beat the blues with a steaming cup of Corn Chowder, Creamy Broccoli soup, or my Mom’s wonderful Potato Leek Soup. I told myself to let go and tried to comfort myself with cup after cup of hot tea. Who was I fooling?
When approaching dietary restrictions, I have definitely found that necessity IS the mother of invention. I NEEDED a creamy, smooth, comforting soup and I was up for the challenge. This led me to consider adding a russet potato to my “cream” based soup recipes. When the potato was tender, I would use an immersion blender and let the potato’s natural characteristics work their magic. I find this preferable to creating a rice flour based roux, which doesn’t seem to add the same richness to the finished soup. The only caveat is that you must be careful to not over blend the soup. For those of you who have successfully turned a batch of mashed potatoes into wallpaper paste, you will know what I’m referring to. Apparently there is a line between velvety goodness and glutinous mess that should never be crossed. Sometimes I become so mesmerized by my glorious immersion blender that I almost make that mistake.
Although this recipe is loosely based on my Mom’s Potato Leek soup, it really is an amalgamation of my favorite Potato soup flavor memories. When I created the recipe, I began adding many of my beloved savory ingredients: potatoes, onions, bacon, red bell peppers and garlic. I was happy with the results, but after reading a Cook’s Illustrated article that discussed using a slice of toasted bread to help thicken a soup base, I decided to try this technique with a slice of gluten-free sandwich bread. The resulting soup was even richer and creamier and I felt it was only fair to share.
“Creamy” Potato Leek Soup with Roasted Red Peppers and Bacon
3 large leeks, washed [halved lengthwise and chopped into 1/4 inch slices, white and light green portions only]
3 medium shallots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 large russet potato, peeled and sliced into 8 equal pieces
4 cups Low Sodium Chicken Stock* (we use homemade because I can’t seem to find a brand that doesn’t have “natural flavors” added, which are derived from corn)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of fresh thyme, chopped
freshly ground pepper (to taste)
1 slice gluten-free bread (or wheat based bread if you aren’t GF), toasted and torn into rough chunks
4 slices of bacon
2 red bell peppers
1. Roast the bell peppers whole on an open gas flame (or under your broiler or on your barbecue) turning frequently until skin is blackened and peppers begin to soften. Place on plate and cover with foil for 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Remove skin, stem and seeds, and coarsely chop. Set aside for garnishing the soup.
2. Cook bacon slices until crispy in a large soup pot. Remove bacon to a paper towel (chop when cool, for garnish). Discard some of the bacon fat, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the bottom of pan.
3. Toss the leeks, shallots and celery into the pot, with a bit of sea salt and some freshly ground pepper. Saute in the bacon fat over medium heat until the veggies soften a bit (3-4 minutes).
4. Add to the pot: garlic cloves, potatoes, chicken broth and thyme. Add a bit more pepper. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
5. Add the torn chunks of bread to the soup and simmer for an additional 10 minutes or until potatoes are very tender.
6. Using an immersion blender (or in small batches in a blender) puree the soup until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot with crumbled bacon and roasted bell peppers.
*If you don’t have low-sodium broth, you can use 2 cups of broth and two cups of water.