I have been wanting to make potato-leek soup for a few weeks now. Leeks are abundant in the produce section this time of year and their green wide fan of leaves above a solid white stalk is very appealing to the eye. Wild leeks should also be in season now. I have not seen any here yet but I am living in a somewhat metropolitan area now, only 15 km from downtown Cologne. My eyes are on the lookout for them, though. Back at home in the States they should be poking their broad green leaves out of the tired ground about now. The leaves are not what is coveted from this plant, though. It is the underlying root which when pulled from the ground yields an earthy garlic overtone that can not be mistaken for a simple wild onion. Wild leeks, or “ramps” as they are called in the south, are much smaller than the typical garden-variety leek. You need to harvest many more than the common leek to get the same volume and they have a much more distinct flavor. It is a cross between garlic and onion and something wild that is inexplicable and delicious, you just have to taste it to know. The first time I had a wild leek was when I was 19. Some friends invited me to their home to participate in a wild edible plant hunt with a wild forager who would guide us through their yard for the ingredients to make our dinner. It was one of the most interesting days I have ever had. We hunted in the large yard at a typical farmhouse in upstate NY to find all sorts of wild edibles which we gathered, took back to the house, prepared as a group in the kitchen and then enjoyed an entirely free meal from our findings. It was a great experience and one that I would like to repeat if only I was brave enough. Identifying some of the things that are edible from what is not edible can be tricky and a little dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. But there is no fear when it comes to the wild leek. As far as I know, there is no imitator of the wild leek which when eaten will make you sick and it is commonly known that any wild plant in the onion family is safe for consumption. So if you are around when the wild leek is in season and happen to see those tender green leaves in a cluster on the forest floor or if they happen to be encroaching on your well-kept lawn, get harvesting! But make sure to leave some in the ground so there will be plenty for next year.
Potato Leek Soup
by Laura Valetutto
2 large leeks (or several wild leeks)
2 quarts low-sodium chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 large onion
5 or 6 russet potatoes
1/2 cup heavy cream or light cream
2-3 tablespoons butter
*Note: I would be using my own recipe to make this soup but since I can’t eat the last two ingredients I will be using a dairy-free version from the Cooks Illustrated magazine called “Creamy Leek-Potato soup” from the March/April 2010 edition. Instead of butter I will use a butter substitute and I found that this is a good vegan alternative to my recipe.*
Clean and chop into 1/4 inch pieces all the whites and most of the way up the green leaves of the leeks . Dice the onion then saute the onion and leeks in butter in a 6-8 quart soup pot or dutch oven. Add the potatoes which have been peeled and diced and pour the stock over top. If there is not enough liquid to cover the potatoes add additional stock or water until they are covered. Simmer for one hour or until the potatoes have broken down and are soft and malleable. Turn off the heat and with a potato masher mash the potatoes until the soup is of a creamy consistency. If you don’t have a masher you can use the back of a wooden spoon against the side of the pot (it just takes longer and the soup won’t be as smooth). I don’t use a food processor because I like pieces of leek in my soup. While the heat is off add the cream. I always do this by eye and taste so if 1/2 cup seems like too much you can use less. If not enough add more, of course. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Then Guten Appetit!