Potato leek soup is wholesome good cheap food. It also happens to be easy and pretty fast to make. Everyone has their version. Most versions are ultimately the same. Variations include whether or not you use butter, olive oil, or a combination of the two. What type of potato you use and whether or not you put cream or milk in it are other variations. Proportions of leeks to potatoes as well as thickness and choice of garnishes (if any) are just about the only other variations I can think of.
I didn’t plan on putting my version on this site until I started thinking about the price of food and how useful it is to show people what home cooking really costs. It is ridiculous (but widely believed) that eating fast food is cheaper than eating home cooked food. Obviously, if the food you’re cooking at home is lobster and steak all week, and if you garnish your food with gold, that might be true. But then you have to compare eating at a pricey restaurant to your cooking. Fast food is basic food. There is nothing fancy (or healthy) about it. It’s frozen beef patties, cheap cheese, out of season never really ripe vegetables, and the cheapest kind of bread imaginable. Still, you generally pay $3 to $7 for those meals, right? Can people really suppose that simple home cooking costs more per serving than fast food?
A while ago I priced out one of my favorite bean and vegetable soups to see what it cost me per serving to make. The Tenement Stew was .53 cents per big bowl. With some toast it is easily as filling as a flimsy fast food burger and regular order of fries. Two slices of toast might add about .50 to your meal. Plus a pat of butter would add .10 cents (or let’s be generous and say you need two whole pats of butter) so for one wholesome and filling meal of homemade soup and toast you spend $1.23. That’s a cheap meal. Considering how much better it is for you than fast food your money is going a lot further nutritionally.
I’ve been seeing more food writers costing out their recipes and I really like that, I find it useful, especially for people who are just learning to cook from scratch. It’s also great for making comparisons like these – to show people that if you want to eat fast food, that’s your business, but don’t say it’s because it’s cheaper than cooking from scratch.
I recommend you use dried beans. You don’t have to. But you should. Why? Because they’re cheaper than canned, because you should not be making your food in a hurry. If you don’t like to be bothered, you can always make this in a crock pot. Though I doubt it will all fit in one. So don’t do that. Really, bother with it. This soup is so easy on the budget, so wonderfully healing and warming, and stirring soup over the stove for two hours settles nerves, makes you slow down, and if you like you can read a favorite book while you stir, or talk to your pets (or children). Or read them your favorite book. Unless your favorite book is Anna Karenina. No one needs to read that when the fall hours grow dark, unless you have a pack of Galois cigarettes and bitter black coffee at your elbow.
This soup has everything you need in a meal if you can’t pull anything else together. It isn’t heavy but it’s substantial enough to hold you up. The cabbage cooks so long that it becomes unbelievably tender. It’s excellent with some Parmesan and toast.
Other great cabbage recipes to try:
Tomato season is over for us. It’s been over for a couple of weeks. I would be devastated but for the fact that I ate a couple hundred pounds of them while they were going strong and ended on a high note with my tomato tart experiments. The last version, the one I’m going to share with you, I made for our friends who are moving out of state. I needed to make something memorable enough that they’ll be inspired to come back and visit us.
It’s super easy unless you have to make your pesto from scratch, plus make your own ricotta (as I usually do), and then, of course, there’s the crust to make. Wait! Seriously, none of those things are difficult to make and if you’re not up to making them all yourself you can buy them pre-made. If tomato season is already over for you too then you have two choices: bookmark this for next year or if you happen to have any sundried or oven roasted tomatoes in your freezer- you can top the tarts with those. Whatever you do, don’t use hothouse tomatoes from the store. Banish the thought!
Most chimichurri sauce has either a little or a lot of parsley, many have cilantro in varying amounts, and a few even have oregano or other curious herbs. This chimichurri sauce is the closest I could come to recreating one from memory that I had at a catered birthday party which then haunted me for weeks; it has more cilantro than parsley and no other green herbs.
This bright tart sauce is an excellent foil for beans and rice, which is how I like to eat it, but is most commonly used to accompany meat such as steak. I plan to try it brush on grilled vegetables and as a marinade for tofu.
1 cup cilantro, finely minced
1/4 cup parsley, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 small red onion very finely diced
Combine all ingredients in a jar or a dressing bottle and shake well. That’s it.
Alternatively you can make a slightly creamier version by using an immersion blender. Blend everything but the onion together. Once it has achieved a creamy texture add the onion and shake well before using to make sure the onion is evenly distributed.
Recipe notes: don’t double this unless you think you can use it fairly quickly. The pretty bright green will darken, as it has in my photograph, by the next day. Fresh herb dressings are best used within a couple of days. If you like things spicy you can add a tsp of crushed red pepper or a pinch of ground cayenne.
This recipe is gluten free only if your vinegar is specifically gluten free.
This recipe is vegan.
I was six the first time I remember eating a beet. I pulled it up out of my mother’s garden and ate it standing right there in the back yard, dirt and all. I have since decided that I like my vegetables washed before eating as the grit of soil fails to please, but my love of beets has never wavered. I offer you my favorite way to eat them here.
Most people I know either roast or boil beets. I think roasting is nice sometimes but I find that roasting makes a beet have a stiffer drier texture (even with plenty of olive oil) so that I don’t roast them often. I never boil beets. In fact, I never boil anything. I always steam vegetables. I steam because that’s what my mother always did. She steamed because she believed more of a vegetable’s vitamins and minerals were retained using this method. I don’t know if that’s true but whenever a recipe calls for boiling, I steam instead.
This beet salad recipe can be served plain or it can be served on a bed of lettuce with feta cheese. You can use any kind of beets. I used a combination of golden beets and dark red beets. Because I cooked them together the golden beets turned red.
To peel or not to peel? I only peel off the rough parts of beets. Sometimes this means I peel the whole thing but often it means I just peel the tops. The golden beets were mostly smooth skinned so you can see a lot of it was left on. My mother influenced me in this matter just as she did with steaming. She believed that peeling vegetables removed some important vitamins and minerals and should only be peeled if the skin is tough or compromised in some way. You will find that I rarely suggest peeling vegetables in my recipes. You can always peel if you prefer it.
Lemony Beet Salad
Serves 4 to 6
8 medium sized beets, cut into 1/2″ to 3/4″ cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of one lemon
3 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
To serve as shown in the picture:
(ingredients are per person)
2 cups lettuce
1 to 2 oz feta cheese
1 tbsp vinaigrette to dress lettuce
Fit a pot with a steamer basket, fill with water up to the basket (but not above), bring water to a boil. (I have a steamer pot and prefer it to the baskets but either will do). Add the cubed beats and steam for 15 minutes*, or until tender enough to pierce easily with a fork.
Meanwhile, in a medium sized bowl mix together the oil, lemon, garlic, salt and pepper. When the beets are done steaming add them to the bowl and mix together with the dressing. Toss it several times as the beets cool.
If you’re going to add the beets to a bed of lettuce, as shown in the picture, let the beets completely cool. For each plate add two cups of lettuce tossed with a little vinaigrette, scoop about 3/4 cup of the lemony beets onto the bed of lettuce, and top with some crumbled or cubed feta cheese.
This recipe is Gluten Free
This recipe is Vegan if you omit the feta cheese
*I timed the steaming and 15 minutes was perfect, however, if you cut your beets a little bigger than I did it may take a few extra minutes.
I have been wanting to try chanterelle mushrooms for a long time but haven’t bought them because I promised my son I wouldn’t sell him to buy fancy groceries. I live in a damp region which encourages a diverse and plentiful population of mushrooms and it’s my plan to learn to forage them. Near the end of the season last year I found some old boletes and some decaying chanterelles which didn’t make me hungry. I hope to do better this year. In the meantime one of the local organic farms I buy my produce from had some chanterelles (foraged by their friend- boy would I like to know their foraging spots) were being offered for a single dollar digit per pound and I had to splurge.
I love wild mushrooms generally mixed with cultivated ones. On their own they’re often too maneurish for my taste. Chanterelles, it turns out, are very mild and don’t need to be toned down by tamer cousins. Aside from their delicate flavor, they have other charms: they’re very pretty and when sliced thin length-wise they make sweet curling shapes that remind me of ancient handwritten letters.
I think you should know that I wash my mushrooms under water. I am completely aware that this breaks precious culinary laws and I am unconcerned. The water the mushrooms soak up in the process of being washed gets cooked off quickly and I’ve never noticed an increase of mushroom flavor when eating mushrooms that haven’t been mauled by the faucet. I respect you if you like to brush them. I suspect it gives one a greater connection to their worth and cost- to treat them like rare treats one might not get to eat again for a long time.
I will continue to wash mine in water.
This recipe is rich. I’m not going to apologize to anyone’s waistline for presenting it. Treat yourself just this once and I think you won’t be apologizing to your waistline either.
6 servings for gluttonous individuals like myself
8 servings for modest portions
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin
10 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, sliced thin
1/2 lb fresh spinach, chopped
2 tbsp water
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp salted butter
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 shakes of cayenne
3 cups of low fat milk, warmed
2 1/2 cups Emmentaler cheese, grated
1 lb angel-hair pasta
Heat up the olive oil in a saute pan (on med/high heat) and add the onions to it. As soon as the onions begin to brown a little turn the heat down to med/low and continue to saute them until they caramelize. Be sure to stir them frequently to prevent burning them which makes them bitter.
When the onions are caramelized, add the chanterelles. Let them cook for a few minutes and then add the spinach and the water and after you’ve stirred everything well, put the lid on the pan for a minute to encourage the spinach to completely wilt. When the spinach is wilted, remove the pan from heat and set aside.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil while making the cheese sauce, add the pasta to it as soon as it’s boiling. I find that the pasta and the cheese sauce get done in about the same amount of time.
With the butter, flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne, make a light roux. Whisk the warm milk into the roux and cook gently until it thickens. Once thickened, remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the grated cheese. Stir the cheese gently until it’s completely incorporated into the sauce.
Add the chanterelle, onion, and spinach mixture into the cheese sauce.
Drain the pasta when it’s finished (test a piece for doneness). Return it to the pot and pour the sauce over it. I find the best way to blend the sauce into the pasta is with metal tongs.
I’ve made this with sharp white cheddar which was fantastic; gouda would be good too though I prefer stronger sharper flavors. If you want to coat your arteries just a little more, you can use whole milk or even some cream. The reason I use low fat is because I like it best, not because it’s lower in fat. I find the cheese adds plenty of creaminess here.
You can also lower the cheese amount if you’re a fool. (Just kidding!) I usually only use two cups of cheese in my cheese sauces, I find it sufficient, the reason there’s more this time is because I had a half a cup left over and no plans for it. I’m not sorry for the extra Emmentaler here, though I’m fatter this morning, I’m sure.
Roasting brussels sprouts brings out their sweetness and mellows their strong flavor.
The brussels sprout is a vegetable people love to hate. It’s as pungent as a cabbage but comes in a small compact miniature head. I suspect that many people have tasted only mistreated brussels sprouts or they would look forward to them every fall as I do. Here is one of the simplest ways to prepare them and bring out their best side.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
3 lbs brussels sprouts
1/4 cup olive oil
coarse salt to taste
pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the brussels sprouts by peeling away the top 2 to 4 leaves, depending on how dirty they are. Clean them. Cut away any surplus stems. Slice large and medium-sized sprouts in half but leave the small ones whole. Put them in a roasting pan. Drizzle with the olive oil. Grind as much fresh pepper on them as you like and sprinkle as much salt as you like. I generally use about a teaspoon and a half of coarse salt. Turn them with a spatula until they are all coated. Put them in the oven.
It will take about 20 to 25 minutes for them to roast. You want to turn them every so often to prevent any of them from burning and to get more surface roasted. When they are tender and browned they are done.
Recipe Notes: How brown you like them is a matter of personal taste. I like mine to get to a nice medium brown where the vegetable surfaces are starting to caramelize. I don’t think they taste good being too dark and if they’re too light you miss out on the sweetness. If you like a touch of heat you can sprinkle some crushed hot pepper onto them. An alternative to using olive oil would be to use bacon fat which would compliment the flavor of the brussels sprouts well. All I want to suggest is to keep your variations simple because this dish doesn’t need much to shine.
A strata is an Italian egg and bread casserole. You can assemble this dish and refrigerate it over night, then cook in the morning which makes it a great dish for brunches. This version makes use of seasonal leeks when you don’t feel like eating them in the tradition potato leek soup (though that’s something I look forward to every year!) or leek quiche. I liked making the strata because I could make a dish as satisfying as a quiche but with wheat bread instead of a crust.
The cubed bread in the buttered baking dish.
The eggs mixture being poured over the bread.
3 slices whole wheat bread, cubed
7 large eggs
3 medium sized leeks, chopped fine
1 cup milk
8 ounces feta cheese (or chevre), crumbled
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme (or 2 tsp fresh thyme)
1/2 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1 Tbsp butter
Method: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on med/high heat and then add the leeks. Saute them until they are soft. Meanwhile butter a 3 quart casserole dish and fill the bottom with the cubed bread.
In a large mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, thyme, salt, and pepper until will blended. Add the crumbled feta and the leeks when the leeks have cooled down a bit. Mix well and then pour over the bread cubes making sure you spread it out evenly. Let the dish sit for about ten minutes to let the eggs and milk soak the bread.
Bake in the oven between 45 minutes to an hour*. The sides should pull away slightly and be golden.
Recipe notes: This is a very flexible dish. You can make many substitutions such as chard and onions for the leeks. You can use a sharp cheddar instead of feta or add Parmesan to it. Keep the bread and the milk proportions the same and change out any of the other ingredients you like.
*Check it at 45 minutes, which is when mine was done, but some ovens cook hotter and some cooler so if it seems a little wet on the top still let it cook a little longer. It should be moist inside but the top shouldn’t have a runny appearance.
Sometimes the very best way to stay healthy in the flu season is to eat food that can repel the plague. Spicy stews and soups are invigorating, warming, and healthy. This particular soup is a variation on one I made years ago from either Moosewood’s Low Fat cook book, or from Vegetarian Times. I have forgotten because it’s been so long now. The original had some fresh Serrano chilis in it and I’m not sure what else since I couldn’t find the original. I was feeling low this week and wanted to make a soup that could help me bounce back and not get sick. This soup did the trick! It is always satisfying that what I want to eat is actually in season, most of the vegetables in this soup came from my organic CSA!
Yam and Kale Soup
3 onions sliced in thin rounds and then in quarters
2 lbs yams* (sweet potatoes), cut in 1″ pieces
1 large bunch of kale chopped smallish
2 quarts stock or water
1 can coconut milk
2 Tbsp olive oil
1″ piece of fresh ginger peeled and minced
3 garlic cloves minced
1 red dried hot chili such as cayenne
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
In a soup pot on medium heat: saute the onions in the olive oil until they caramelize. This should take about 20 minutes. When the onions are soft and browned and slightly sticky add the minced garlic and ginger. Cook for a couple of minutes with the onions, stirring frequently, then add the 2 quarts of water to the pot and turn the heat up until it comes to a boil, then turn down to medium/high. Add the yams and cover the pot. Let the yams cook until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
When the yams are tender add the curry, salt, chili pepper, and the kale. Stir well and then cover and let cook until the kale is well-cooked, about five minutes. Now add the coconut milk and when it is completely blended into the soup it is ready.
This recipe makes approximately 8 servings.
Recipe Notes: If you are short on time you can simply saute the onions until they are transparent rather than caramelize them. That will save almost 15 minutes off the cooking time. I like the onions caramelized here because it compliments the spiciness and deepens the flavor of the broth. If you want to shave even more time off of the cooking time you could cut the yams in smaller cubes which will cook faster (try doing 1/2″ cubes). This is an easy and versatile soup to make and you can make many substitutions to please your own palate: chard instead of kale, winter squash instead of yams, and of course if you don’t have coconut milk it is excellent without it.
*When I was growing up my mom cooked with yams a lot. Our favorite was the “Garnet” variety. I have always known them as yams…however, what I grew up eating weren’t true yams. True yams are an African tuber that is very rarely available in the United States. What I grew up eating are actually orange varieties of sweet potatoes. This knowledge is becoming more common and now there is almost always someone who feels the need to correct me when I say “yam” instead of “sweet potato”. So why do I still call them yams? Because that is what most Americans (particularly in the West) know them as and it’s what I’ve called them my whole life. I choose to continue to call them yams but if you choose to do as I do, just be prepared to have people pipe up with this information!
Soup Philosophy An article about soup making basics.