Winter is full of small pleasures: twinkling lights strung up on trees, hot chocolate on every menu, the cozy warmth of a roaring fire, and most importantly, soup. I could happily eat soup at every meal all year round, but I relish the arrival of cold, snowy days when nothing feels more appropriate than a steaming bowl of soup.
Ask my sisters, and they’ll tell you how much they used to tease me for my endless appetite for soup. Anything from cheesy broccoli cheddar to broth-rich beef barley to vegetable-packed minestrone will do. But perhaps my favorite soup to make and to eat is one of the very simplest: potato leek soup.
I say potato leek and you probably think vichyssoise. My recipe—okay, my mother’s—is a stripped-down version of that classic. The origins of vichyssoise are vague—some say it’s French and others say it’s an American creation. Regardless of historical context, it’s always made with potatoes, leeks, cream, and chicken stock. It has an incredible depth of flavor that belies such a short list of ingredients.
The beauty of my vichyssoise-ish soup is that it tastes just as creamy—in fact, most tasters swear there’s at least a cup of heavy cream involved)—but it has nothing but potatoes, leeks, and liquid (either water or stock). Cooking the leeks first with some salt and pepper develops flavor. The creamy taste and thick, luscious texture comes from the starch released from the potatoes as they cook. You really don’t need cream, and without it, this soup is pretty much as cheap and easy as they come, but it tastes sophisticated and luxurious.
When I was living in New York, just out of college—with too many nights out and a terrible Nutella habit—I’d make big batches of this soup to be frugal. I’d doctor it up with extra spices, or add a few snipped chives on top, but usually just savor it as is. I’d make a batch of flaky buttermilk biscuits (equally cheap and quick!) to go with it. A little effort can have you feasting like royalty.