Merging the tastes of spring in classic soup

Growing up, we ate lots of homemade soups. All very basic, simple, homey and quite delicious: rich beef stew, flavored with lots of vegetables, including chopped cabbage that cooked to a clear tenderness holding all the rich juices of the chunks of chuck roast; pots of beans that, depending on their liquid proportions, teetered between broth-y coups and hearty cassoulet consistencies; the rare appearance of the slightly exotic canned oyster in a milky/salty soup bath; humble hamburger soup, conjured from ground beef and mixed vegetables; my dad’s chili, a seemingly bottomless pit of deliciously thick, never-ending fire.

My favorite, though, and one we had probably the most often, was potato soup. Potatoes and onions, sometimes celery — that’s it — sautéed down to tender perfection, then floated to richness in a silky milk broth, its surface pooled with golden melted butter, and seasoned with salt and lots of black pepper.

The soup was pure comfort and a full meal (crackers crumbled in it or not). It brought the family to quiet slurp-itude, and left everyone reasonably peaceful for sometime after. It was a welcome hit in the cold winter months, but also in springtime or even summer, too, when the garden potatoes were ready and dug and laying on their chicken wire beds in the coolest, darkest, deepest part of the basement (it was both a thrill and a dread to be sent to the basement to bring up some potatoes).

Potatoes have found their way (and I don’t even have a basement) into soups I love and make throughout the year — a roasted root soup (see blog entry of October 2016) populated with parsnips, carrots and squash, gets a little richness from pure Yukon gold; a Colcannon soup (see blog entry of March 2014) is creamy with blended new potatoes and chopped cabbage; and a hearty winter minestrone (see blog entry of January 2014), deeply flavored with beef broth and fresh rosemary, is rounded out with a single chopped Idaho potato.

My ear seems always to the ground for a new potato soup recipe…which led me to my long-held interest in vichyssoise (pronounced VISH-ees-WAHZ), a classic for spring. Vichyssoise, translated as “cream of leek and potato soup,” is actually an American invention, according to Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (1961), from a master French recipe simply concocted from leeks, potatoes, water, butter and cream. Usually served cold (it apparently was created by a chef at the Ritz-Carlton in New York to keep guests cool in hot months), it can also be served warm or room temperature, and is considered delicious at any degree.

I’m not just a fan of potatoes. If I could, I’d put leeks in everything. They are mild, sweet and flavorful and beautiful to look at (before you chop and sauté them), so I was delighted to find a very leek-y and potato-y recipe for vichyssoise from The New York Times recently that I wanted to try.

Part of the reason I wanted to make this recipe was that it also included avocado, which, with what it could add in color and silky texture, sold me. Also, absent from the soup was the presence of soup, making it lighter and healthier.

The soup could not come together any easier. First, you sauté the chopped leeks and potatoes in butter; than you add vegetable broth (or chicken, if you choose), and finish cooking the vegetables. Because I used low-sodium vegetable broth, I had to add some salt, along with pepper, at the end of he short cooking time.

At this point, you add the chopped avocado (1 or 2) and blend to purée the soup to a smooth finish (I used my immersion blender). My soup, because my broth was a rich brown, took on a deep golden tan (photos of other vichyssoise I’ve seen were paler in color).

I topped my vichyssoise with more bright green avocado slices and another spring taste — fresh garlic chives. I ate the soup while it was still slightly warm, then ate leftover soup cold. It was yummy both ways, deeply flavored with earthy potato and leek, creamy and hearty, but light, too. And gave me that enough feeling, a “satisfying experience,” as Julia Child expressed: “An excellent lunch or light supper need be no more than a good soup…”

Avocado Vichyssoise
By Mark Pittman for The New York Times (
Serves 2 to 4

2 tablespoons butter
3 peeled and cubed potatoes
3 trimmed and chopped leeks
4 cups stock
1 or 2 avocados
Chopped chives
Chopped cilantro

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large pot. Add potatoes and leeks. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring, until softened.

Add 4 cups stock. Boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the coarsely chopped flesh of 1 or 2 avocados before puréeing.

Purée, then let cool.

Garnish with cilantro (or chives and additional avocado).

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