May 12, 2013

Leek, Potato and Carrot Soup / Potage Bonne Femme (The Good Woman’s Soup)!

oups and I, we’re just not very good friends. At the worst, we tend to give each other a very wide berth, and the best we try to tolerate each other as best as we can. I like to think of myself as a reasonably good cook but when it comes to soups, I’m cannot say so with any confidence.
I’m really not a lover of soup and for some reason my experiences with soup making haven’t always been the best. In fact, my daughter will get a worried look on her face if I mention I’m making soup and will ask if there’s anything else she could have for dinner! That’s just in case my soup for the day does not turn out right.


However there are days when the stars are aligned just right and the “Soup Gods” up there smile favourably at me and there’s no way my soup could be anything but good and the hero of this post, my “Leek, Potato and Carrot Soup”, otherwise known as the “Potage Bonne Femme” is definitely one of them.
I made this sometime back when leeks were in season, and they were everywhere at my local market, pale and almost white with a growth of white beard/ moustache-like roots and one end, and almost fish tail-like arrangement of deep green leaves at the other. A sort of almost overgrown, spring onions-on-hormones sort of vegetable, I thought when they first made an appearance at the market a couple of years back.


Not being able to resist the green freshness of this vegetable, and then finding out that they weren’t expensive at all, unlike a lot of the more “exotic” variety if vegetable and fruit which keep tempting me on my market trips, I triumphantly took home a bunch of these leeks. Only to sit down and wonder what I was supposed to cook with them, since leeks are not a vegetable I grew up with.
I did remember seeing recipes for Leek and Potato Soup somewhere on the net, so I went hunting for it. After a little searching, I came across a version which included carrots. A little more digging and I found this was apparently a classic and traditional French country soup called the “Potage Bonne Femme” or “The Good Woman’s Soup” though some refer to it as the “Housewife’s Soup”!
Leave out the carrots and make a soup with just leeks and potatoes and you have a Potage Parmentier. Make a leek and potato soup enriched with cream and serve it chilled and you have a Vichyssoise.

I couldn’t find any information on why this soup was called a “Good Woman’s Soup”. Was it meant only for good women, or was it cooked only by good women or perhaps a good soup for women? If anyone knows I’d be glad to hear how this soup came about its name. I will however tell you that it is a soup that’s good not just for women, but also for men and children.
The beauty of this soup is in its simplicity and all it needs in terms of seasoning is salt and crushed black pepper, but I couldn’t resist adding a little powdered cumin which I felt was just perfect. Creamy, thick and filling yet light, a Potage Bonne Femme is typically served with a simple parsley garnish.

 And just one more thing; I’ve never grown leeks but I understand that leeks can be very dirty and require a bit of meticulous cleaning. I say I “understand” because for some reason, the leeks I get my local market are always extremely clean.
Apparently, leeks are grown such that a large part of the lower part is under the soil so that the part of it under the soil is paler in colour and very tender. This means that the soil tends to get into every bit of the leek that it can. Check this article for tips on how to clean leeks without too much of an effort.
Leek, Potato and Carrot Soup / Potage Bonne Femme
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 leeks
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp cumin powder

1/4 tsp chilli powder/ chilli flakes (according to taste)
1 tsp salt
3 cups water
1 cup milk (or water if you prefer)
4 medium to large sized potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 medium sized carrots, peeled and sliced
Freshly crushed black pepper, to taste
More salt, if needed, to taste
Trim the roots and the top part of the leaves of the leeks.  Make sure the leeks are washed well, as they can have dirt inside. Chop them up.
In a largish pan, heat the butter and oil together. This gives you the flavour of butter without it burning. Add the onions and sauté them till they turn soft and translucent. Add the leeks and sauté till they turn soft.
Add the potatoes and carrots and sauté for a couple of minutes and then add the chilli and cumin powders. Stir in for about a minute and then add the water and 1 tsp of salt. Bring to a boil, and then turn down the heat. Cover the pan and let it simmer until the potatoes and carrots are cooked well. This should take about 15 to 20 minutes.
Turn off the heat and let it cool a bit. The transfer in two batches to your blender and purée it till smooth. If you are not serving the soup right away, you can refrigerate the soup. This soup will keep refrigerated for a couple of days, but do not add the milk to it if you’re planning to refrigerate it.
Otherwise, return the soup back to the pan and put it back on the stove top. Re-heat gently (do not boil) and add the milk or water (as much of the 1 cup you need, or all of it) to thin the soup to desired consistency and season with a little more salt and crushed pepper according to taste. This is a thick and creamy soup.
Serve hot garnished with cream (or grated cheese), parsley or chives, and bread on the side. This recipe serves 3 to 4.