Monday nights are my Sunday night, the last night of my weekend, so I usually try to do something nice for dinner. It being St. Paddy's day, I thought a nice potato soup might be in order, since I didn't really feel up to doing corned beef and cabbage.
Potato Soup is something of a tradition in my family. A quick and cheap comfort food that reminds me of my Gaelic and German roots. My grandmother has her "recipe," which is really more of a technique, as I don't think I've ever seen her measure out any ingredients, or check any of index cards when making it. Mom has personalized her technique, she frys up some bacon to add to the pot, and grills onions in grease... mmmmmm....
Since I can rarely leave well enough alone, I've been tinkering with potato soup, trying to make the family recipe my own. Below is what I came up with tonight, which was the best potato soup I think I have ever made.
1 qt. chicken broth (vegetable broth for vegetarians)
6 medium russet potatoes
4 slices of bacon (omit for vegetarian version)
1 small onion
2 small shallots
4 cloves of garlic
6 healthy stalks of kale
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon whole coriander
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds
1 tablespoon whole cumin seed
fresh ground pepper as you see fit
half cup of whole milk
half cup of cream
Chop the potatoes (with skins intact) into medium sized chunks (I like 'em about the size of two sugarcubes.) Add the potatoes and broth to a large pot and simmer over medium-low heat.
Chop up the bacon into pieces about the size of a postage stamp torn in half, and brown in a skillet. Your goal here is for the bacon to be as crunchy as possible with out being burnt. Keep an eye on it, and stir it occasionally while you chop up your veggies.
Chop the onion, shallots, and leeks into thin long slices. Compost the tough tops of the leeks. Mince the garlic.
Once the bacon is crunchy, remove it with a slotted spoon, or some such implement which will allow the grease to stay behind, and add it to potatoes and broth. If you want to do a vegetarian version just add some kombo seaweed and a dash of liquid smoke to the broth instead of the bacon. You might also want to slightly increase the amount of coriander, cumin, and fennel you use in the next step, maybe x 1.5 .
Turn the heat down a little on the skillet, and add the coriander, cumin, fennel, and garlic to the grease (or preheated sesame oil, if you are doing the vegetarian version.) Once these have just barely browned, add the onion, shallots, and leeks. This should about fill up your skillet, so you will have to stir it occasionally. Your goal here is to shrink this mass down, and get the onion and shallots to turn translucent. If I was doing a vegetarian version, I think I'd add four or five shitakes cut into thin strips, as well.
While you are waiting for skillet items to sweat, you can prep your kale. Tear the green bits off the stalk and chop them coarsely. You will probably have enough kale to fill an average size cutting board twice. Now would be good time to stir your soup, and onions. Grind as much white pepper onto onions as you think is appropriate (two to four good twists should be fine.) Those veggies might need more oil at this point, too, so I'd add two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of sesame oil (toasted will give you much better flavor!)
You probably have time for a smoke and to start a beer or glass of wine now. You just need to stir the veggies occasionally.
Once the onions and their ilk have cooked down and are translucent, add them to the soup. They will probably have soaked up most of the oil, so add the other two tablespoons of butter and sesame oil to the skillet. Once it has warmed up and melted, add half of the kale (which should pretty much fill the skillet.) Stir this constantly until it has all darkened and wilted. Pull it out of the skillet and stir into the soup. Then repeat with the second batch of the kale.
After all the kale has been added to the soup, turn off the heat and stir in the milk and cream.
Serve with buttered, crusty, homemade bread, like the great stuff Jes's mom has been giving us lately. (Thanks, Janet!) If you want to get really fancy you could garnish with bacon bits or crumbled seaweed, and some chopped green onions. Personally, the cooking process drains all my patience, and it's all I can do to butter the bread and shake some Cajun seasoning over the bowl. Mmmmm!! Like Tony Bourdain says, Peasant food is the cornerstone of all great cuisines.
(edit: Most published recipes for this kind of soup call for sticking it in a blender as a final step, but I prefer them unblended. In this instance the potatoes should be just disintegrating, and I like all the different textures. It's closer to the peasant roots as well.)