This time of year, for me, usually entails a trip to Calitzdorp — a sweet, not-too-pretty-but-filled-with-character dorp in the Klein (small) Karoo, just outside Oudtshoorn — to visit my folks. They retired there from Jo'burg about six years ago, and since then I've come to look forward to my visits, not just because I get to spend time with them, but because it always means lots of fun in the kitchen with the spoils form my dad's veggie patch, a lot of wine appreciation, and generally a lot of togetherness, laughter and good eatin'.
Huge home-grown carrots, gargantuan beetroots, fresh salad leaves, lovely, earthy potatoes, snappy leeks, sweet cherry tomatoes and firm, shiny zucchini were all potential ingredients, but I decided to give vichyssoise (cold leek and potato soup) a bash. I'm not sure why, exactly, because I'd only had it once at a restaurant and I hadn't really enjoyed the taste or the temperature — the merits of chilled soup eluded me. Perhaps, now, I came to this recipe due to the baking Karoo temperatures, and the fact that I'd been on a steady diet of rich meats and carbs for about a week straight... I needed a reprieve from the heat and heavy food.
I didn't want to leave the result to chance, so I consulted both Larousse and The Joy of Cooking — the former called for a base of water with a bouquet garni thrown in, while the latter called for stock. So I used both (a stock cube, I admit), and boy, oh boy, was it delicious — thick, savoury and filling, but quite light at the same time. I also didn't chill the soup completely, but rather served it on the cool side of room temperature, and I think this allowed for more flavour. But if you prefer your soups icy, by all means.
This is one of those stupidly easy recipes that yields fabulous results — and we all need more of those, don't we? Don't worry too much about getting the amounts exactly right, they're more of a guide.
If you happen to be experiencing a cold winter right now, this soup is also — hey presto — exceedingly yummy served hot.
(Side note: Vichyssoise was invented in the US by a French chef, who named the dish after his home town, Vichy. So drop that into conversation, why don't you.)
12 leeks, white bits only, washed and finely sliced
600g potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 bouquet garni*
1 litre chicken stock (or just enough to cover the potatoes)
1 cup cream
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Chives, to garnish
1. In a large soup pot, gently fry the leeks in the butter until soft and translucent — do not allow to brown.
2. Add the potatoes and garni to the pot, as well as enough stock to just cover the potatoes. Give it a good stir, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer until the potatoes are soft.
3. Using a handheld blender (or an ordinary one — which just means more washing up!), blend the soup to your desired consistency. I like it slightly chunky.
4. Leave the soup to cool, then plonk it in the fridge if you'd like it chilled, for about an hour.
5. Stir in the cream, season with salt and pepper, and divide between four bowls. Garnish with chives (snip-snip) and that's that.
*Two sprigs parsley, two bay leaves and one sprig each thyme and rosemary, tied together with a piece of kitchen string.