Recipe: Leek & potato soup

My sister and me, a long time ago. Photo courtesy of Jane and Simon Barry

Christmas morning in the Barry household always followed a specific agenda. We were allowed to open the presents in our stockings, but not before 07:00. Presents would include the Beano or Dandy annual for each of my brothers, and for me and my sister, the latest cassette from our favourite pop star (her: Kylie & Jason; me: PJ & Duncan...yes, that’s right, the artists latterly known as Ant & Dec). We all had a net of gleaming chocolate coins that were probably scoffed before breakfast, and a tangerine that was certainly ignored.

Sometimes you just don't want your picture taken. Photo courtesy of Jane and Simon Barry

The presents under the tree were not to be touched until Grandma had arrived and the sausage rolls she brought were baked. A giant tin of Quality Streets would finally be opened after having sat on the sideboard, taunting us, for weeks. Everyone had their favourite, rummaging through the twists of coloured foil to find it (mine was the fudge, pink wrapper, slight squeak when unwrapped), and the coffee creams were always left unclaimed. The fire on, a Labrador or two warned off the snacks, the gifts would finally be handed out.

Lunch followed a brisk walk with the dogs. The starter would be smoked salmon, brown bread, butter, and a squeeze of lemon, a dish I didn’t develop a taste for until I was older. The main was usually turkey with all the trimmings. Whoever was cooking would occasionally throw a tantrum after getting the timing of things wrong. Isn’t there always one tray of veg that refuses to roast while everything else is ready? Christmas crackers were essential, as was wearing the paper crown throughout the entire meal. Pudding was usually trifle. We stuffed ourselves until bursting, but in the late evening, after some board games or a Christmas special on the TV, we were usually ready for a dish of cold leftovers. Then the days and days of turkey with everything: turkey with sweet-and-sour sauce; turkey sandwiches, no mayo; under-seasoned turkey fricassée. There’s a reason we only ate like this once a year. By day four, dried-out turkey in some sauce or other felt like punishment.

So happy to be with one another. Photo courtesy of Jane and Simon Barry

We aren’t always all together for Christmas, but this year was the first time we all spent it apart. At home in Berlin, the day after my boyfriend and I were meant to go to Scotland, we decided to watch ‘Love Actually’. I’d never seen it and expected to be only mildly entertained. I found myself sobbing through the opening credits. The movie opens (and closes) with real life footage of people greeting their loved ones at the London Heathrow arrivals gate. Remember what that was like? Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve had weekly video calls with our families; we’ve spoken more this year than ever before. But watching that film, the distance seemed amplified. What a privilege we had, but never really saw as such. Having the ability to connect digitally is also a privilege, though, so we got together online. On Christmas Eve we had a family carol sing-a-long (if it could be called that...have you tried singing as a group on Zoom?!), and messages and photos streamed through the family WhatsApp group all day. It was the usual Barry banter and nostalgia, but bittersweet around the edges.

This year’s Christmas meal was not the overindulgence that I’m used to. We didn’t make a starter; we poached a vegetarian haggis, made a mushroom gravy, and roasted some veg. For pudding, poached pears served with almond tuiles and crème fraîche. No leftovers. In the days since, we’ve eaten very simply: a vegetarian lasagne (I’ll share the recipe soon, needs some work), egg salad in sesame buns, and an enormous pot of leek and potato soup. Having soup in the fridge is always a good idea. We’re enjoying very lazy days at home, and aside from a bit of chopping, this soup basically makes itself. So long as you have some good bread to toast, a lot of butter, and maybe some cheese, you’ll feel very satisfied with this recipe. It makes a good deal of soup, I lose count of how many bowls, but you’d certainly manage to feed 6-8 hungry folk. You could omit the butter and up the olive oil by a couple of tablespoons to make it vegan.

 

Leek & potato soup

Makes a lot

 

800 g waxy potatoes (festkochend, if you’re in Germany), peeled and roughly chopped

200 g floury potatoes (mehligkochend), peeled and roughly chopped

2 large leeks, thoroughly washed and sliced

40 g unsalted butter

4 tbsp olive oil

2.5–3 tsp salt (depending on taste)

2.5 litres of water

In a very large pot (I use a 9-litre pot), melt the butter with the olive oil over a medium heat. When it’s hot, add the potatoes, leeks, and one teaspoon of the salt. Mix everything together; once it’s all sizzling, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to low. Allow to sweat for 15 minutes on a low heat. You can stir it once or twice to make sure it isn’t sticking to the bottom, but replace the lid.

Add the water plus one more teaspoon of salt. Stir everything together and taste the water. I like my soup quite salty, so I would almost certainly add the full third teaspoon of salt, but if you like it less so, adjust to your taste. Maybe half a teaspoon (or even less) would do for you.

Bring to a boil and cook on a medium heat for another 15 minutes. Towards the end use a potato masher to lightly mash some of the potatoes (not all of them, you want some chunky texture). This helps thicken up your broth a bit.

You can serve immediately, but the flavour of this soup really benefits from a night in the fridge. Just heat up the next day and eat with plenty of buttered toast or even a grilled cheese sandwich.

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