Sunday, March 20, 2011

Irish Potato Leek Soup with Soda Bread

So I bought a 10-pound bag of potatoes last week and then realized that I would actually need to find ways to use them all. I knew that some of them were earmarked for a potato project my kindergartener had to do for school (he was tasked to make a Mr. Potato Head using a real potato. This turned out to be the perfect project for both my kids, as both adore Mr. Potato Head!). But then what was I going to do with the other 9 or so pounds of spuds?

Around the same time that I bought them, I decided I wanted to give Irish cuisine another try. I had made an Irish dinner last year for St. Patrick's Day, and I had a lot of fun making something that represented my heritage, finally! I wanted to make something else this year, so I settled on an Irish Potato Leek Soup.

I made this on a day where it was most covenient for me to pull out the slow cooker and put it to some good use, so that's exactly what I did. After perusing different variations on an Irish Potato Soup, I finally decided to basically tweak them all and make it my own. I added cauliflower to mine, as well as caraway seed. There's just something about caraway; I tend to associate it with Irish food and thought it would work well here. I let the soup simmer away for hours, then I lifted the lid and pureed the whole thing with my immersion blender. Since I knew that the soup would lose tons of heat from removing the lid, I let it cook for another hour or so. Then, I lifted the lid just before we were ready to eat and poured in a cup of milk. I figured it would make the soup even more creamy, and just a tad more indulgent. I did make it on St. Patrick's Day, after all. We could afford just a bit of indulgence!

To go with it, I whipped up a very simple, basic Irish Soda Bread. This one's just flour (one part white, 3 parts whole-wheat), baking soda, salt, and caraway seed (my own addition), mixed gently with buttermilk until the dough comes together. The dough is then formed into a rustic, imperfect mound and baked for about 40-45 minutes.

The bread, we thought, was kinda blah. It was dense, but it was great for sopping up the soup. The soup itself was interesting and made for a good late-winter warmer, but I have to say it needed a little something more. I wish I knew what it needed, but it's just an inexplicable sort of lacking. Some salt seemed to help for my husband; I agree that this may have been a culprit. Still, I am glad to venture into Irish cooking again, even if it's just for one day out of the year. Now I feel like I'm good for another year!

Irish Potato Leek Soup
recipe by Bri
makes about 9 cups of soup

3 large baking potatoes (about 2 1/2 to 3 lbs.), coarsely chopped
2 medium leeks, sliced into half-moons and rinsed of all grit
1/2 to 1 small head cauliflower, chopped into small florets
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 to 1 Tbsp. caraway seeds
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
Optional garnishes: chopped scallions or chives, sour cream, bacon, cheese, etc.

1. In a slow cooker, combine the potatoes, leeks, and cauliflower. Pour the chicken broth over the vegetables, then add the caraway seeds. Place the lid on the slower cooker and turn it on to low. Let it go for at least 4-5 hours.

2. After about 4-5 hours, remove the lid and puree the soup with an immersion blender. Add salt and the pepper. Pour in the cup of milk, then replace the lid and let the soup warm back up thoroughly before turning the crockpot to warm (or turning it off) and serving.

Irish Soda Bread with Caraway
adapted from
makes a 1 1/2 lb. loaf

1 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole-wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 Tbsp. caraway seeds (can use more; I felt like that was not enough)
1 to 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except for the buttermilk. Slowly pour in 1 cup of the buttermilk, mixing the entire time. Add in the other 1/2 cup buttermilk as needed, 1 Tbsp. at a time, until the dough has been gently worked into a ball that holds together.

2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Turn the dough out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and mound into an 8-inch circle. Using a small knife, slash an X 1/2-inch deep over the top of the loaf.

3. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, until the top is very crusty and browned, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm; hot is even better.

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