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Eric Akis: A warming leek soup for a chilly spring day

Alliums from the farm market put to good use on an unseasonably cold and wet afternoon
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Leeks and green onions are blended into this soup topped with chives and blue cheese. ERIC AKIS

I bought some fine looking locally grown leeks at a farm market the other day and, despite it being June, it was cold out and raining. So, when I got home I decided to warm things up and make soup with them.

I didn’t call it three Allium soup, but I could have. That’s because, beyond leeks, green onions and chives were also added to it, all members of the genus Allium, plants that also include onions, shallots and garlic.

Leeks are actually related to both onion and garlic, with mild hints of both in its flavour and alluring aroma. To prepare a leek for cooking, trim off the hairy looking root end, if still attached, and the tough, fibrous, darkest green top portion that grows above ground. Now cut the leek in half lengthwise, washed thoroughly with cold water to remove any dirt hidden inside, pat dry, and it’s ready to use as needed.

Green onions, called scallions in some areas, look like a smaller version of a leek. But they are simply immature onions picked with their tender green tops still attached, and when their bulbs are almost non-existent. Because they are picked young, they have a bright, mild onion flavour with hints of spice and pepper. Tastes that work well with the leeks in the soup.

Slender green chives are related to onions and leeks and are classified as an herb. If you have some in your garden, when harvesting, use sharp scissors to cut what you need, doing so just above the ground. The lower parts of the chives left behind will eventually grow upward again. Also use those scissors to snip the chives into small pieces for use in the dish you are making.

If you don’t grow your own chives, you can find bundles of them at farm markets and some supermarkets. When buying, chose uniformly green ones that look sturdy and fresh picked. If you have chives leftover you won’t use anytime soon, snip them, place in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, freeze solid, transfer to an airtight container and keep frozen until needed. Sprinkle, while still frozen, into any dish you think will benefit with the taste of chives.

To make my soup, I sautéed sliced leeks until tender, and then mixed in some sliced green onions. After they cooked a short while, I mixed in some stock, thyme (you can also use tarragon) and cubed yellow-fleshed potatoes. The soup was then simmered until the potatoes were tender, and pureed with some fresh parsley mixed in, enhancing its colour.

Soups like this, made with leeks and potatoes, are often tastily topped with blue cheese. You could use Stilton or another blue cheese that could be crumbled or pulled into small nuggets and set on the soup after its ladled into bowls. Or, you could do what I did and use a B.C. type of blue cheese and slice and set some on the soup.

That goat milk cheese, made by the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company (saltspringcheese.ca), is called Blue Juliette. The company says it’s a Camembert with mild blue elements with a moderate flavour when the cheese is young (18 to 30 days) that becomes considerably stronger when very ripe (45 days or more).

Leek and Green Onion Soup with Chives and Blue Cheese

Leeks, green onions and chives flavour this perfect for late spring soup topped with rich, creamy blue cheese.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: About 25 minutes

Makes: four servings

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 cups thinly sliced leek, white and pale green parts only (see Note)

2 medium green onions, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp dried thyme or tarragon

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, plus more, if needed

2 cups yellow-fleshed potatoes, peeled and cubed (see Note)

2 Tbsp coarsely chopped parsley

• salt and white pepper, to taste

75 to 100 grams blue cheese, sliced, crumbed or pulled into small nuggets

2 to 3 tsp snipped fresh chives

Place oil in a medium pot set over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir in green onions and thyme (or tarragon) and cook one to two minutes more.

Pour in the four cups of stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Gently simmer soup 15 minutes, or until potatoes are very tender. Mix in the parsley, and then puree the soup in a food processor or blender, or in the pot with an immersion (hand) blender. Blend a bit more stock into the soup, if you find it too thick.

Set the soup back on the heat, return to a simmer, and then taste and season with salt and pepper, as needed. Ladle the soup into bowls, top each serving with some of blue cheese and chives, and enjoy.

Note: One very large, or two small to medium leeks, should yield enough of the white and pale greens parts needed for this recipe. Save the dark green bits of leek for stock. Two medium to large yellow-fleshed potatoes should yield the cubed amount needed here.

eakis@timescolonist.com

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.