Not Exactly a Recipe for Potato Soup: My Vegetarian Trickery

potato chowder made by Julia, delicious!Image by Lloyd Budd via Flickr

My soups are never the same two times running even if I start with the same basic ingredients. I don’t use recipes most of the time. How far astray can you go with vegetables, some kind of grain or legume, and some herbs? Season, taste and adjust.

That said, Eldest Daughter particularly liked a particular batch of my potato soup so I’ll try to capture a quasi-recipe.

She did ask me what “all those little white dots” were in the soup, examining it closely.

That’s where the vegetarian trickery comes in. To make sure we get enough protein, I hide pureed beans in all kinds of things. If you eat a dark soup at my house and it has a luscious stewlike consistency, you can say, “Thank you, pureed black beans.”

In this case the little white dots were pureed white beans. I've since discovered that Sweet Husband is allergic to those so I now leave them out, making this recipe something of a historical artifact: "Soup the way I used to make it."

If you really want great ways to use pureed beans, find a copy of a 20-year-old recipe book called The Brilliant Bean, by Sally and Martin Stone. They have wonderful desserts including a killer Chocolate Torte (hiding more of those pureed black beans) and a flourless garbanzo lemon cake that works for the gluten-free.

One of the challenges in capturing any of my recipes that don’t require finely calibrated proportions of ingredients is that I don’t measure quantities, so amounts below for seasonings are guesstimates on the low end. You can always add more to oomph up the flavor quotient.

Start sautéing over medium heat in large soup pot on stove while you work on chopping up the rest of the ingredients:
  • 1 large onion (or 2, if you’re just crazy about onions), diced
  • (This step can also involve leeks, if you have some on hand; clean well, slice white part and some of the tender green)
  • 1-2 T. olive oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pot)
When onions have softened and start to brown around the edges a bit, add:
  • 3-5 cloves garlic (more if small), crushed or finely chopped
  • 1 t. basil
  • 1 t. dill weed
  • ½ t. thyme
  • ½ t. rosemary (grind, pound in pestle, or do something to reduce the big twigs to smaller bits if your family doesn’t like the sensation of eating an evergreen)
  • ½ t. pepper (white, if you have it--cuts down on black specks in a white soup)
  • ½ t. turmeric (optional; adds a nice rich buttery color)
  • 1 bay leaf
(I like adding some of the herbs at this point so the flavors are brought out by direct application of heat)

Chop and add:
  • 8 or so potatoes, cubed (I don’t peel them because I want the fiber and vitamins, but you can; use Idaho russets, red potatoes, Yukon gold, or whatever you have on hand, although those purple ones might make it look a little weird)
  • 2-3 stalks celery
Let these ingredients cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently so the potatoes don’t stick to the pan. Meanwhile, puree in a blender in two batches:
  • 2 cans fat-free evaporated milk
  • 2 cans white beans (Great Northern)
  • Optional blender item: ½-1 c. cottage cheese or cream cheese; adds some creaminess to the finished product. You can use light cream cheese, but the nonfat stuff just won’t blend in, so don’t go there.
Rinse all the cans out with a little water and throw that in the blender too.

Add the bean/milk puree to the pot and stir. If you’d like more liquid, add more milk (regular or evaporated), vegetable broth, or water. My parents grew up during the Depression, so I rinse the blender with some water and throw that in, so as not to waste a single bit.

Let the soup simmer over low heat for 60 minutes, stirring very frequently unless you want that milk crusty ickiness on the bottom of the pan.

At some point, if you have parmesan or feta cheese on hand and want to throw in a little, that adds a nice touch of flavor and a lot of fat. Or you can save it to sprinkle just a tablespoon on top.

Optional ingredients to add toward the end if you like them: Microwave a cup of frozen corn. You could also add peas or mixed vegetables, but it gets further away from being chowdery. Diced red or green bell pepper adds nice color.

Toward the end, add 1 t. salt. Taste and adjust the seasonings. I found myself adding some garlic powder and more pepper, including a dash of cayenne because we like things pretty peppery. If you don't want the little black flecks, getcherself some white pepper; then you'll just have little grey flecks.

Serve with grated cheddar or parmesan cheese on top, diced green onions or chopped chives or parsley if you have them. Enjoy!