It’s around 30 degrees in Columbus, OH and you know what that means? That means, warm winter soups!
My wife came down with a horrible cold – 103 degree fever, cough, sinuses, running nose, watery eyes. On the day of our wedding, on a sunny day in early September, amidst the 90 degree heat, blue skies, healthy-looking guests and their celebratory attire, smiles, flowers and promises of a wonderful overseas honeymoon, our minister uttered something that made absolutely no sense whatsoever: in sickness and health. No sense at the time, but looking at my wife’s miserable condition now, seeing her wrapped in layers, with pieces of facial tissue sticking out of her pockets, thick wool socks, red nose… well you get the picture … the short phrase that bound us together now makes all the sense in the world. Since I’m a good husband, you know, and my Jewish roots tell me that good nutritious food should make you feel better, I thought I’d put that apron on.
Last night, I made a variation on a Scottish traditional theme – Cock-a-leekie soup – which is really what the name itself suggests: it’s made of chicken or chicken stock (Cock) and leeks (leekie). (It suggests other things too but I’m 100% positive it’s got nothing to do with the soup).
There are disparate bits of historical information about this soup. It likely started in France (Whitman, 1985) as a chicken and onion soup, yet in its present form it is definitely associated with Scotland. The first ever printed mention of cock-a-leekie was in Fynes Morrison’s book “An Itinerary” (Fitzgibbon, 1980). Back in medieval times, it was made with onions (instead of leeks), raisins and/or prunes (Ayto, 2002). In the imported version, onions were substituted for local leeks whereas prunes and raisins were removed altogether.
There may be a million different reasons why the Scots retained this dish. It’s easy to make, there is abundance of components (poultry and leeks), it’s warm and cozy. A Highlander can make this soup with as few efforts as possible. Sheep won’t mind finishing leftovers. The name is easy to pronounce (doesn’t have an “R” sound), so toothless shepherds can still have a conversation about it. It could make a solid breakfast, lunch or dinner – no strings attached. And it kind of rolls off your tongue doesn’t it? It just sounds Scottish, you know.
One thing is certain though. You can’t fight the English with just cock-a-leekie in your stomach. I bet William Wallace, aka “Braveheart”, fueled up on something heavier than that. I mean, look at his face – can you really fight the war on light poultry and onions???
Now on to the soup itself. The dish I made is a close relative to the original cock-a-leekie – Leek, Potato and Arugula Soup.
Ingredients2 oz / 4 tbsp. butter 1 onion, peeled and chopped 3 leeks, chopped 2 medium floury potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice 3 3/4 cups light chicken stock or water 2 large handfuls arugula 2/3 cup heavy cream salt and ground black pepper garlic-flavored ciabatta croutons, to serve
1. Melt the butter in a large heavy-based pan, then add the onion, leeks and potatoes and stir until the vegetables are coated in butter. Heat the ingredients until sizzling then reduce the heat to low.
2. Cover and sweat the vegetables for 15 min. Pour in the stock or water and bring to the boil then reduce the heat, cover again and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
3. Press the soup through the strainer or pass through a food mill and return to the rinsed pan (when pureeing the soup, don’t use a blender or food processor, as these will give it a gluey texture). Chop the arugula, add it to the pan and cook the soup gently, uncovered, for 5 min.
4. Stir in the cream, then season to taste and reheat gently. Ladle the soup into warmed soup bowls and serve with a scattering of garlic-flavored ciabatta croutons in each.
- Pan: it doesn’t have to be a heavy-based pan; I used a fairly light pot and it worked just fine
- Press the soup through the strainer: there is absolutely no need to do that; in fact you’ll like how the soup retained some of its consistency and not turned into a puree
We will continue the soup theme and the Scottish theme, both so intertwined and so relevant with the winter upon us, that we couldn’t – even if we wanted to – avoid the subject. Most importantly, my wife feels much better – fever is long gone, breathing is back to normal and “sickness” is transforming back to “health”. And although Tylenol, lemon and honey tea, lots of sleep and aloe vera infused paper products most likely did most of the work, some part of me is convinced that it was my soup that muscled her sickness to its final breath.
On this note, stay healthy and stay warm. I will look out for you with more ways to do just that.