"What's for lunch?" (That'd be the pigeons talking and not the Frenchman studying the pigeons, fork and knife in hand, hands rapping the table in the courtyard, below! Do you see the second pigeon, hidden in the "trou" to the left?
un poireau (pwah-roh) noun, masculine
: a leek
(The plural is "poireaux")
For those of you who are wondering what to have for your next meal (besides pigeon...), guest columnist James R. Wilson is here today to share a recipe! Note: if you are reading this journal in a blog or website other than French Word-A-Day, via syndication, be sure to visit the original source--and sign up for the free newsletter while you're there!
From the Kitchen of James R. Wilson
(Green velvet—it’s not just for cotillion dresses any more!)
Fortune smiled upon me when I was a student in France, affording me the chance to live in Normandy among some very talented cooks. My dear friend, Andrée Harivel, of Paris and Courseulles-sur-Mer, Normandy, was a particularly gifted cook. Dédée, as her friends and family called her, used to make this blended vegetable soup whenever the main ingredient ‘les poireaux’ (leeks) were in season. She insisted that it was a real elixir and just what I needed in my diet—full of vitamins and minerals, and some “oligo-elements”.
Green Velvet Soup was a purifier, in Andrée’s repertoire of home remedies. Eating these “oligo-elements” would help to detoxify the liver so one would not suffer from ‘mal au foie’ or even worse, the ‘crise de foie’. (Of course, the first time someone told me that I was suffering from a ‘sick liver’, I was deeply concerned. I had never known anyone who had had such an affliction. I later discovered that it is a very common malady in France, something I had mistaken/continue to mistake for heart burn.)
In any event, according to Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat, leek soup is what French women eat/drink/live on when they want to shed the extra pound or two. The magical Leek Soup is, in her estimation, the Spartan alternative to overeating and for ‘recapturing your equilibrium from time to time’.
For me, Green Velvet Soup, so named for its creamy green appearance after it has been blended with a “robot Marie” (a hand held mixer) or in a blender, also brings back plenty of fond memories of watching Dédée chop the veggies, add them to her pressure cooker and then sit back and chat with me over a glass of fine wine. We would be but seven minutes from a fine meal. I learned, later, that cooking this soup in the pressure cooker helped it to maintain its high level of vitamins, minerals and those elusive ‘oglio-elements’. In case you don’t have a pressure cooker, though, I will tell you how to make it stovetop just the same.
Leeks, about 1 kg (2 pounds)
Zucchini, or yellow summer squash (3-4 small ones, or a larger one w/o the pulp section)
Carrots, two or three nice orange ones
Potatoes, a couple of small ones
Tomatoes, four medium-sized
Spices: Herbes de Provence, sea salt (about 1 Tbsp), fresh ground pepper, bay leaf
Alternate spice mix might be a nice Italian Seasoning, like what is most readily available in the stores.
(Essentially, you can also add most any vegetable you like to this soup, or any left over veggie that you might have. I have in the past added spinach, sometimes green cabbage, chunks of winter squash, green bell peppers, sweet onions. Whatever you choose to put in, make it something that would blend nicely. Corn, for example, would not and would make this soup seem very strange in the end!)
Herbes de Provence—in case you can’t find a prepared mix at the store:
* 3 tablespoons oregano leaves
* 3 tablespoons of marjoram leaves
* 3 tablespoons thyme leaves
* 1 teaspoon basil leaves
* 1 teaspoon sage leaf
* 3 tablespoons savory
* 2 tablespoons lavender flowers
* 1 teaspoon rosemary
Combine and mix well. Store the mixture in a small airtight jar in cool location.
Soup Preparation—The Short Version:
Clean all vegetables well, throw in to pot and cook until tender; blend; and, serve.
Soup Preparation—The Long Version:
Start by cleaning and rinsing the leeks well. They are a strange vegetable in that they trap some of the dirt they are grown in amongst the layers. To clean leeks, it isn’t difficult. Dédée showed me how to take my knife and starting about one inch from the rooted bottom, slide the blade in and pull straight up, slicing it open all the way to the top. She then turned it one quarter turn and sliced it up again—essentially cutting the leek into quarters without fully separating the plant. Holding the rooted end, she could then manage to wash fully the leeks without having to deal with the mess of losing parts of it in to the sink. She would then trim off the roots, and the very tips of the leeks, and discard those. Don’t get rid of the dark green part of the leek—it is very flavorful and gives the soup its color.
Chop the leeks in to smaller pieces, about an inch or two wide, so that they will cook and blend easier. Add them to the pressure cooker/stew pot.
Wash zucchini or summer squash, remove ends, chop and add to leeks.
Peel potatoes and carrots, chop, add to pot.
Wash and remove stem from tomatoes (or use one large can of tomatoes from store), add to pot.
About 2 inches of water.
If you are using a pressure cooker, like I do, you put the lid on, seal it, and bring to a boil. Cook for seven minutes when it reaches pressure. After, remove from heat and run pot with cover on under cold water until pressure releases before attempting to open the pot.
If you prefer to make the soup in a stew pot, bring to boil, and simmer, uncovered for 20 to 30 min. until vegetables are all tender.
Once you have cooked the soup, either under pressure, or in a stew pot, be sure to remove the bay leaf, which is tough and will not blend.
Blend the soup either in a blender/food processor or with a hand held blender until it is a smooth green texture. It should appear like fine green velvet when finished.
(You can, of course, eat the soup without blending, but it isn’t as nice to look at, and some people don’t like all the big chunks.)
Top with sprig of fresh parsley, serve hot.
In Normandy, many will often put a tablespoon of ‘crème fraîche’ (essentially sour cream) on the top as a garnish as well.
(This soup also stores well frozen to be unthawed and enjoyed later in the winter.)
James Wilson, professor of French and Spanish, studied under the auspices of Middlebury College and the Language Schools. When James isn't teaching, he enjoys gardening at his lakeside home, and his other current task, writing a history for his hometown in Maine.
Read a heart-warming story by James--about one fiesty Frenchwoman. And, whatever you do, please be sure to leave James a note, in the comments box, to let him know that you enjoyed his recipe and story--as well as these very useful tips on language learning! Do not miss them: Download "Tips For Foreign Language Learning" by James Wilson
First published in 1927 to educate French housewives in the art of classical cooking, LA BONNE CUISINE DE MADAME E. SAINT-ANGE has since become the bible of French cooking technique, found on every kitchen shelf in France.
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