Upgrade: French Leek Soup

Winter is drawing to a close — yes! — and that means that we are down to our last leek. That means we'll be out of onion-y flavors in our cooking until we have scallions next month. What to do as a fitting memorial to the last leek? 

French leek soup.

I know that you've had a cheese-laden crock of French onion soup at a restaurant. It's yummy, but most of what you're tasting is probably just salt. You can do better by upgrading to homemade French leek soup. It's easier, healthier, and has a much more subtle flavor. Here's what you need:

1 large or 2 medium leeks (what I have here really isn't big enough, but it's all I had left)
3-4 tablespoons of butter 
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
PLUS 1 carton of low sodium beef broth 

Step one: Cut the leek in half lengthwise and put the flat ends face down. Then slice into thin strips:

The leeks will separate into their layers when you cook them, and they will do this with less cajoling than onions. Also, you will not cry while preparing this soup. Leeks are the best.

Step two: Melt the butter in a pot, then stir in the brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce:

You can save time by getting this going while you slice the leeks up. The one drawback of leeks when compared to onions is that they won't quite caramelize on their own, but the brown sugar takes care of that easily (and quickly).

Step three: Stir the leeks into the pot. Flip them over a bunch for times from the bottom, to get them coated in the buttery sugar, and let them cook down:

This doesn't take very long since the leek pieces are so thin (another advantage: This soup is quicker than onion soup). Give it a couple stirs now and then, and when they seem soft enough, you're ready to move on.

Step four: Pour the beef broth over the leeks and give it a good stir:

When you make it, you will probably see more leeks. Remember, mine was kinda on the small side. Heat the soup to a palatable temperature (no need to boil). You can stop right here, add salt and pepper to taste, and eat it plain. Or you can keep going.

Step five: Add croutons to the bowl you plan to eat it out of:

These are stale French bread, which is pretty standard. You could also toast them in the oven while you cook the soup to make them extra crispy if you want. I didn't bother.

Step six: Ladle the soup over the croutons:

You could also stop here and eat it up, or you can get to the really good part next.

Step seven: Sprinkle grated cheese over the whole shebang:

I like gruyere, and its relative mildness works with the more subtle leeks. You could also use Swiss, or whatever other cheese you like. It makes sense to assemble this with your bowl on top of a heat-resistant cutting board or cookie sheet, so that you can take advantage of the helpful hint coming up.

Step eight: Turn on your broiler and place the bowl on the very top oven rack until the cheese is melted:

And here's the tip: Carry the whole thing on the board so you don't spill--especially important when you're taking it out, so you don't slop burning hot soup all over your hands. You're welcome.

Step nine: Eat up!

Be careful on the first bite —  it can be pretty hot under that layer of cheese. But if you only heat the soup to a comfortable temperature on the stove, you can probably eat it right away. If you bring it to a boil, then you'll have to wait. Either way, it's worth it. It took me longer to type this up than it did to make the soup, and I really think the leek version is an improvement over the way we've all come to expect onion soup to taste. Yum!


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