January 17, 2010

La Gringa's Baked Potato Soup with homemade croutons

La Gringa's baked potato soupLa Gringa's Baked Potato Soup

There was a restaurant in Dallas that had the best salads. I think it was Houston's but I may be confused since it was a long time ago. One day when I ordered soup and salad, baked potato soup happened to be the soup of day. Prior to that time, I'm not sure if I had ever had potato soup − sounds kind of boring, doesn't it? I was a little disappointed that it wasn't broccoli cheese or French onion or tortilla soup day.

But this potato soup was fantastic! It was so good that I practically licked the bowl. I asked for the recipe and the waiter dutifully but doubtfully went to ask the chef. He returned saying, no, I couldn't have the recipe.

I returned several more times, always on potato soup day and each time begged the waiter to get the recipe for me. That just wasn't going to happen. As a compromise, I asked if they could just give me some hints about the herbs. Nope. They wouldn't even throw me that bone.

So with each spoonful of the soup, I tried to determine what herbs were in it. Dill was definitely the highlight. I thought I could taste the usual soup herbs but there was a taste of something unusual in that soup. Finally one day, it hit me. Caraway! At least that is what I thought it tasted like and as odd as it may sound, it works.

I experimented with the soup a couple of times and Eureka! As good or better than Houston'sso there! I wrote this recipe from memory but I think the ingredient quantities are pretty accurate. Start with the lower amount of herbs and add more if you like toward the end of the cooking time. The main thing I'm not sure about is the quantity of potatoes. I used 11 potatoes, most of them on the small to medium size. Just estimate if you want to make a smaller quantity of soup; the proportions don't have to be exact. The important thing is to maintain the liquid level to only about an inch or so above the potatoes, no more.

The herb list sounds extensive. You can see from the photos that I go heavy on the herbs. The dill is essential and if you can get the bouquet garni, that may be all you need. If you can't get the bouquet garni, use about 1/2 tsp. of as many of these as you have: bay leaf, basil, thyme, marjoram, and oregano, with some fresh or dried parsley.

Honduras Hint: I stock up on herbs and keep them in the freezer. Many herbs and seeds are hard or impossible to find and tend to mold in this tropical climate. Bottled herbs are an easy thing for friends to bring in their suitcasesat least until those are outlawed, too.

By the way, the soup name is a misnomer. The potatoes are not baked. The name refers to the 'fully loading' of the garnishes when serving the soup.

For a vegetarian version, you can leave out the bacon. Just use olive oil to saute the veggies and use part vegetable stock for the broth. However, if you are married to a Honduran, the bacon is required to convince him that this is a whole meal. Hondurans must have meat, no matter how meager the portion! By the way, this soup is very filling − served with fresh hot bread, this is definitely a main course dish. The soup is equally good reheated the next day or day after.



La Gringa's Baked Potato Soup
makes about 6 quarts

6-8 oz. bacon
1 onion, diced small, or 2 sliced leeks
2 carrots, sliced
3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
2-3 celery stalks, sliced
4 lbs. potatoes, peeled and diced about 3/4 inch (2 cm.), (about 10 cups of diced potatoes)
chicken broth and/or water with bouillon cubes
salt as needed
1-2 tsps. cracked black pepper
2-3 tsp. dill weed
1-2 tbsp. bouquet garni
1/2-1 tsp. caraway seeds
1/2-1 tsp. thyme
1/2-1 tsp. celery seed
cayenne pepper, just a tiny dash
1-2 tsp. fresh or dried chives
1/2-1 cup milk

Condiments for garnish:

crumbled bacon
mantequilla blanca or sour cream
shredded cheddar cheese
thinly sliced chives or scallions
crunchy croutons (see below)

In a large soup pot, cook bacon until crispy. Remove bacon, drain and crumble or cut into bits, but leave the bacon fat in the pot. If you have more than a couple of tablespoons of fat, remove some.

Stir in the onion, carrot, garlic, and celery, sprinkle with a little salt, and cook over medium heat just until the onion begins to soften. The carrots and celery will still be crisp.

baked potato soupAdd potatoes and liquid. The liquid should be enough to cover the potatoes by about an 1 inch. I usually use part water and part chicken broth, or add 3 or 4 bouillon cubes to the water if I don't have any chicken broth. This time I used a powder called consume de pollo (chicken consumé) that I had left over from making tamales. It seems very similar to bouillon cubes to me but colored the soup a little more yellow; usually the soup will be more white than this. The consume came in a plain plastic bag so I don't know the brand. If you use the consume or bouillon, be cautious with the salt, as both of these are very salty.

Add the herbs to taste, except the chives, and simmer gently. Don't boil. Simmer gently, for about 20-30 minutes, taking care to not overcook the potatoes.

When potatoes are tender but still firm, ladle out about 1/3 of the soup (both liquid and potatoes), in batches, into a blender and puree until smooth. Puree more of the soup and potatoes if you want thicker soup. You could puree the whole batch, but we like something to bite on in the soup.

baked potato soupStir the pureed potatoes back into the pot and add the milk. It doesn't take much milk to make the soup creamy, but you can add more or leave it out if you like. Taste and adjust seasoning. I usually add more dill and the dried chives (or fresh if I have them) at the end just before serving.

Ladle soup into bowls. Add a dollop of mantequilla or sour cream and sprinkle the soup with bacon crumbles, cheese, croutons, and fresh chives or scallions, if you have them.

When reheating the soup, simmer it only, don't let it boil.

Crunchy homemade croutons:

homemade croutons2 cups bread cubes, cut to about 3/4 inch (2 cm.)
1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. margarine or butter
1-2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1/2 tsp. thyme, or other herbs

Heat the olive oil with the margarine or butter. I added one minced garlic clove to the hot oil but by the time that the croutons were browning, the garlic bits started burning. Next time, I will use more, but larger chunks of garlic, and just remove them after they have flavored the oil.

Stir in the bread cubes and toss to coat well. Sprinkle with thyme or other herbs, as you like. Cook over medium high heat until browned and crunchy, stirring frequently. Store in a sealed container. Of course, you can use packaged croutons instead.


baked potato soupIf you make this soup, please stop back to leave a comment to let me know if you liked it. If you like vegetable soups with a kick, you might want to try my Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup recipe, too. El Jefe loves that one even without meat, which is saying a lot!
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