Recipes

Potato Leek Soup Recipe: A History of Ancient Rome’s Superfood

We’re now unofficially deep into the winter months (officially so as of Dec 21st). Winter means a lot of things; best amongst those might just be soup season. But instead of the tried and tired chicken noodle, tomato, or butternut squash (jk, butternut squash could never be tired), this particular winter season we’ve been craving something more imperial. 

In the novel Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron, the character of Nathan enthusiastically speaks to the nutritional benefits of leeks. This underrated vegetable has an interesting history (and even more nutritious properties) that doesn’t stop with Styron’s masterpiece. As Nathan tells us in the novel, the leek was the favorite food of the Roman Emperor Nero. “Filled with iron! Also will improve the timbre of your voice.” He continues to rhapsodize as such. “Did you know that the Emperor Nero had leeks served to him every day to deepen the sonority of his voice? So he could croon while he had Seneca drawn and quartered?”

He was not wrong. Emperor Nero apparently ate leeks daily, incorporating them if possible into each meal. The leek was considered to be a superfood in Ancient Rome, Egypt, and Greece. In fact, Emperor Nero ate so many leeks that he was even referred to as ‘Porrophagus,’ which is Latin for ‘Leek Eater.’ (Though, one assumes, not to his face.) 

The vegetable also impacted Celtic cultures—as the Irish and Welsh believed it to have mystical properties. Under the advice of a Celtic monk, the Welsh army wore helmets adorned with a leek emblem in the Battle of Heathfield in 633 AD. This apparently proved effective, as the Welsh defeated the Saxons. Welsh loyalty to this vegetable didn’t end there—today the leek remains the national symbol of Wales. 

While unlikely to win you any battles, this Potato Leek Soup recipe will certainly fortify you for the cold nights ahead.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup salted butter
  • 2 leeks sliced, white and pale green parts only
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 cups diced potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Method

  • Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat.
  • Cut dark end and stem of leek and discard. Chop leeks into round slices. Cook leeks in butter and 1 teaspoon salt for about 10 minutes in a large pot, stirring frequently. 
  • Stir cornstarch into the leek mixture. Slowly incorporate the broth and stir to dissolve cornstarch into the mixture.
  • Cube potatoes into bite sized pieces and add them, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper into the mixture. Bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat, add cream, and let simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  • Serve piping hot but be careful not to burn your tongue!