Tag Archives: leeks

Irish Leek and Oatmeal Soup

I have done separate posts in the past on leeks and on oats, each one with an attendant recipe from Scotland. Leeks and oats are both associated in general with Celtic people. The Irish, also being Celtic, are also fans of these ingredients. So the Irish leek and oatmeal soup given below is a very Celtic thing. This is an amazingly delicious soup—the milk and oatmeal combine to make it really thick and creamy, and leeks make it wonderfully flavorful. Enjoy.

Brotchán Foltchep

(Irish Leek and Oatmeal Soup)

3–6 leeks (depending on size; see Notes)

2 Tbs. butter

1/4 cup oatmeal (uncooked)

3 cups beef stock or broth

2 cups milk

pinch of ground mace

salt and pepper to taste

chopped parsley (optional)

Clean the leeks thoroughly (see notes). Slice the leeks in 1/2-inch slices (just the white and pale green section—as you move up the leek, you can remove outer layers, if they are dark and tough—but you’ll just be using the straight part of the leek, not the fanned-out top part).

Melt the butter in a large pot, add the leeks, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until leeks are soft but not brown. Sprinkle the oatmeal over the leeks and stir them together. Then add the stock and milk. Add a good pinch of ground mace, plus salt and pepper to taste. (If you use salted broth, you may not need much salt.) Simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Garnish with parsley, if you wish. Serves. 4.

Notes: Leeks vary in size, even in the same store-packed bunch, so the number of leeks needed will vary. You need about 3 cups of sliced leek for this recipe (a little over is fine, but you don’t want much less). One really big leek, 1-1/2 inches or more in diameter, will come close to giving you one full cup of sliced leek. If leeks are smaller—say 1 inch in diameter or so—you’ll get about 2/3 cup or less. So buy accordingly.

Because of the way leeks are planted, they usually accumulate sand among the layers. Cut off the top of the leek (where it fans out). This dark-green part can be reserved if you’re making stock, but should be discarded if all you’re making is this recipe. Cut off the roots, then split the leek and rinse, separating layers slightly to make sure you get all the dirt.

I generally use 2-percent milk in this and get excellent results, but whole milk would be creamier—and more traditional.


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Cockaleekie Soup

As noted in the previous post, it is likely that it was Scotland’s French allies who introduced the leek into Scotland — at very least, the French encouraged their use in Scottish recipes. Probably the most well-known use of leeks in Scotland is the country’s famous cockaleekie soup.

Cockaleekie soup would traditionally be served as a soup course, with the chicken removed and served later, probably after the haggis. However, I like the more recent, semi-traditional versions that can, with the addition of salad and bread, be a whole meal. (Also, traditionally, you’d be boiling an old fighting cock with its head and feet still on—so I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed that this has been updated.)

The addition of prunes is an item of controversy–some see them as immutable tradition, others view them as pollutants. I like the vaguely wine-like undertones they give the broth. You can make your own decision. If you opt for prunes, you need to use ones that still have their pits; if the prune has been pitted, the insides dissolve and make the broth muddy. Though I add prunes while cooking, and enjoy eating them myself, I recommend leaving them in the pot if serving this dish to guests, since a pit can be an unwelcome surprise in the midst of feasting. Continue reading

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When King Henry says, in Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” that he will wear a leek in his cap, he is identifying himself with his Welsh subjects. The reason this created a connection is that, when King Cadwallader and the Welsh faced the Saxons in battle in AD 640, the Welsh soldiers identified themselves by wearing leeks in their caps. Leeks were so closely associated with the Welsh, that a leek appears on some Welsh coins. It is to the Welsh what the thistle is to the Scottish.

Leeks have been consumed for so long in Wales and other Celtic countries that some hypothesize that the British Isles are a possible point of origin. Other scholars say the Mediterranean is where they emerged. They were popular in Egypt and ancient Rome (Nero’s nickname was “leekeater”), the Chinese were praising leeks by 1500 BC, and leeks were being written about in Mesopotamia as early as 2100 BC. So wherever they started, they clearly were popular and on the move pretty much from the get-go.

If leeks did start in the Mediterranean, rather than colder climes, as some hypothesize, then the Romans would have brought them to Britain when they invaded in 43 AD. So Britain has had them for a couple millennia, even if leeks didn’t actually start out there. Continue reading

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