When someone says leek soup, there’s a damn good chance you’ll yawn and say “next please”. And it’s true. Leek in it of itself, while a lovely vegetable, isn’t the most exciting. Violent when raw and gentle when cooked, it just doesn’t take that well to soup, which is why I wonder why Vichyssoise is such a thing. This chilled potato leek soup was hugely popular in France in the 80s, and thus the trend caught on in Europe, the United States, and to an extent Canada.
Vichyssoise was also something that my mother loved since she learned to cook French food right smack in the middle of the chilled soup trend. The problem was, she isn't much of a perfectionist when it comes to pureeing and straining her soups, and so her version of Vichyssoise was more resemblant of colorless cat sick. (To be fair, she really is a pretty decent cook).
Fast forward to the other day, and you have me being informed that we were invited to my now fiancé’s friend’s house in Berlin and that they would be cooking cheese and leek soup. Curiosity struck-cheese? good. Leek? Sometimes. Soup? Always. And best of all, something new to learn.
So we arrive at their house, and much to my dismay, there is still a huge pile of leeks on the table waiting to be cut. I coughed loudly as we walked in the door to hide the unsightly sounds of my stomach gargling, and we got to chatting. Once we’d passed the formalities, I watched while Sophia hacked away at her four leeks with the knife skills of someone who loves to cook but never learned to use a knife. The temptation to show her proper technique was burning me up inside, but I left her to it as she was the one teaching me something new that day.
Somehow four people ended up partaking in browning ground beef, because naturally German food can’t just be vegetarian. This lovely lady then threw in the leeks and melted them down nicely, then deglazed her pan with a dry white. Or at least that’s what would make sense, because I honestly can’t recall. She vaguely seasoned her pot with salt and pepper and I found myself skeptically yearning for a sprig of thyme and a bay leaf. A glob of bouillon paste and some water later and we were simmering. So far so good. But then, terror struck.
Sophia strolled over to her fridge and said she was just going to grab the cheese, and I expected to see a small sachet of some shredded gruyere. But she was just full of surprises! Instead, she broke out four tubs of what’s essentially Vache Qui Rit, a creamy white cheese that I hated as a child and don’t much like today. So I shut up childhood me and watched, dumbfounded, as she dumped all four tubs of cheese into the soup and started to stir. “Is this punishment for visiting on a weeknight?”, I thought.
But still, I said nothing and passed her the soup plates, counting five ladles per portion. (“Good god! And I’m the Jewish woman!”) We set the table nicely and sat down to eat. I looked down at my plate, and it honestly didn’t look that different than my mother’s, save for the ground beef. Still, said mother raised me right, so I picked up my spoon and was ready to take the plunge.
And guess what? That soup was probably the best thing I ate the whole time I was in Berlin. Thick, hearty, cheesy, creamy, gooey, all the good food words. And as it turns out, every Berliner I spoke with on the subject knew of this dish’s existence, yet it appeared on exactly zero German restaurant menus in the city. Travesty.