November 28, 2010

holiday detox part 2: leek and greens soup

Let me begin by saying that I like to get my holiday on. I go for it. It's not too likely that you'll overhear me at the dinner table saying 'hold the stuffing' or any such thing. I listen to what my body needs, and on the last Thursday of November, it needs (er, okay, we could debate need vs want here, I suppose) herbed apple and chestnut stuffing, buttery mashed potatoes, bourbon pumpkin custard, and apple galette. With whipped cream, of course. And a glass of wine (or two). All in good fun.

That said, after the festivities I aim to regain my equilibrium as quickly as possible. So, the day after any meal that involves the leaden trinity of bready stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pastry crust, you'll probably find me in the kitchen chopping and simmering my way to a post-holiday recovery soup chocked with greens, ginger, and garlic. After all, 80% of the immune system resides in the mucosal lining of the gut (aka gut-associated lymphoid tissue, or GALT), and when we keep all those T and B cells happy the whole system functions more efficiently.

A few years ago I read French Women Don't Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano. The part I remember best is her description of the Magical Leek Soup Weekend. Once a season or so, French ladies in-the-know whip up a big pot of leek soup and spend an entire weekend consuming nothing else  -  drinking its broth during the day and eating the solids for dinner. Relaxation and gentle stretching and homemade facials are also involved, if I recall correctly. Sounds rejuvenating, no?

Thus far I have not been able to conjure up enough discipline to do an entire Magical Leek Soup Weekend. But thanks to Mireille I will forever associate leeks with detoxification and cleansing -- which probably explains why yesterday, after a generous lunch of Thanksgiving leftovers, I was magnetically attracted to the lovely, fat leeks on display at the market. In no time, a steaming pot of leek and greens soup was simmering on the stove, and I was sipping a lemon ginger brew (which I have just declared Holiday Detox Part 1) and feeling better already.

Flavorful yet light on the palate and on the stomach, the soup gets a nice hit of heat from ginger, garlic, and red chili, the ultimate cleansing trio. Coriander and fennel seeds have a cooling effect on the body and help soothe the digestive tract (and also make a lovely digestive tea, 1/2 teaspoon of each steeped for 20 minutes in 8 ounces of boiling water).  Collards and broccolini provide ample amounts of chlorophyll and fiber, and the soup is given an extra mineral boost from kombu (also an excellent detoxifier). I added shiitake mushrooms too, for their wonderful earthiness and immune-enhancing abilities. Built upon a foundation of the aforementioned leeks, carrot, and fennel, this soup is exactly what my body craves after holiday indulgences.

To avoid becoming overly virtuous, alongside today's lunchtime soup I nibbled on a wedge of nutty, crusty rye levain bread topped with a tangy, crumbly raw-milk cheese called Jean-Louis from NJ-based Bobolink Dairy and Bakehouse. The folks at Bobolink are creating some phenomenal artisan breads and cheeses -- if you live in the NY/NJ area definitely check them out at the greenmarket, or visit the farm for a tour!

leek and greens soup
I used collards and broccolini as the green elements in the soup, but any greens will do -- try kale, chard, spinach, bok choy, or any other favorites. The soup is tasty on the day it's made, but like most things simmered in a pot it's even better after a night's rest in the fridge.

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large leek
1 or 2 sprigs fresh parsley
1 medium carrot, diced
1/2 fennel bulb, diced
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1/4 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 to 1 dried red chili (depending on your heat preference)
3 or 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes and thinly sliced (save the liquid)
small piece of kombu (dried kelp), about 2 inches square
3 cups thinly sliced collard greens (about 5 leaves)
1 small bunch of broccolini, chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 Tbsp)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Cut off the tough green leek tops and rinse them well. Place parsley sprigs inside the leek leaves, roll up, and secure with twine, creating a bouquet garni.
2. Slice white part of leek lengthwise, then cut into 1/4-inch half-moons. Submerge in cold water to remove any grit, and drain.
3. Add olive oil to a large soup pot over medium heat. Add leeks, carrot, fennel, and a pinch of salt, and cook until vegetables begin to soften, 5 to 8 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, coriander and fennel seeds, and crushed black peppercorns, and stir for another minute or two.
4. Add the bouquet garni, red chili, shiitake mushrooms and their soaking liquid, and kombu to the pot. Pour in enough water to cover the vegetables (4 to 5 cups). Toss in a big pinch of salt.
5. Cover pot and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and broth is flavorful. Add the collards and broccolini and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni, stir in lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and black pepper.


  1. This post couldn't be more timely, Nancy. With all the Food Stuff going on in my little world, I think that we'll need a pot of this wonderful soup in constant rotation throughout the holidays. We've got hardy kale and chard growing right now---perfect! (leeks too!)

  2. A splendid & good for you soup during this festive season!

    Yummie food!

  3. Sounds wonderful. This is just what I need. I've consumed way too much dessert and cheese dishes lately and I now I'm not quite feeling like my healthy self.