A couple weeks ago, I gave myself a mental health day and skipped school. I was really feeling the weight of the growing stress around language learning and feeling like I need to performing at a certain level by certain points on a timeline that I was creating for myself. So instead of going to school and cramming more language into my already full and overtired brain, I grabbed my tea thermos, downloaded an audiobook, and took a really long walk through the fields around my town. Towards the end of my walk, I happened upon a little farm stand in Ruit that had a couple baskets of brussels sprouts, cabbage, and some leeks. I had about 70 cents in change with me, and knew I would want something for lunch when I got back, so ended up bringing a leek back home with me! In the end I settled on a recipe for potato and leek soup, based off of one of Julia Child’s recipes. It was so easy, and so delicious, that I actually made it again yesterday! I was feeling a little under the weather, and honestly I was thinking about all the chocolate I’ve been eating lately (good thing about Germany - great chocolate, bad thing about Germany - great chocolate) so I stopped by that same farm stand on my way home from school, but sadly, they only had one basket of brussels sprouts out, so I just went to the little Markthalle by the train station instead. Because of the ingredients I had readily available for myself to use, I tweaked the recipe just a little bit, and used some short cuts. This kind of simple recipe is so easy to curate to your own preferences - try out different herbs, add carrots or another vegetable to the potatoes and leeks, top with homemade croutons… the options are endless! I also 1/3 my recipe because it called for 3 whole leeks and 3 pounds of potatoes, so way over what I really needed! 1/3ed, the recipe is perfect for two full servings, plus a little extra, so great for a two person meal! (See recipe at bottom) Begin by slicing your leeks and your potatoes. I learned a while back that leeks always need to be washed before cooking, because they frequently will get dirt in between the layers as they grow. I’d recommend first cutting off the roots at the end, and then slicing the leek down the center, beginning at where the stalk turns into the leaves and becomes tough and thick, all the way to the end you just cut off. Holding onto the dark green leaves, start slicing the leek into even thin-ish slices (around a 1/4 inch thick). Then toss all of those into a colander and rinse them off. You also can make it easy on yourself and just wait until the potatoes are done and rinse those off in the colander as well. I find that sometimes the sliced potato can pick up some of the grit that gets on the cutting board when peeling them. Next, take your pound of potatoes (which was about 4 medium Spiesekartoffeln for me) and peel and slice them into thin rounds - these don’t need to be halved like the leeks do. Rinse them all off, and then let the extra water drain off them while you prepare your pot!
Start by putting in about 1 Tbsp of a neutral oil - canola oil or something similar - and letting that heat up on medium for a minute in the pot. Add your leeks and potatoes in and begin to let them soften and brown. Don’t worry if your pot feels a little full when you put the veggies in, the leeks will begin to soften and don’t take up as much room pretty quickly. Let them go for about 10 minutes, depending on how much bottom surface area your pot has (the bigger, the quicker it will go). I’ve found that it was helpful to add about another 1/2 - 1 Tbsp while they were cooking to help them not stick so much to the bottom. While they’re in the pot softening up, prep your veggie stock. I just used powdered veggie stock and added the appropriate ratio to the amount of liquid it called for. I also have noticed that when I use powdered stock here in Germany, I rarely need to add any additional salt because it already is so full of it!
When your veggies are nice and soft, add the veggie stock and bring it to a boil, then turn the temperature down to low and bring it down to a simmer. Cover and let it simmer for about 25-30 minutes. I also like to add a sprig of fresh rosemary from my garden at this stage, but make sure you take it out before the leaves begin to fall off! I made the mistake of leaving the sprig in too long yesterday, and whenever I got a mouthful with a rosemary leaf in it, I had to pull them out because they really are quite bitter and a little bit woody when you bite into them!
As soon as your veggies are nice and soft - almost to the point of falling apart when you prod them with a spoon, take the pot off the heat (or turn down to the lowest heat setting to help it stay warm). At this point, grab your immersion blender and go to town on your soup (don’t forget to remove the rosemary before this step!). When you have a nice smooth puree, add your cream (or as I like to do to make the soup a bit lighter, half cream, half milk), splash of lemon fresh juice, and voilá, you’re finished!
Ladle it into bowls, add a quick grind of fresh black pepper on top, and enjoy!
And, on a more positive language-learning related note, I had a really encouraging experience speaking German alone
yesterday! I had to visit the Visa office to hand in some paperwork to extend my visa, and was able to conduct the entire meeting with the woman there completely in German! It’s really easy to feel like you’re not making any progress, especially when you find your teacher correcting you every time you open your mouth, but then having experiences like that one yesterday make me feel so much more confident in my knowledge and understanding of German, and it makes me feel about 100x better that the money I’m spending on language school is actually taking me somewhere and making my life here in Germany a million times easier! It’s really easy to get into this complaining mindset when we have so much grammar to memorise and when you realize (time and time again) that you can’t expect German to just be a mirror of English, but with different words. It has given me a better understanding of the people of Germany, and a much much greater appreciation for those who move here knowing no German, but also no English.
Here are the ingredient measurements that I used, and also if you'd like the original recipe, click here.
Julia Child's Potato & Leek Soup
1 lb. potatoes
2 cups vegetable stock (can adjust depending on how thick you like your soup)
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 Tbsp. neutral oil
1/4 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste