Think outside the soup: non-standard vichyssoise

May 7, 2008 at 5:09 pm (AMA, B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Cruciferous rich, French, Meyer & Romano, My brain, Other, Quick weeknight recipe, Root vegetables, soup, Starches, Vegetable dishes)

When I was growing up my mom would often make a vegan version of vichyssoise. It was a simple soup made with unpeeled potatoes from her garden, leeks and onions, olive oil, salt and pepper. I always enjoyed it, even without the typical additions of butter, cream, and chicken broth. I ate vichyssoise both cold and warm, and only found out last weekend that the name vichyssoise actually refers only to the cold soup. Warm potato leek soup apparently is given a different name.

After seeing nice-looking leeks in the Saarbruecken market last week, I thought it would be nice to make a spring vichyssoise as one course in our Saturday night dinner party. Although the leeks looked good, all the potatoes in the market appeared to be from last fall; they were all shriveled and starting to sprout. My friends Spoons and Kathy suggested I use celeriac instead, since the celeriac looked very fresh. I was hesistant, as I thought that celery root would be a very strong flavor to replace the normally quite mild, earthy potatoes. But they insisted that celeriac can be used anywhere you use potatoes. (I have no idea where the celeriac or the leeks were from, but assumed they weren’t local to Germany in early May.)

I was cooking for 12, and chopped up such a large amount of leeks and onions that they ended up steaming rather than sauteeing. It didn’t help that I used a tall narrow soup pot rather than a wide shallow pan. I didn’t have any vegetable broth so used veggie bouillon cubes, and we didn’t have butter but did add cream. Surprisingly, I couldn’t really taste the celery root. I definitely missed the earthy potato flavor, and the texture of the potato skins, but I don’t think I would have known there was celery root in it if I hadn’t seen it go in. I think adding the bouillon was a mistake, however. The flavor of vichyssoise is so delicate that the bouillon I used muddied it up and added too much of a dark base note. I prefer to get the base note from the potatoes. I also prefer vichyssoise without cream, I think, more like my mom used to make it. Either the cream or bouillon cubes or both gave a subtle but unpleasant greasy taste to the soup. I did really enjoy the fresh chives which Kathy used as a garnish. If we had had enough I think I would have added 2 Tbs. of chives to my one bowl of soup!

A word about salt: I thought that with the boullion cubes and a little added salt that the soup was seasoned just fine, but everyone else disagreed. Once some cream was added, however, the soup tasted much less salty and I let my guests add more salt. Cook’s Illustrated also notes that cold food needs more seasoning than hot food, since chilling dulls flavors.

The cookbook Second Helpings from Union Square has a recipe for lemongrass vichysoisse that I adored the first time I’ve made it. I’ve tried to recreate the dish multiple times since that first revelation, always taking various short cuts, and never quite getting the same bright lemongrass flavor, at least not without lots of stringy lemongrass bits. It might be that the only way to get the proper results is to go through the tedious steps (including the extremely fine chopping and sieving steps) described in the original recipe. I tried adding some commercially jarred lemongrass paste to the celeriac vichyssoise described above, and although I could taste the lemongrass, it was not the bright, fresh, lemon flavor I was looking for. I’ve thought about trying to use lemon but I’m afraid the juice is too acidic and the zest too metallic tasting.

After using celeriac and lemongrass in “vichyssoise” I looked around on the web for other variations and found recipes that use fennel, watercress, zucchini and saffron, just to name a few. Apparently this recipe is amenable to creativity.

Update Jan 2010

I made a recipe from the AMA cookbook for “Creamy Broccoli and Leek Bisque”.  I didn’t realize until after eating it that’s it’s essentially a broccoli-flavored vichyssoise.  The recipe is a bit odd.  It calls for a large sauce pan but I couldn’t fit all the veggies in my 4-quart saucepan.  I had to move everything to my five quart soup pot.  The recipe calls for 6 cups of vegetable broth, but has you cook the veggies in only 4 cups.  As a result, the veggies aren’t fully covered and don’t cook evenly.  I don’t understand why they don’t add all the vegetable broth at the beginning.  Perhaps it’s to make it easier to serve as a cold soup?  The recipe says to peel the potatoes but I left the peels on.  The final pureed soup wasn’t quite as creamy as it would have been, but I didn’t mind the textural additions.  The recipe calls for 1 Tbs. lemon juice, but I ended up adding a lot more–maybe 1/4 cup?  Supposedly this makes 8 side-dish servings, but I served it for dinner and it made 5 medium bowls of soup, and afterwards I had a lot of soup left.  Maybe 4 more bowls of soup?

I liked the soup pretty well.  It basically tasted like vichyssoise to me.  Derek couldn’t stand it though.   He said he had to choke it down.  One of my guests had seconds, so I think it must have been okay.


  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4 leeks, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable broth plus 2 cups
  • 2 pounds all-purpose or russet potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 1 pound broccoli, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/3 cup parsley sprigs
  • 1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • thin lemon slices, cut in half for garnish, if desired


  1. Saute the leeks and garlic in the oil for 1 minute.  Add 2 Tbs. water, cover, and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes.  Add the 4 cups broth, potatoes, broccoli, and sugar.  Cook, covered, over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
  2. Puree the vegetable mixture along with the parsley.  Stir in the nutmeg.
  3. Whisk in the remaining 2 cups of broth and the milk and reheat gently.  Season with the lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, salt, and pepper.

Update Nov 2012

I didn’t realize that I had made this recipe for broccoli and leek bisque (aka vichyssoise) before, and I made it again last night.  I used only three leeks, but they were very large (about 600g of chopped leeks).  I used a very nice homemade vegetable broth (unsalted), but only 4 cups not 6.  I used 1 pound of broccoli, but more stems than florets this time.  (I wanted to save the florets for another dish.)  Again, I didn’t peel the potatoes.  Since I didn’t read this post, I again made the mistake of using a 4-quart pot.  After I put in all the veggies I couldn’t quite close the lid, and the pan was very full.  The broccoli was added last, and wasn’t submerged, but steamed enough that it became soft enough to blend with my stick blender.  I used whole milk.   After I had added everything but the last 2 cups of vegetable broth, I tasted the soup and found it a bit offputting.  It was a bit bland and the texture was overly starchy.  I doubled the nutmeg, and added a bit more lemon juice (another 1 Tbs. maybe).  I think I used more parsley than the recipe called for.  I just kept adding in more until the soup had a quite strong parsley note.  I had to use quite a bit of salt–I think almost 2 teaspoons.   Still, the soup tasted a bit off.  I decided it was still too carb-y and not fatty enough, so I added 2 Tbs. of butter and another cup of milk at the end.  It helped a lot.  By the time I had added all the ingredients and extra milk, however, it almost completely filled my 4-quart pot.  I think it made about 15 cups of soup, so about 8 large, 10 medium, or 15 small servings.  Next time I’ll definitely use a 5- or 6-quart pot.

Derek liked this soup much better this time.  He rated it a B+.  I also enjoyed it—I’d give it a B.  The soup doesn’t taste very strongly of broccoli.  It’s more of a creamy potato and leek soup with a touch of broccoli and parsley for color and flavor.  It’s definitely a nice way to use up extra broccoli stems, and the ingredients are very healthy. I just learned about how good leeks are for you, and potatoes are full of potassium and other minerals.   Add in the broccoli and garlic and lots of parsley it’s a very nutritious soup.  Just make sure to cut the leeks, broccoli, and garlic a bit before you start cooking.


  1. austingardener said,

    You should grow chives in a pot in a sunny window. Then you could just get a scissors and have them for your soup. I have never cooked with celery root. I will need to try it. And see if I can grow it in the fall in my garden.

  2. Derek said,

    I don’t know what the chef is talking about. The lemongrass celeriac vichyssoise was delicious, and was the first time I’ve liked vichyssoise. Normally I find it completely bland, but this was full of flavor (both the lemongrass and celeriac were distinctly evident). Everyone at the Sat. night dinner agreed — the dish was a hit. Of course, the chef has a tendency to ignore the opinions of her minions, particularly when it comes to variations on her favorite (bland) dishes.

  3. Telephony said,

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Telephony!

  4. S for Kitchen Confit said,

    I also love vichyssoise. Nice job!

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