Winter Kitchen Garden Soups

It’s the season of root vegetables and it’s the season for hearty soups.  Rutabaga, turnip, celery root, parsnips, carrots as well as leeks are all on offer in the winter kitchen garden.  And cold days, whether sunny or cloudy, call for thick, comforting soups for lunch or dinner. 

A recent recipe by David Tanis for Creamy Leek and Parsnip Soup inspired me to go to the kitchen garden on a damp, dreary morning and dig parsnip and leeks.  As Tanis writes, “This soup has a kind of quiet charm. Whizzed until creamy in a blender, it is a happy marriage of silky leeks and earthy parsnips — think leek and potato soup, but with more depth of character.”  Yes, only two ingredients, but so good together. And the addition of a teaspoon of ground turmeric gives it a welcome, sunny color.  I followed the recipe exactly and used water to let the vegetable flavors shine.  This is a delicious winter soup and one that I’ll make again soon.

Creamy Leek and Parsnip Soup

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 large leeks, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 6 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  •  Black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups water, chicken broth or vegetable broth
  •  Extra-virgin olive oil, crème fraîche or yogurt, for garnish (optional)
  1. Put olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add leeks and parsnips, and stir to coat. Add the 2 teaspoons salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Let vegetables sizzle and cook, stirring frequently until nearly caramelized, but without browning, until softened, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Add bay leaf, turmeric and garlic, and stir to coat. Increase heat to high, add water or broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes more. Taste broth and adjust seasoning.
  4. With a blender, purée soup to a creamy consistency. (Small batches work best.) Thin with water or broth, if necessary — it should be like a thin milkshake, not thick and porridge-like.
  5. Reheat the soup before serving. Serve plain, or give each bowl a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil or a dollop of crème fraîche or yogurt, if desired.

Melissa Clark’s root vegetable soup is another to make often this season, many roots assembled in one pot for a louder, multi-flavored soup.  Her recipe calls for three-and-a-half pounds of mixed root vegetables.  This time, I used all the roots: rutabaga, turnip, celery root, parsnip and carrots, a generous half pound of each along with three-quarters pound of leeks.  Other times I’ve used higher proportions of turnip and rutabaga because I love their flavors. Each vegetable offers its own special sweetness, earthy sweetness of rutabaga and turnip, delicate sweetness of celery root and leeks, sugary sweetness of parsnips and carrots.  The result is a soup that is sweet but not too sweet. A few drops of lemon juice and a dusting of Urfa or Aleppo pepper flakes when serving add the right touches of acid and heat.  Finally, though Clark recommends 8 cups of water, I used only six cups because I like a thicker soup.  

Root Vegetable Soup

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion or 2 leeks (white and light green part only), chopped
  • 2 to 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 rosemary or thyme branches
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 ½ pounds mixed root vegetables (carrot, parsnip, celery root, turnip, rutabaga, sweet or regular potato), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt, more as needed
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
  •  Juice of 1/2 lemon, more for serving 
  •  Extra-virgin olive oil
  •  Flaky sea salt
  •  Crushed Aleppo, Urfa or other chile flakes, optional
  •  Grated Parmesan or pecorino, optional
  1. Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in onion and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, rosemary and bay leaves; cook 1 minute more. Add root vegetables, 8 cups water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. 
  2. Remove and discard rosemary branches and bay leaves. Using an immersion blender, purée soup until smooth. (Alternatively, you can purée the soup in batches in a blender or food processor.) If the soup is too thick, add a little water. Season with lemon juice and more salt to taste.
  3. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and top with a drizzle of olive oil, a few drops of lemon juice, flaky salt and crushed chile or grated cheese, if desired.

With both of these soups, I used an immersion blender to turn the soft chunks of boiled vegetables into a thick, creamy soup.  I’ve always been a Cuisinart fan for pureeing anything, but my husband gave me a Breville “control grip” immersion blender and I’ve become a convert to this new kitchen tool.  It’s so much easier and faster to puree the soup in the pot than it is to transfer it to the Cuisinart.  

There are many more winter soups to get us through the next months, some I’ve made before, like Melissa Clark’s Golden Leek and Potato soup and some I haven’t but that intrigue me, like David Tanis’s Bright Green Leek soup. Though there is the welcome lengthening of days, the temperatures still say soup, so there’s time to make more.