Watercress Vichyssoise

We have waited long enough and finally the hot, heady days of summer have arrived. Along with the sunshine comes a bonanza of fresh, affordable, top-quality produce. The best thing about summer produce is that, because of its seasonality, you really don’t need to do much to showcase the intense flavors. To celebrate the bounty of the beginnings of summer, consider serving a chilled soup, which will highlight the simplicity of great produce while helping to ward off the heat.

Vichyssoise is a cold soup typically made using potatoes and leek. Its origin, much like its constitution, is opaque. Some say it has its roots in France, while others deem it the creation of a chef at New York’s Ritz-Carlton. Either way, it is an elegant delicacy that works well at any sunny afternoon gathering – and, because it is served chilled, a great addition to a picnic or a packed lunch.

Veering away from tradition slightly, here watercress is included with the potato and leek base. Watercress is a semi-aquatic plant that is one of the oldest leaf vegetables consumed by people, and is a part of the same family as mustard and radish. Watercress is known for its slightly bitter and peppery taste, and when used adeptly, can greatly enhance a dish by adding contrast, texture, and colour.

Traditional vichyssoise uses heavy cream as a catalyst for the smooth texture and rich taste. In this iteration, the amount of cream was reduced and substituted with buttermilk, which has a flavor more akin to yoghurt, which helps to brighten the soup without the necessity of acid.

A tip for preparing this soup: be gentle. Because it is served cold, the flavours and techniques used to fashion this soup do not have heat to hide behind, so when sautéing and simmering, keep the heat low, stir often, and don’t be aggressive. This soup can take up to a day to perfect, so no need to rush any part of the careful assembly process.

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

1 leek, white and light green part only, finely sliced

1 small onion, finely diced

1 tablespoon of butter

4 cups of vegetable stock

1 medium white potato, peeled and cut into small cubes

1 bunch of watercress, roughly chopped, about 3 cups

½ cup of heavy cream

1 cup of buttermilk

1 teaspoon of salt

Method

Set a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat and add the butter, leeks, and onion. Sauté gently for about 10 minutes, until translucent, ensuring only sweating of the vegetables occurs (no browning).

Add the potato and vegetable stock and allow to gently simmer until the potato is softened, about 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool until warm, approximately 100F. It should be warm to the touch, but not hot. At this point, stir in the watercress and allow to cool fully. Once the soup is at room temperature, use an immersion blender to blend the soup into a puree. Pass the puree through a fine mesh sieve to eliminate all of the larger vegetable remnants. Chill this mixture in the fridge (at least 2 hours, up to overnight) until you are ready to serve.

Once you are ready to serve, mix the puree with the cream, buttermilk, and salt, and serve garnished with additional watercress leaves.