Fennel and Leek “Vichyssoise” with Seared Scallops

A lighter version of one of our family’s favorites. Guilt-free, but just as delicious!
It’s not a traditional Vichyssoise, but it is just as delicious (and there’s a vegan alternative too).

My mother-in-law Pat Read was one of the best chefs I’ve ever known, and I learned lots from her. She ran two splendid restaurants “The Three Clock Inn” in Londonderry, and “The Buttery” in Manchester, Vt., a tourist and ski Mecca, and on her menu was an extremely popular traditional Vichyssoise (rhymes with Oz please)– thick, rich, with abundant potato and leek flavor, and a creaminess that was addictive.

My beautiful mother-in-law Pat! She was an incredible chef and great teacher!

Pat loved to please us all!

It was one of my husband’s favorites, and Pat would often send him home with a vat of this soup. Although it was chilled, something one wanted on a humid day, I can’t honestly say it was refreshing since it was quite rich beyond belief. Delicious, yes, but one could almost feel the arteries harden on the spot from the heavy cream alone, not to mention the potato carbs and the butter. But eating it was an experience.

A worthy opponent

I fiddled with her recipe for a long time, swapping out different vegetables from cauliflower to fennel, and came up with a version that used no potatoes or cream, and still tasted remarkable like the original. No, I wouldn’t taste them side by side and expect the imposter to win, but since that is not likely to happen, serve this up and everyone will be satisfied. No explanation, and no apologies, please!

A perfect chilled soup, while the weather lasts

While it hasn’t felt like Autumn yet here in Southern Vermont, I took advantage of some beautiful farmers market fennel to make this rather summery soup this weekend. In winter, this could easily be served hot!

But for a chilled soup, it is hearty and is perfect for dinner served with a little salad. I’ve served it, announcing it only as Vichyssoise, and no one has questioned its heritage while raving about its flavor.

Lots of options, make it your way

Use whatever “cream” you wish, but I love the “lite” coconut milk the best. It imparts only a light coconut flavor to the dish, but lends wonderful creaminess. Plus, the dairy intolerant can enjoy this while I feel a little virtuous!

You can also use organic evaporated skim milk, a nut milk, soy or rice, or even dairy half-and-half if you are only worried about carbs and not concerned about the fat. I would not use heavy cream or full-fat coconut milk, the former simply being too rich and it masks the flavor of the vegetables, and the latter lending a distinct coconut flavor to the soup.

Not missing a thing

I originally came up with this to lighten the carb load for a couple of diabetic family members and others watching their carbs, and in the process loved the fennel flavor. Sometimes I make it with half fennel and half potatoes, and that’s pretty darn delicious too! The soup itself is vegan, and this can be served topped with any number of vegan alternatives, or just served straight up!

By the way, I never dared serve this to Pat. Just sayin’.

Fennel and Leek Vichyssoise with Seared Scallops

While Pat’s original Vichyssoise was a pure white, mine is a little on the green side since I use both the white and light green of the leeks and the fennel is pale green as well.
  • 2 large or 3 medium fennel bulbs, chopped
  • 3 large leeks, chopped, whites and some of the light green
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, or vegan butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Water or vegetable stock
  • 1 can lite coconut milk

Clean and roughly chop vegetables. To prepare the leeks, hold the root end and with your dominant hand, shave the stalk of only its tough outer dark green leaves. Pretend you are sharpening the stalk like a pencil. People usually waste a great deal of the tender inner pale green leek when they just chop it off at the base, and it’s delicious.


Place leeks, onion, fennel, olive oil, and butter in a large stockpot and sauté for about five minutes. Add the garlic.

Sauté over medium heat until onions are translucent, but have no color. You do not want browning here. Cover with water or stock and bring to a boil. With the lid on, simmer for 20 minutes or so on low heat until vegetables are cooked and fragrant.

Note: I usually do all my vegetable prep early and toss all the trimmings into a pot with a little more than a quart of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and use instead of water. This adds some flavor that would normally be tossed in the compost bucket. However, just water works fine too!

When vegetables are tender, work in batches with the blender (or food processor) and puree until velvety smooth, placing each batch in a large bowl. Add coconut milk and a couple more tablespoons of butter, chill for several hours, overnight is best.

Place in a shallow bowl, and top with seared scallops, some freshly minced chives, and lots of freshly grated pepper. If you like, you can add a dollop of sour cream or yoghurt.

Seared Scallops

First of all, buy natural, “dry” sea scallops from a fish monger who knows her/his stuff. It’s important. There are lots of scallops out there that are soaked in preservative liquids. In addition to avoiding the chemicals and salt, the soaking leeches most of the flavor out of the scallops, and hydrates them to the point where you cannot sear them. They are more expensive, but you really do get what you pay for, and this recipe only uses a few per person. You will want 3 to 5 per person, depending one size. My scallops were on the small side, so I served four per person.

Remove the muscles from the sides of the scallops and pat them dry. Roll them in toweling to remove any extra moisture. Season with a bit of sea salt.

Heat a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium high and add a thin layer of oil. Place the scallops flat in the pan and sear just until they color not the first side. Turn, and sear the second side.

Photo: © The New Vintage Kitchen

Vegan Alternative:

A few fondant potatoes round this soup out beautifully to make it a meal.

The soup itself is vegan, but you can add a few pieces of seared tofu or tempeh replacing the scallops, or add Fondant Potatoes for at least a little potato flavor in this dish!

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  1. Suzassippi says:

    Funny, but while buying my pak choi for the stir fry, I saw fennel and wondered what one does with it. Thank you for reading my mind. I appreciate the way you plate your food, and how the food, dish, and other items in it complement the food and each other. Maybe as soon as this kitchen is done (counter tops supposed to be on by Thursday!) I will feel motivated to branch out. I am still in the re-organizing phase in the new space, and changing my mind about function.

    1. Something else to do with fennel is to braise it. It reduces a lot, but it will become very flavorful. Chop the fennel and braise in olive oil with salt in a covered frying pan, stirring once in a while and deglazing with water as needed. It is done when it is soft and caramelized, can take 2 hours.

      1. Yum! this is one way I haven’t cooked it! Thanks for the tip!

    2. So often I’ll read a recipe here and just about fall over an ingredient!
      Thank you so much for your praise! I always love playing with my food!
      And good luck with your kitchen! Quite a few of my blogging penpals are in the middle of kitchen renovations.

  2. Wasn’t “The Buttery” part of the Jelly Mill in Manchester? I remember they had the best eggs Benedict. .
    The soup looks so creamy and tasty. I love the use of fennel and star anise – and the addition of scallops is brilliant! 🙂

    1. Yes! The Buttery was located in the Jelly Mill! I’m so glad you know her restaurant! It was the best place for lunch or brunch, st least until she sold it and then long after. Sadly, it closed quite some time ago.

      1. It’s been so long since, but I still remember their breakfasts. So fresh and tasty! 🙂

      2. Pat was known for her breakfasts there, and could whip up a Hollandaise blindfolded!

      3. No wonder I still remember her food even after all these years!
        I was working nights as chef back then, so going out for breakfast was the treat to look forward to. 🙂

      4. Great memories, and I’m so glad Pat played a part in it. It was always an adventure eating at their house, and often a surprise!

      5. A lot to cherish! 🙂

  3. c.a.post says:

    Anything with scallops had got to be better with them in it . . . except butter pecan ice cream; scallops are not good in that. 😂

    1. Ha ha! You are right there!

  4. CarolCooks2 says:

    This sounds absolutely delicious Dorothy I love the addition of some beautiful scallops 🙂

    1. Thanks Carol, the scallops make it special!

  5. You had me at scallops! What a hearty & delicious looking soup!

    1. Thanks Diane! I’m with you on the scallops. They are one of my favorite foods!

  6. It looks great and sounds amazing 😋😋

    1. Thanks Ribana! It is always a hit, and makes a lot!

  7. It’a gooe you put the Vichyssoise in quotes because this doesn’t have much to do with the original, but it sure sounds like a great cold soup! I may actually enjoy it better, because to me the original is a bit bland. Adding scallops turns it into a feast. Oh and by the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with carbs (or with fat for that matter). If you want to eat less calories, just serve smaller portions 😉

    1. Thanks Stefan. Some folks in my family have to be really careful with saturated fats and others with carbs, so we try to make some substitutions that make everyone happy. I, too, prefer this to traditional Vichyssoise because with less heavy fat you can really taste the vegetables, especially when I use my number one favorite ingredient –– potatoes!

  8. picpholio says:

    Sounds delicious 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! It was tasty indeed.

  9. Thank you so much! We all enjoy it.

  10. You are so smart to lighten up the original recipe and make it healthier…it sounds truly divine!

    1. Thank you! We enjoy this a lot!

  11. Gail says:

    Oh goodness. Fennel and leeks are delicious. Adding scallops is pure genius. 😍🍃

    1. Why thank you so much! The scallops made this humble dish really delicious!

  12. This looks absolutely delicious. Your mother-in-law is probably very proud of your culinary efforts. You presentations here could certainly find their way onto a menu that’s for sure.

    1. Ah, thanks Judy! I learned a lot from Pat and think about her often. After she passed away, I put together a little book with some of her favorite recipes and her daughters helped me by offering some memories of growing up with this amazing cook!

      1. I can’t imagine something more special than a book of her favorite recipes that can be handed down. Nice.

  13. terrie gura says:

    Looks and sounds delicious! I tend to believe that everything is better with fennel. It’s such an overlooked vegetable and I get excited to see it used in different ways. You can count me among those who would never miss the carbs and heavy cream in this one!

    1. Thanks Terrie! I adore fennel and use it as often as I can.
      Vichyssoise is one of those dishes when made traditionally, is superb for about three spoonsful. Then, to me, it feels like just too much, and I want the flavor of the vegetables to shine through a little more. This is all about the veggies!

  14. Christy B says:

    It sounds like you and Pat shared a wonderful connection with food and the love of cooking ♥

    1. Yes we did Christy, and I learned so much from her for which I will be forever grateful.

  15. sunisanthosh says:

    What a creamy and delicious.

    1. Thanks! It is very satisfying when wanting a creamy soup!

  16. kevinashton says:

    Sounds like a winning combination, Fennel and Scallops! And I totally agree with the tips you give your readers about buying scallops.
    Best Wishes

    1. Thanks Kevin! There are lots of potential problems with buying scallops these days, from all the preservatives to the questionable hygiene and processing of the baby bay scallops from China. Buyer be educated!

  17. Julia says:

    This sounds wonderful! I love scallops and I would have never thought to use them in soup like this.

    1. Thanks Julia! The scallops turn this humble bowl of soup into a special treat!

      1. Julia says:

        I can believe it!

  18. janperk says:

    Looks refreshing on a warm autumn day.

    1. Thanks, yes, it’s perfect!

  19. OMG I’ve never heard this combinations of flavours but I am already intrigued by fennel/leeks/onions together… definitely a Recipe I’ll add to my list of “must try” ! I am very happy I found your blog!!!

    1. Thank you! Leeks and fennel are one of my favorite combinations, I hope you enjoy it as much as we do! Thanks for stopping by! The kettle is on!

      1. I have tried the two ingredients by themselves in soups but it never came to my mind the idea of combining the two!!! I am excited!

      2. They love nestling together, especially if you add their friend butter!

      3. Isn’t true.. butter truly makes everything better!!

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