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.
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
- 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.
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.
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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