Fennel Vichyssoise

A lighter version of one of our family’s favorites. Guilt-free, but just as delicious!

My mother-in-law Pat Read was one of the best cooks I’ve ever known, and I learned lots from her. She ran a splendid restaurant “The Buttery” in Manchester, Vt., a tourist and ski Mecca, and on her menu was an extremely popular traditional Vichyssoise – thick, rich, with abundant potato and leek flavor, and a creaminess that was addictive.

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 I’m afraid I couldn’t eat much of it without feeling my arteries harden on the spot from the heavy cream alone, not to mention the potato carbs and the butter.

A worthy opponent

I fiddled with her recipe for a long time, swapping out different vegetables, 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!

For a chilled summer 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.

Use whatever “cream” you wish, but I love the “lite” coconut milk the best. It does not impart a noticeable coconut flavor to the dish, but lends wonderful creaminess. Plus, I can feel a little virtuous eating this!

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 the latter lending a distinct coconut flavor to the soup.

2 large or 3 medium fennel bulbs, chopped (save some tops!)

3 large leeks, chopped, whites and a bit of the light green

1 large sweet onion, sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

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 tender inner pale green leek when they just chop it off at the base.

IMG_0244            Place leeks, onion, fennel, olive oil, and butter in a large stockpot and sauté for about five minutes. Add the garlic. Save a few of the frilly fennel greens to garnish with the chives if you like, but tread carefully, that might be giving it away that perhaps potatoes are not the star of this dish!

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.

When done, work in batches with the blender (or food processor) and puree until velvety smooth, placing each batch in a large bowl. Add “cream” and chill for several hours, overnight is best.

Dress up for dinner: Serve in chilled bowls with a dollop of low-fat sour cream and a sprinkling of chives or fennel fronds on each. This soup is rich, so I don’t usually add a protein to this, however a little sautéed fennel will add some visual interest. An you can always top with a pretty, edible nasturtium flower.