The first potato soup I ever tasted was at my in-laws’ in Germany many years ago. I was pleasantly surprised by its distinctive flavour that was new to me. My mother in-law had added some green vegetable paste to the potatoes in the pressure cooker, which she always used to save energy. I was intrigued by the “green” jars she kept in her fridge, and with my broken German I wanted to learn more about it from her. She looked at me and smiled. Sellery she said in her northern German pronunciation; the S like z and the R like a French r. It sounded so sweet! Later my husband explained to me that his mother had always prepared this paste from vegetables she grew in her garden. That included celery, lovage, leek, parsley and carrots. To this paste she would add a lot of salt to preserve. That I must say was my first German cooking lesson.
My mother in-law would also add one or two tablespoonful of her concentrated paste as a base to her Rinfleischsuppe (prime boiled beef with roots vegetable), a hearty soup on cold winter days adding this extra savoury depth to the meat stock. Her paste gained a fan, my mother, who would order her jar to be delivered to Beirut every year. Known for her culinary creativity, my mother even came up with a delicious chicken recipe using the paste in the potato stuffing. Come to think of it now, I need to recreate this dish very soon. I had totally forgotten about it!
The peppery taste of celery is quite sharp however, and to some people it is just disagreeable. One or two sticks of celery would be the right amount for any soup or stock you are preparing. Lovage plant (known as Maggikraut or Liebstöckel in German) for instance, grows like weeds and is very rich in salt, and in taste very similar to celery making it a good alternative. In both cases you will be dealing with lots of greens, as you will be buying a whole head of celery or a bunch of lovage leaves. Fortunately both plants freeze very well!
- 1 litres cold water
- 1 kg mealy potatoes peeled, rinsed and quartered
- 1 medium onion peeled, and coarsely chopped
- 2 celery sticks 100 g, trimmed, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
- A few leaves of the lovage plant optional
- 1 medium carrot (100 g), peeled and chopped into small cubes
- 3 garlic cloves crushed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 250 ml milk
- 30 g butter
- Place all the vegetables in a medium pot, and add the water to cover. Mix in the crushed garlic and season with the salt. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes break easily when pierced with a knife, and carrots and celery are tender.
- Remove the pot to the side, and using a stand mixer purée the vegetables in the pot. Add the milk and butter and continue pureeing for a few seconds. Return pot to the cooking ring and cook over medium-low heat for few minutes. Add a bit of hot water if too thick, and adjust taste if required. Serve hot with a slice of rustic bread.