I can’t tell the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. I know one goes up and one goes down, but I can never tell which is which.
And I need to know. Otherwise, how am I going to tell you about what happened to the vichyssoise?
Let me explain . . .
As a last good-bye to summer (late for some of you, but just in time for those of us on the west coast), I wanted to make my famous vichyssoise. Now, vichyssoise is a great recipe to have in your arsenal.
First, it is the easiest soup in the world.
Second, it is one of the top fail-safe dishes.
Third, it is vegetarian.
And, fourth, it is French so it sounds elegant. Oui? Mai oui!
There is just one catch with vichyssoise. And that’s where the stalactites
and stalagmites come in. But not before you actually make the soup. So let’s
start with the . . .
RECIPE FOR THE WORLD’S BEST FRENCH VEGETARIAN SOUP: VICHYSSOISE
This makes about four servings as a dinner appetizer. Or, you can fill your biggest soup bowls to the brim and enjoy it with ripped chunks of fresh, fresh French bread for a dinner for two. (Note from Mark: Since this is a starchy soup, I’d serve it with duck and grilled fresh fennel instead of bread.)
3 cups water
2 cups sliced leeks, white part only
2 cups diced baking potatoes
a good sprinkle of sea salt, to taste
a healthy dash of freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1/2 cup of heavy cream or crème fraîche
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
Put the leeks, the potatoes, and the water into a saucepan. Add the salt and
pepper and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about half an hour.
Purée the soup, then refrigerate for a few hours. Once it is throughly
chilled, taste and add more seasonings if needed. Pour in the cream (or stir
in the crème fraîche) and sprinkle the minced chives on top.
DO I HAVE TO USE WHITE PEPPER WHEN I ALREADY HAVE THREE TINS OF BLACK PEPPER IN MY CUPBOARD?
Why no, no you do not. The only reason I call for white pepper is solely to
avoid those dark specks you would get from black pepper. If you don’t mind
(or if you are eating in the dark) then go ahead and use black pepper. It’ll
taste just as good.
WHAT IF I MAKE THE SOUP TOO LATE TO CHILL IT FOR DINNER?
Well, you can always chill it for lunch tomorrow. But if you are bound and
determined to eat it tonight, while it is still hot, then I have some good
news and some bad news. The good news is it is absolutely delicious hot,
too. But the bad news is you forfeit your right to call it vichyssoise. You
now have to call it Potato and Leek Soup. Or Bob.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO PURÉE A HOT LIQUID?
I’m so glad you asked! There are two ways to purée hot liquids (well, there
are other ways, too, like a food mill, but these two ways are the ones I am
First, you can use an immersion blender. Looking like a long stick with a
blade at one end and an electrical cord (unless you have a cordless version,
you lucky thing) at the other, you immerse half of the immersion blender —
the half with the blade, or course! — into the liquid and let it whirr. This
does a very good, but not absolutely smooth job (unless you want to go to
the trouble of pressing it through a sieve afterward, which I don’t.).
Still, it is my preferred method. A preference you will understand all too
The second way to purée a hot liquid is to dump it into your blender. This
will give you a smoother result than the immersion blender, but it can do so
at a cost. A terrible cost.
You see, the first time I made vichyssoise, I filled the blender, oh say,
two-thirds full, with boiling soup. I turned it on and the amazing laws of
physics took over. Yep, as anyone but me could have guessed, the pressure
and steam built up in that enclosed space and until the lid blew off with
enough pressure to spew soup all over the ceiling, the cabinets, and the
walls (all I can say is, thank heavens I stepped away or I would have had
one helluva burn).
And this stuff dries like concrete.
This is why, three hours later, my husband came home to find me on top of a
step ladder, brandishing a sponge and alternately wiping cave formations
from my ceiling and demanding to know if it was stalactites or stalagmites
that grew down.
Of course, I wouldn’t have had this problem if I had only put a tiny amount
of soup — say, less than a cup — into the blender to blend at one time. Or
if I had chilled the soup before I tried to purée it.
And this is also why I needed to know which goes which way. I Googled it and
I think I’ve figured out which is which: Stalactites come down from the
ceiling and stalagmites come up from the floor. I think.
Mark’s note: Thanks to our guest poster! As you know, I don’t recommend eating starchy carbs on a regular basis, but the occasional serving of yams or potatoes are generally fine if you are primarily eating vegetables, meats, fish, and healthy fats. However, to the horror of dietitians, I have no qualms about cream.
P.S. I always remind myself that stalactite has a c for “ceiling” and stalagmite has a “g” for ground. 😉