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My wife volunteers as a board member for a local food pantry. Recently she received a letter from a woman asking for food assistance. Many people in our community have full time jobs but have had their hours reduced and can barely meet monthly expenses. This puts many of our neighbors in the difficult position of food insecurity. The belief that people ask for food aid because they won’t work is a grave misconception. East Texas was in a hunger crisis before the pandemic. One in five East Texans including one in three children are hungry. That’s 250,000 East Texans.

During the holidays, a friend called asking for guidance on some basic cooking suggestions. Her typical diet consists of frozen dinners and convenience foods, but in an effort to stretch her food dollar, she decided to buy basic food staples instead. I described the cooking technique, braising. With a little oil, any meat and water (or broth if you have it), you can create a one pot meal. Heat the oil, brown the meat and add water. Season with salt, pepper and garlic. Reduce heat, cover and cook until the meat is done. Then add chopped vegetables and simmer until they are done. The liquid can be thickened with flour if desired. Another idea is to use a sauté to start a soup or pot of beans. Begin by adding flavor to the pot. Heat the oil, add onions and seasonings (garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, etc.) and sauté until the onions are soft and fragrant. Now that you have created flavor in the pot, add liquid and vegetables for soup or add your soaked beans and liquid. Then simmer until done for a filling one-pot meal.

This month’s recipe is an easy to make hearty soup with only a few ingredients. Leeks are one of those vegetables that have not gained wide acceptance in our area of the world. They resemble a giant green onion and are in fact a member of the onion family. Yet, their flavor is very delicate as the Italian mother of my son-in-law recently noted. Leeks were eaten by the Egyptians, the Ancient Greeks and the Romans, who considered them to be more refined than the stronger flavored onion. Leeks require a bit of attention to clean. First cut off the root end and about 2-3 inches of the green stems. The top stems are edible but tough and are stronger in flavor. To remove the dirt caught between the layers, slice them crosswise and rinse them in a colander under cold water until clean.

Sauté the leeks in a little butter; add diced potatoes, broth and spices and simmer 20 minutes until the potatoes are done. There are endless variations to this basic recipe. I brown the potatoes first to add flavor which also slightly reduces the simmer time. But the recipe can be simplified by adding the uncooked diced potatoes to the sauteed leeks. Any oil can be substituted for olive oil. A bit of bacon can replace the butter. Onions or green onions can be used instead of leeks. Although russet or gold potatoes work best, red potatoes can be used. When I developed this recipe, I used a combination of russets and reds because that’s what I had. Use chicken broth if you don’t have vegetable broth. Remember that if your broth does not specify No Added Salt, it may be too salty to use as a soup base. The recipe can be altered to be a delicious cream soup by using milk or half and half for half of the broth.

We live in trying times. But help is on the way. As the first vaccines begin to roll out and new cases begin to decline, we will see economic improvement. And with time and continued working together, our country will see life return to normal. Each of us has a part to play. By following health guidelines, we are preventing the continued spread of the virus and thereby hastening the end to this dreadful disease. Soups are a wonderful winter food. I hope this Leek and Potato Soup warms you inside and inspires hope for a better day.

Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with years of experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes.

He is a Nacogdoches resident and he helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health.

Memorial Cooking Innovations currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable channel 2 in Nacogdoches.

Potato Leek Soup Serving Size: 1/8 of recipe; Serves: 8

Ingredients

• 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 pounds of Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, diced into ½ inch pieces

• 2 tablespoons butter

• 2 large leeks, cleaned, trimmed and sliced

• 1 poblano pepper, diced

• 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth

• 1 teaspoon salt to taste

• ½ teaspoon coarse black pepper to taste

• ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

• ½ teaspoon marjoram

• ½ teaspoon thyme

• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

• ¼ cup parsley, diced

Directions

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the potatoes just to create some browning but not to fully cook. Lightly salt the potatoes as they sauté. Reserve the potatoes to a plate. Spoon out any excess olive oil leaving ~1 tablespoon in the pan. Melt the butter and add the leeks and poblanos. Stir them to coat with butter. Scrape up from the bottom of the pan any burned pieces of potato. These will add flavor to your soup. Cover the pot and reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes until the leeks are tender, stirring occasionally.

Add the broth, potatoes and remaining ingredients and stir to blend. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10-20 minutes only until the potatoes are tender. Season the soup to taste and serve. This soup is hearty enough to stand as a main course with crackers, coarse bread or a tossed salad.

Exchanges per serving: 1 Starch, 1 vegetable, 1 Fat

Nutrients per serving: Calories - 166; Calories from fat - 59; Total Fat - 7g; Cholesterol - 8mg; Sodium - 410mg; Total Carbohydrate - 25g; Dietary Fiber - 3g; Protein - 3g.

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