Winter Vegetable Chowder

Hello!  Happy New Year!

I finally have a little time to both cook and write about cooking after a busy semester and producing a short film.  So back to it, yes?

Winter Vegetable Chowder

The cookbook is Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, and the soup of the day is Winter Vegetable Chowder.I should probably make more recipes from this cookbook, because every one I have made has been a winner, but then when I open the cookbook I’m like “Oh, that’s your favorite soup, you should make that one” and I just keep repeating old favorites.  Part of this is because many of the recipes are time-consuming and involve a lot of peeling and chopping, and it takes a few times through to have them become second nature.  But the time spent makes a huge batch of delicious soup that is tasty and substantial enough to be the main course at a dinner party, and the techniques you pick up serve you in making other soups.

How do you make chowder without bacon, or a thick roux to start?  Madison has brilliantly figured out a way to make the soup authentically “chowdery” by simmering milk with aromatics – onion, parsley, herbs & spices – so that it thickens and becomes very savory and flavorful.  You assemble the main body of the soup separately and then you add the aromatic milk as a last step.

Here’s the recipe, adapted from hers:

Winter Vegetable Chowder

The Milk & Aromatics

  • 2 cups of milk (I recommend whole milk here.  You’re making a vegetarian chowder that’s pretty healthy, and you need the milkfat to carry flavors for you.  Skim milk is a “why even bother?” proposition.)
  • 4 large parsley branches
  • 1 large thyme sprig or 2 pinches of dried
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • 10 peppercorns, lightly crushed with 5 juniper berries.  (I do not have juniper berries in the house, so I just went with peppercorns. I wonder if a dash of gin would do the same thing or just be a waste of good gin?)
  • I usually add a few stalks of celery broken in large chunks.

The Soup

  • 3 tablespoons of butter.  Again, if this freaks you out maybe it’s not your soup, because this is spread across THREE QUARTS of soup.
  • 4 leeks, about an inch across, white parts plus 1 inch of greens sliced diagonally about 1 inch thick and rinsed (see what I mean about the chopping?)
  • 8-10 cups of root vegetables, peeled and cut into bold, attractive pieces.  Recommended vegetables:   I used potatoes, turnips, parsnips, and chunks of butternut squash.
  • 2 cups or 10 ounces of carrots, peeled and left whole if only 3 inches long, otherwise cut into large pieces.
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Phew….after all that peeling and chopping I realized that I need a new vegetable peeler.  Anyone have recommendations for an awesome vegetable peeler?


1. Put all the ingredients for the milk & aromatics in a saucepan.  Slowly bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Cover and set aside while you prepare the vegetables.

2.  Melt the butter in a wide soup pot. Add the vegetables, bay leaves, and parsley and sprinkle with 1.5 tsp. of salt.  Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or so to heat them up, gently moving them about the pan.

3.  Stir in the flour, then add 5 cups of water (or stock).  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are tender but still a tad firm. Should take about 20 minutes.  Strain the milk into a blender, add 1 cup of the vegetables, and puree until smooth.  Add the puree back to the soup.  Taste for salt and season with pepper.

Madison suggests serving with little cheesy toasts made with country bread and slices of Cantal or Gruyere in the bottom of a soup bowl and then ladling the soup over it.  That’s probably really tasty and if I were making this for a dinner party I would totally do it, but as a weeknight supper + lunches for the next 5 days it seemed like gilding the lily.





12 responses to “Winter Vegetable Chowder

  1. I love, love, love Deborah Madison’s books! She turns basic dishes into pure poetry. Somehow, though, I managed to miss her soup book. I definitely need to find a copy and start cooking.

    In the meantime, I’ll definitely make this one the next time my CSA box has a lot of good root veggies and some leeks. I can taste it from the recipe and it is GOOOOOD.

    Oh, and try the splash of gin if you don’t want to get juniper berries. I bet it’ll add a nice little extra dash of flavor.

    • Just don’t tell Plumcake I wasted perfectly good gin!

      Let me know how the chowder turns out. The thing I really love about it is that the vegetables still taste like themselves. You don’t cook it forever until it’s a mush, so they have integrity and their own earthy flavors.

      I should have said above that she recommends that if the leftovers hang around for a bit and you’re sick of them, just puree the whole soup and have a “cream of root vegetable” thing going on – serve it with more cheesy-toasts, I mean, “country bread” and chopped fresh parsley.

  2. I want to eat that fourteen different ways from Sunday. I bet it makes the house smell delicious while it cooks.

  3. I have a jar of juniper berries that will last me until the Coming of the Singularity. You want I should send you some?

    • Maybe! What do you use them for? Do they really add that much to food?

      I have a small package for you on my desk right now. No spices, though.

  4. My grandmother used to make something similar to this recipe. I am very happy I found this post. Very nice

    • Thanks for the nice words, and let me know how it goes if you make it. I’m eating leftovers for lunch right now.

  5. Melomeals: Vegan for $3.33 a Day

    Looks so good! Coconut would be a delicious alternative to the milk and butter!

    • I love using coconut milk in soups, especially this tomato/ginger/citrus thing that I make, or with roasted carrots and ginger, or black beans, or curries etc. but I feel that you need something more spicy to even out the sweetness of the coconut. So if I went with coconut milk I’d take it in a North African direction with stronger spices. But I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan, so if you’ve found a way to make the substitution work for you go for it!

      • Unsweetened almond milk with just a tiniest dash of cayenne would probably do. It’s a heavy, substantial non-dairy milk and while often used in baking, is sorely underutilized in straightforward cooking. It works really well as a cream base for soups, as long as you don’t mind a little nuttiness.

  6. This looks great and I’m going to try it today. How much flour, though? It’s not listed in the ingredients.

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