Michelle Ferrer · Mar 15, 2017 · 3 min read
My first St. Patrick's Day as a vegetarian had me longing for corned beef and cabbage something awful. I missed simmering that aromatic cured meat and pickling spices all day long. I missed the distinct funk of cabbage that wafted through the air. I missed having sandwiches for days. For nostalgia's sake, I cooked up the cabbage, got the house smelling just right and served it up with carrots and a mound of kale colcannon. The next year, I was bound and determined to find a new St. Paddy's Day staple that didn't make me pine. I got to thinking about hearty vegetables and, of course, something that would pair well with my St. Patrick's Day beer. Put them both together, and my first--possibly clichéd thought--was beer cheese soup.
My favorite cheesy soup recipe comes from an old Disney cookbook that highlights beloved recipes from Disney parks and resorts. For the last twenty-five years, I have made the Onion Cheese Soup from Yacht Club Galley restaurant so many times, the pages are stained and splattered. I've tweaked the recipe since then and this go-round, I added some hoppy goodness. So, let's focus on onions. And leeks. And cheese. And BEER! This soup reminds me of Outback restaurant's now defunct Walkabout Soup, but made more sophisticated with the addition of leeks and more delicious with beer thrown in for good measure.
I've only cooked with beer a handful of times, so I wasn't sure which type would be a good complement for this soup. Although I prefer the darker side of the spectrum, I didn't want to overpower the delicate onions and leeks with a stout or a porter. One thing I do know is that you should only cook with alcohol that you yourself would drink--if you don't like to drink it, you won't like it in your dish, either. It turns out that the bottle of New Belgium's Fat Tire I had on hand was the perfect choice to add the right amount of complexity without dominating the other flavors. The cheese choice is an important one: using a four-cheddar cheese blend adds depth to this creamy soup--Sargento makes a good pre-shredded one. Each variety of Cheddar lends its own flavor profile and makes for a smooth, creamy soup with a bit of bite.
Although my husband is anti-anything with caraway seeds, this soup is fantastic served in a pumpernickel or rye bread bowl. For him, I serve it up in a regular bowl with baked soft pretzels for dipping. No matter which way you serve it, it tastes like Irish pub fare--perfect alongside, say, another beer? So, for this year's St. Patrick's Day, there may not be corned beef, but there will be beer--in my glass and in my bowl. Cheers!
LEEK AND ONION BEER CHEESE SOUP
- 1 large Spanish onion thinly sliced
- 2 large leeks thinly sliced and cleaned
- 4 Tablespoons butter
- 4 Tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup amber ale flat and room temperature (I used New Belgium's Fat Tire)
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 1/2 teaspoon Salt divided
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper divided
- 1/2 teaspoon mace
- 1 1/2 cup grated 4-cheddar cheese blend
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
- Rye or pumpernickel bread
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, leeks, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; sauté until soft and lightly browned. Add flour to pot and stir to coat onions/leeks. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, until you can no longer smell the flour.
- Slowly deglaze the pot with beer, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Allow beer to foam and cook for 2 minutes--this allows most of the alcohol to cook out. Stir in milk and vegetable stock. Season with mace, sugar, smoked paprika, and remaining salt and pepper. Combine seasonings and continue to cook until soup begins to thicken.
- Stir in cheese; reduce heat to low. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. As soup simmers, make croutons.
- Tear or cube rye or pumpernickel bread into one-inch cubes. Melt butter in sauté pan over medium high heat. When butter is melted, add bread. When bread is toasted on one side, flip to the other side until golden; remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
- Once the soup thickens, it can be served as is, or it can be pureed. To purée, blend with a stick blender or purée in blender in batches to desired consistency. Serve immediately and garnish with croutons.