Spring isn’t exactly considered soup season but in my world, a bowl of chicken and leek soup is just the thing all year long. On its own, this is a delicate, soothing soup, great for those late-season colds. What it lacks in complexity is easily remedied with a good dollop of zesty lemon and carrot top pesto (a good use for the other end of the carrots in the soup).
How to Make Homemade Chicken Broth
This Chicken and Leek Soup recipe is incredibly simple to make. You just toss all the ingredients into the biggest pot you own and let it simmer away until the chicken is tender, falling off the bone, and the bones have had time to turn water into broth. You can use a whole chicken like I did here, or pieces of bone-in, skin-on chicken. Either way, make sure to use chicken with bones. The bones are what gives the broth maximum flavor—don’t worry, you’ll take them out later.
This soup, however, is really about the leeks. Simmered slowly with the chicken, they become silky, and almost creamy, giving the soup an elegant quality that wouldn’t happen with the more humble onion. This soup was the first thing that came to mind when my friend Annie asked if I’d like to contribute a recipe to her quarterly blogger collaboration featuring seasonal produce.
For spring she picked leeks, and even though I’ve made this soup dozens of times, whenever leeks are plentiful at the farmer’s market, I’ve never actually written it down. But this gives me the perfect opportunity. Thanks Annie! (If you’d like to check out the other leek recipes, make sure to follow the hashtag #leeksonfleek on Instagram.
How to Clean Leeks
If you’ve never cooked with leeks, they look like really huge green onions, and rightly so, as they are part of the onion family. All those layers unfortunately are the perfect place for dirt to hide, so here’s the best way to get them super clean before cooking.
First step is to trim off most of the dark green stem. It is very tough and not that edible. The one on the left is trimmed, the one on the right is whole.
Next, cut them in half vertically. This will expose any dirt hiding between the layers. Give them a good rinse under cold, running water.
Slice leeks into thin half moons, and if they’re still really dirty…..
Give a good soak in cold water. Swish the leeks around until they are clean then lift them out, leaving the dirty water behind. Dry thoroughly in a clean kitchen towel if you are sautéing or frying them, otherwise you can add them wet to the pot.
Chicken and Leek Soup with Lemon-Carrot Top Pesto
This chicken and leek soup is light, but comforting with ginger and mint then topped with a bold pesto made from carrot tops, radish tops, and lemon zest.
For the Soup:
- 1 whole chicken or 4 pounds chicken pieces
- 3 large leeks, trimmed, washed, halved, and sliced (see post for the best method)
- 2 ounces fresh ginger (about a 5-inch piece), peeled and thinly sliced
- 12 ounces (about 5 small) carrots (with tops, if making pesto), peeled and cut into large slices
- large handful fresh mint (about 12 sprigs)
- 8 cups water
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Lemon-Carrot Top Pesto:
- 1 1/2 cups packed carrot top leaves (thin leaves removed from the stem)
- 1 1/2 cups packed radish tops (or same amount of more carrot tops)
- 1 cup packed Italian parsley
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
For the Soup:
Combine all ingredients in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until chicken is tender and beginning to fall off the bone, about 1 1/2-2 hours.
Remove chicken to a large sheet pan or plate and let cool (keep pot covered and broth simmering). Once cool enough to handle, pick meat off chicken bones and return to pot, discard all skin and bones.
Taste and add more salt as needed.
For the Pesto:
Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor. With the processor running, slowly drizzle olive oil into the pesto. Keep blending until it forms a smooth paste.
Ladle soup into bowls and top with a dollop of pesto. Enjoy!