I know, it's still summer up here in the northern hemisphere and hot soups are the last thing on your mind. But try to think ahead to the cold, cold Canadian winter days and how nice it will be to snuggle in somewhere warm with a nice bowl of hearty soup, trying not to think about going back outside to finish shovelling the snow off the roof.

I found this recipe in one of those packages of flyers and advertisements meant to get you to order 3 pizzas and get 1 free or buy new windows and not pay a cent until 2010. I wasn’t impressed. It seemed too simple to be good and besides, those packs of flyers are always crap anyway, right?

But I had the required ingredients and no other plans for dinner, so I made this soup.

Let me tell you, this is one of the best soups I’ve ever had. And I’m not a "chunky" or "chowder" soup kind of guy. I prefer a nice clear, thin soup. But this soup has changed my perspective.

Let’s cook:

3 medium red potatoes
1 cup of "potato water"
1 small onion
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
3 cups milk
½ tsp sugar
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup cubed cooked ham
Crushed red pepper flakes
Ground black pepper

1) Cook the potatoes, mostly
Peel and cut the potatoes into 1-2cm cubes. Larger pieces take longer to cook and occupy more space on the spoon when you’re done. But if you’re into that, cut them larger. Put them into a pot of water and cook them until they’re almost tender enough for mashed potatoes. This is a tough one to define but here’s a try: if you can smash the potato to a paste with the side of knife in one pass, it’s too soft. If it crumbles easily but still breaks into chunks, they’re ready.

Incidentally, I used regular white potatoes, not reds. They seemed fine to me.

Once the potatoes have finished cooking, reserve 2 cups of the "potato water" for use later. But while the potatoes are boiling, keep working. This soup isn’t for mono-taskers.

2) Sweat the onions
Put the butter in a pot that’s deep enough to hold about 6 cups of liquid. You could use a frying pan, but this will save you having to wash another dish since you’ll finish the soup in this pot.

Add the finely chopped onion to the butter. If you’re an onion fan (like me), add more. If you’re not a fan (like my wife), add less. But do add at least some onion. It’s really integral to the flavour.

Cook the onion until it starts to get translucent, but not brown. Or let it brown a little bit; it’s your call. I browned them a bit and the soup was still great. Don’t be a slave to the recipe.

3) Make the roux
Add the flour to the pot of onions and mix. Add the black pepper (a MUST) and red pepper flakes (nice, but optional). At this point I added a bit more butter because my onions got coated with flour and looked icky. Remember, you’re making a light roux here, so more butter is OK.

Cook the onions and roux for 3-4 minutes over medium heat. If your potatoes aren’t done yet you can remove the roux from heat and let it stand until the potatoes are done. It won’t hurt.

4) Mix it up
Add to the onions and roux: potatoes, potato water, milk, sugar, cubed ham and cheese.

I didn’t have 3 cups of milk so I increased the potato water a little bit and added some extra cheese to keep it creamy. It still turned out well, so I think there’s a bit of play available in this area to suit your taste. I also added a bit more than the prescribed amount of ham. Again, suit yourself.

5) Simmer
Like people, all good soups benefit from some time to sit and think. So leave the soup on the burner, nice and low, and let it simmer away for at least 30 minutes. Stir it every 10 or so minutes. The partially cooked potatoes will get soft without breaking up. The cheese will melt and combine nicely. The pepper will soften and soak into the soup. Let it simmer; the soup will love you for it and you’ll love it right back.

The Review
What can I say that I haven’t already? This isn’t the type of soup I’d have thought I’d like, but it’s very good. And it’s so easy to make and so easy to modify to suit your own taste and diet, how could you go wrong?

It was great the night I made it and great the next day for lunch. I’m going to take the rest over to my Mom tomorrow (Mom loves a good soup) and get her seal of approval. But really, if it’s good enough to serve to my Mom, isn’t it good enough for you? Give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Grandma’s Kitchen flyer
Me, some modifications made to original recipe

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