cream of fennel soup

"Soup of the day?" It's a question we love to ask, always hoping to be surprised by something new or if not new, really tasty. And cream soups are our favorite category. So finally the casual restaurant/bar next to the Bryn Mawr movie theater reopens after a remodeling phase with an upgraded menu style to match the new decor and name change: from "Marbles" to "Citron Bistro". An early weekday pre-movie meal before catching a film in one of the few remaining old movie houses that divided into a twin to survive the multiplex era in what we think of as our town. And survived the turn of the century even.

"Cream of fennel soup" was the answer. Very intriguing. We're already fennel conscious but would never have thought of the soup angle. So we go for it and find it delicious. At which point it would have been natural to ask for a recipe from the cook [Lek Poeta?, according to food chatter in the Philly Inky]. But we didn't. We'll have to fake it. The waitress does tell us it has some anise liqueur in it. Good hint.

A few days later Sarah Moultin does a cream of fennel soup! So we go to to download the recipe and while we're on-line we check out and find a version from Bon Appetit, except the recipes are not coming up, so we go to the hard copy on the shelf of our cooking library. Later we return on-line and read the very helpful user comments. Great to have feedback before trying out a recipe.

The restaurant version was very smooth and not thick—and not overpowering. FoodTV had 5 fennel bulbs an onion and garlic clove for the standard 8 cups of stock/cream, which seemed a bit much. Cutting back to 1 bulb might do the trick as an eventual second try. Bon Appetit has our favorite potato leek base but maybe a bit more than we imagined for the light soup we'd already experienced.

Going back to the original Bistro Cooking cream soup recipes that gave us our two favorites (artichoke, chestnut), for inspiration, we put together a reasonable lineup. Working in the chinois at the right point, suggested by one of them. Normally straining the soup is against our principles because removing good stuff for the sake of texture seems like the wrong kind of trade-off. But the Williams-Sonoma chinois came as a Christmas gift. In the category of things you'd never buy yourself. So we have to try it out of politeness if nothing else. What is a chinois? First of all, it's "shin-wa". Those French are always ready to confuse us with the pronunciation of their words. And it's a long conical fine sieve with a convenient handle and a wire stand for it to sit in while resting. Or sieving. So we'll do that just before adding the light cream.

A few days later we're food magazine browsing at the Bryn Mawr Borders and bob spots the reborn Eating Well magazine that had folded earlier while we were subscribing. Now four seasonal issues and no ads. Leafing through the fennel soup recipe just jumps out. A done deal. This mag's making the trip home. It too has the potato-leek base confirming our initial inclination. We increase the single leek and potato we had in mind to two. And act the next day, putting it all together.


2 T olive oil
1 fennel bulb, food processed with:
2 leeks
2 garlic cloves, pressed (isgouhi suggestion)
2 medium potatoes, food processed or chopped
7 (or 6) c veggie stock
1 c light cream (or 2)
salt and pepper to taste (maybe 1 T salt, 1 t black pepper, but you decide)
1/3 c Arak/Ouzo/Sambuca/etc anise flavored liqueur


  1. Clean and prep the veggies. Peel the potatoes, remove the hard core of the fennel and peel away layers, clean the leeks.
  2. Food process the leeks and fennel together and then sauté with the garlic and a little salt to bring out the flavor (we forgot). Until softened, maybe 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile boil the water to make the veggie broth and food process the potatoes.
  4. Add the potatoes and veggie broth and simmer 45 minutes to an hour.
  5. Puree the soup with a hand blender.
  6. At this point one can refrigerate the soup until another day, or let it sit on the stove a few hours for a later dinner, or proceed directly to the finisher step.
  7. Stir or hand blend in the light cream, choice of anise-flavored alcohol and the salt and pepper, tasting for a possible correction.
  8. Reheat through and serve.


  1. We took it to the mother-in-law's and finished it there, forgetting the chinois at home. But we had simmered it so long, it pureed into a silky smooth consistency. No need for the chinois. Maybe it will come in handy for another recipe.
  2. Arak (anise liqueur) is the national drink of Lebanon, similar to the Greek Ouzo, Turkish Raki, Italian Sambuca, French Anis/Pastis. Clear until you add some water (traditional way of serving, with optional ice) which turns it milky colored. Apparently oil of fennel (green anise) is added to the Italian version, confirming bob's association of fennel with this class of products. Barkev often offers bob a shot before dinner at the in-laws. When bob accepts, he notices the effects even after dinner. Powerful stuff so be careful with it.
  3. Inspiration goes to Citron Bistro of 818 Lancaster Ave in Bryn Mawr, owned by the Lebanese Wakim brothers. Spanish influenced smoke-free Mediterranean opened Winter 2003. Hope it lasts.
  4. Delicious, in case you wondered. We must be on a roll with this line of soups.
  5. Illustration.
fennelsp.htm: 16-aug-2006 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]