Happy Birthday, Abhishek!

I don’t usually take official notice of my friends’ birthdays here on the blog. There are several reasons for that: none of you know all of my other friends, I don’t want to offend people by leaving them out or put people under an obligation to reciprocate, it’s hard to find just the right electronic birthday gift, and so on.

Ah, who am I trying to fool? You all know the real reason is that I have a terrible memory for dates; I usually don’t remember your birthdays until they’re long over.

But this is a special case. Facebook saw fit to remind me that Abhishek’s birthday is tomorrow, which killed my main excuse. And I’ve got the perfect gift. The last I heard, Abhishek was living in Minneapolis, MN, which means that as I write this, he’s enjoying tropical temperatures in the mid-teens (for those of you outside the US, that’s 15 Fahrenheit, not Celsius). I’ve managed to persuade Maggie to part with her family recipe for potato soup. It’s a great winter meal.

So happy birthday, Abhishek. Make a big pot of this soup to fortify yourself against the weather. If the temperature stays where it is, you can eat the soup. If the temperature drops, make a really big batch and soak in it, hot tub style*.

* No, don’t soak in it, that would be a waste!

Potato Soup


  • 6-8 medium potatoes. White, yellow, or red skinned are all quite good. Yukon Gold work well too. Skip baking potatoes, the texture of the finished soup isn’t quite right. And definitely don’t use purple potatoes. The flavor and texture is good, but the color doesn’t survive and the soup’s visual appeal is, well, non-existent. If you want purple soup for some reason, try food coloring.
  • 1 small-to-medium onion. We prefer red, but white or yellow are fine. Chop it fine.
  • 12 ounce can of evaporated milk. Here’s your opportunity to tune the fat content. We generally use non-fat with excellent results, but if that’s not a concern for you, feel free to use full- or low-fat. Warning: Be careful not to accidentally grab the can of condensed milk on the adjoining shelf! I won’t say we’ve made that mistake, but this is not a soup that benefits from the addition of large quantities of sugar.
  • Salt. Just a shake or two, enough to encourage osmosis. (Can you tell that this recipe came to us from a chemistry teacher?)
  • Black pepper. More than seems to be called for. Be generous, but don’t go overboard. We’ve determined experimentally that 1/4 cup is too much more than is called for. Please make sure that the lid of your pepper shaker is firmly attached. Better yet, grind it fresh. The flavor will be better and you’ll be protected against this particular failure mode.
  • Oregano. Dried, one teaspoon or thereabouts.


  1. Wash potatoes to your local standard of cleanliness. Don’t scrub too hard, and don’t peel. You want all of the nutrients from the skins!
  2. Cut all but half of one of the potatoes into two-inch chunks. Use a vegetable peeler to render that remaining half potato into shreds. Don’t skip that step because it sounds like hard work: the shredded potato will help thicken the soup. Just be careful not to shred your fingers when you get down to the last bit of potato. You don’t want to spoil the soup for vegetarians.
  3. Toss potato chunks, shredded potato, and chopped onion into a pot and add enough water to completely cover the solids.
  4. Add the salt, pepper, and oregano and bring to a boil.
  5. When the water boils, turn down the heat and add the evaporated milk.
  6. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes or until the potato chunks are tender.

If you like your soup chunky, it’s ready to serve. If you prefer a creamier soup, feel free to assault it with an immersion blender. Don’t hit it too hard, though: you want to have at least a few chunks of potato.

Ladle into bowls. You can eat it as-is, or enhance it with the additives of your choice. We’ve had good results with butter (probably contra-indicated if you used non-fat milk), grated cheese (we generally go with Parmesan, Romano, or cheddar; we find feta, blue, and Limburger to be less salubrious), chives, and bacon (this is one application where you can get away with vegetarian-safe bacon substitutes such as bacon bits–well worth it for the flavor if you’re not a meat eater.)

The soup keeps well in the fridge, so you can make several days worth at once, but it doesn’t freeze well–it gets rather grainy.

One final note: While this recipe is Abhishek’s birthday present, he’s a generous guy, and I’m sure he won’t mind sharing. The rest of you trapped in cold weather are welcome to give it a try. It won’t improve the weather, but I promise that you won’t mind the temperature nearly as much with a bowlful inside you.