Growing up in the Netherlands, prei, or leeks, was the one vegetable that would show up in my grocery cart with just about every shopping trip. For one, it was a cheap vegetable to buy, and second it would flavor so many foods we made, especially as students. Thirdly, I absolutely love love LOVE prei! Leeks would feature in soups, salads, oven dishes, mashed through potatoes, or as a creamed vegetable by itself - it was filling, flavorful and most of all, affordable.

The only thing that annoyed me beyond belief was the fact that it would stick out of my shopping bag and get in the way of cycling! If you've ever ridden a bicycle in Holland with shopping bags on your stuur, you know exactly what I mean :-)

Leeks are predominantly grown in the provinces of Limburg and Noord-Brabant, as it needs a loose soil to grow best in. The vegetable is blanched as it grows taller by hilling up the soil around it - which also explains why so often leeks have sand inbetween its layers. Its flavor varies from onion-y, when raw, to downright sweet when cooked. It is very versatile vegetable!

Prei is also very healthy: it's loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals and has a slight diuretic effect. All good things, I'd say! For this wintery weather, a cup of hot leek soup with a sprinkle of smoky, crispy bacon bits might be just what you need. Best of all, it's a quick soup to make. With five ingredients, 5 minutes of prep and twenty minutes of cooking, you have a satisfying soup at your disposal.

1 lb floury potatoes
1 large leek
1 vegetable or chicken bouillon cube
4 cups water
8 strips bacon

Peel the potatoes and dice. Cut the root end of the leek, and remove the top dark green/blue layer. We are not going to use this today, but if you rinse, chop and freeze it, it can be used to make a great vegetable stock. Cut the white body of the leek in half, lengthwise, and slice into one inch pieces. Rinse any sand that may be hiding between the layers.

In a saucepan, add four cups of water, the potatoes and the leeks, and a pinch of salt. Add the bouillon cube to the pan, cover and bring to a boil, then turn down medium and boil for 15 minutes. In the meantime, put a skillet on the stove, add the slices of bacon and on a low fire render the fat out of the bacon so that it goes crispy.

After fifteen minutes, check to see if the potatoes are soft. If you like chunky soup, remove a couple of spoons of the vegetables, and add them back in after you've blended the rest. If you prefer it smooth, leave it in and blend the vegetables into a smooth, thick soup. Taste, and see if you need to adjust the seasoning. For a little bit of luxury, stir in one or two spoons of cream.

Drain the crispy bacon on a paper towel and cut into strips. Pour the soup into a bowl, sprinkle the bacon on top, and drizzle one or two teaspoons of bacon fat over the soup (if you want). I always like to give it a good sprinkle of freshly ground pepper, as well.

Makes four servings.