Keep it simple on yourself and elegant for her this Mother's Day

  • Here an anise-flavored liquor stands in for the Pernod the recipe calls for, and fennel fronds garnish the soup instead of chervil leaves.

      Here an anise-flavored liquor stands in for the Pernod the recipe calls for, and fennel fronds garnish the soup instead of chervil leaves. M. Eileen Brown | Staff Photographer

Updated 5/6/2021 11:34 AM

Mother's Day requires something elegant but easy. Whether you're celebrating your mom, yourself or even Mother Nature, who wants to spend the day in the kitchen?

Chilled Fennel and Leek soup is just the right starter for a festive May meal. Whip it up a day in advance, let it chill for 24 hours, and you're all set.


Honestly, the most challenging part about making this soup is finding the ingredients.

Leeks are easy, and so (usually) is fennel. The recipe -- courtesy of Martha Stewart -- called for chervil springs and Pernod. I couldn't find chervil anywhere, and I couldn't seem to locate Pernod, an anise-flavored liquor.

No matter. I substituted the fronds from the fennel to use as a garnish. Then, I found a bottle of anise-flavored liquor at my local liquor store.

No one will be the wiser.

The end result is refreshing and light. Blending the soup gives it a creamy texture that will fool you into thinking there is dairy in there. The aromatic anise-flavor of the fennel is softened through cooking, making this a flavorful but subtle soup. Skip the liquor if you want to tone down the anise taste.

If you're ambitious, it would be great served with homemade focaccia, asparagus tart or quiche.

Whatever you do, keep it easy on yourself. This is a day for celebrating and taking it easy -- even if you're the one doing the cooking.

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• M. Eileen Brown is the Daily Herald's director of strategic marketing and innovation and an incurable soup-a-holic. She specializes in vegetarian soups and blogs at

Chilled Fennel and Leek Soup

6 medium leeks, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced

cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more for seasoning

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 medium fennel bulbs (about 2 pounds), trimmed and roughly chopped

8 cups chicken stock

4 cups cold water

2 tablespoons Pernod (optional)

Chervil sprigs, for garnish

Place leeks in a large bowl of cold water; stir, and let stand 5 minutes to let dirt and sand settle to the bottom. You may need to repeat several times, changing the water each time. Once they are free of grit, transfer to paper towels to drain.


Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and fennel seeds along with the salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic; cook until fragrant but not brown, about 2 minutes.

Add leeks and fennel to pan, and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add chicken stock and the water, and bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes more.

Remove from heat, and let cool slightly. Working in several batches, puree until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container, and place in refrigerator to chill completely, at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve, stir in Pernod, if using, and season with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls, and garnish with chervil.

Serves 6 to 8

Adapted from

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