Last week my niece Liora told me that she made potato soup for the first time and was very pleased by the results. The next day, potato soup came my way, when my husband and I attended a lecture-with-dinner at an American restaurant, and we had a choice of green salad or baked potato soup. Everyone else at our table opted for salad but we picked the potato soup. As soon as our bowls of steaming soup arrived, the other diners seemed to regret their decision. "Eat it before it gets cold," said the woman on my left in a motherly way. The man on my husband's right said something similar to him. As we started eating, others became curious. "Is it good?" asked one woman. "Is it like vichyssoise (French leek and potato soup)?" asked another. Yes it was delicious, I answered, but it was nothing like vichyssoise because it did not have heavy cream and there were no leeks. Potatoes were clearly the dominant ingredient, with a sprinkling of green onion and a few tiny squares of crisp smoked meat. The waiter offered an additional garnish of grated cheese, but we opted to eat the soup as it was. This was the restaurant's take on American-style potato soup, which often includes green onion, grated cheese and smoked meat, but at home there's no need to bake the potatoes. Indeed, the chef might have came up with his version as a way to use up extra baked potatoes. Lindsey Bareham, author of In Praise of the Potato, pares potato soup down to basics. "Take a potato, a pinch of salt and a cup of water and you have the basis of a delicious, subtle, nourishing and inexpensive soup that can be quick and easy to make... the end result can be varied depending on whether you want a smooth broth or prefer the texture of grated, chopped or sliced potatoes." This formula may be a bit too rudimentary. I would add that to ensure a tasty soup, the potatoes should be paired with one or more onion-family members, herbs or spices. Potato soups are popular in all potato-loving countries. Some are served as first courses, but others are enhanced with substantial amounts of meat and are hearty enough to become main courses. Alina Zeranska, author of The Art of Polish Cooking, makes an appetizer potato soup flavored with mushrooms (either dried or fresh) and finishes the soup with sour cream, dill and parsley. For a more substantial soup, she cooks the potatoes in broth with carrots and parsley root, then thickens it with flour and stirs in smoked meat and fried onions. Anne Volokh, who wrote The Art of Russian Cuisine, makes a similar soup that's even heartier. In addition to carrots and parsley root, she cooks the potatoes with celery root, and adds fried onions, smoked meat and sautÃ©ed diced Polish sausage. Instead of thickening the soup with flour, she simply mashes some of the potatoes. Add Sephardi seasonings to a Russian recipe and you get a result that's completely different. In The Sephardic Kitchen of My Russian Mother (in Hebrew), Ofra Bourla-Adar writes of her fondness for sour potato soup, which has a lemony flavor, unusual to those used to typical European and American soups. She cooks potatoes and celery root in chicken broth with chicken pieces in it, then finishes this rich potato soup with parsley, plenty of garlic and the juice of a whole fresh lemon. AUSTRIAN POTATO SOUP WITH CHIVES Besides desserts, one thing I really enjoyed eating in Austria was potatoes. They were of very good quality and were tasty even plain or simply prepared. Austrians excel in making potato soup. There are many versions. Some contain marjoram, others include celery root or tomatoes, and the heartiest ones contain ground beef. This one is creamy and chunky, with cubes of potato and carrot and a generous amount of chives. 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or butter 1 large onion, chopped 2 tsp. paprika 1.4 kg. boiling potatoes, peeled and cut in 2- to 2.5-cm. dice 2 small carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, sliced 5 cups chicken-flavored vegetable broth, or broth mixed with water salt and freshly ground pepper 1â„2 cup sour cream, light or regular 3 to 4 Tbsp. finely sliced chives Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and sautÃ© over medium heat 5 minutes or until softened. Add paprika and sautÃ© 1 minute. Add potatoes, carrots and stock. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir sour cream in a bowl. Gradually stir 1 cup soup into sour cream. Stir gently into soup. Heat gently; do not boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot, sprinkled with chives. Makes 6 servings. CREAMY POTATO SOUP Even if you don't add milk or cream, the cooked potatoes give this pureed soup a creamy texture. To serve the soup at a meat meal, substitute chicken broth for the vegetable broth and for the milk, and oil for the butter. You can heat sliced chicken or turkey frankfurters in the chicken version of the soup after you have pureed it. 2 Tbsp. butter 4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced (about 450 gr.) 1 medium onion, diced 1 small carrot, diced 4 cups vegetable broth Salt and white pepper 1â„2 cup milk, half and half or whipping cream, or more if needed 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley (optional) In a medium saucepan combine potatoes, onion, carrot and stock. Add salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat about 25 minutes or until potatoes are very tender. Puree soup in a blender or with a hand blender. Return soup to saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add 1â„2 cup milk and heat through. If soup is too thick, stir in more milk or vegetable broth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve sprinkled with parsley. Makes 4 servings. Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.