I grew up in a climate where the constant threat of frost or snow from May – August prevented abundant crops. In fact, the only thing that we could successfully grow was rhubarb. Thus, when I first read through Veganomicon (like a novel, as one should do with a new cookbook), I was instantly filled with awe and wonder at the recipe entitled Midsummer Corn Chowder. The description starts with the line “This soup just screams “I just came back from the Farmer’s Market! Look at my bulging canvas sack!””, and the concept of being able to buy corn, tomatoes, basil, and fennel at the farmer’s market in the middle of summer was so completely foreign to me I thought they were making it up. So imagine my joy and excitement when I came back from my weekly CSA share last week (admittedly mid-September) with a bulging backpack of corn, heirloom tomatoes, basil, onions, and other goodies! I had arrived at that mythical land, and so I knew I had to make this chowder.
I will admit I have never had “real” corn chowder before, due to my corn issues, but since I have somewhat overcome them with the Chickpea Pastel de Choclo, I thought I was ready to tackle the chowder. Although calling mid-September “midsummer” is a bit of a stretch, I kept to the spirit of the recipe and adapted it to accommodate my bulging backpack of CSA vegetables. To the soup I added zucchini (last of the season), collard greens, and extra carrots (to make up for lack of celery. To this day growing celery is a bit of a mystery to me). I am not a jet setter, but I am lazy, so I didn’t make the corn stock as suggested. Instead, I simmered the soup with the corn cobs and the top of the fennel fronds, which added a nice depth to the stock. I did have to buy potatoes and fennel to complete the dish, but that’s not too bad! I also modified the cooking instructions slightly: Instead of sautéing in oil, I sautéed the vegetables using water. I have discovered that if you add the onions to the pan with a splash of water and cover, it lets them sweat and caramelize way better than if you use oil. To prevent sticking, add splashes of water periodically. I did this technique for all the vegetables, resulting in caramelized garlic, onions, and fennel which added smoky depth and deliciousness. The soup is simply seasoned with the fresh basil and dried thyme – no additional seasonings required! Let the fresh produce shine through. I did add a healthy splash of Habanero Hot Sauce, because the habaneros also came from the garden and I didn’t want them to be neglected.
The end result is a surprisingly light stew that does scream “farmer’s market bulging sack of goodies”. Fresh and vibrant, it is worth turning the stove on if it’s +30dC, or it will remind you of the fleeting days of summer if it’s mid-September and pumpkin season is just around the corner. Delicious, creamy, and vibrant, I believe this soup has terminated my corn-issues for good! Reminisce of the fleeting days of summer and honour your farmer’s market haul.
(Note: the soup freezes wonderfully, so if you are like me and enthusiastically waiting for pumpkin season and thoroughly sick of summer produce, make this soup fresh today, then save the leftovers for December, when all you want is a garden-fresh zucchini.)
The recipe can be found on page 144 of Veganomicon, or in the Google Book Preview here: Midsummer Corn Chowder with Basil, Tomato, and Fennel