Today I'm lucky to have a a beautifully written post. I can say that, because I didn't write it-- Canice from the CLBB did. I've long admired Canice's clear communication skills and her savvy at choosing excellent recipes and then taking them up a notch using her own fine-tuned palate. She's smart and funny and a damn good cook.
Although I was unable to post this as soon as written, it's as timely as could be, as you'll see. Enjoy what's she's dishing up!
I’m a long-time acquaintance of Heavy Hedonist, and another enthusiastic home cook and lover of soup. When she asked whether I’d be interested in writing a guest entry for this blog, my first thought was “Sure! But I know nothing of summer in the East; what can I contribute that would be authentic?”
After more thought, I concluded that the only truly authentic view I can contribute is my own, natural one - that of a Bay Area native who’s spent her adult life in San Francisco, where the main purpose of the summer barbecue is to give the guests a place to find warmth against the cold, damp weather.
That’s the down side to summer living in the City by the Bay. On the plus side, there’s not a day of the week that there’s not a farmers’ market being held somewhere in this small city - often a number of markets. There’s the large, well-known Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, featuring gorgeous, (mostly) organic produce, each stall carefully marked with a card showing the farm’s location in California, miles to market, the number of people employed full time, and information about the owners.
On that same day, across town, is the much older (dating to World War II) and much more down-home Alemany Farmers’ Market, with low prices, rangy setting, and more ethnic produce, owing to the large Hispanic, Hmong (and other East and South Asian) farmer populations in California’s San Joaquin Valley. And many small, neighborhood markets in between.
No matter the size or location of the market, though, one thing you can count on in August is fresh, local corn. And I’ve always considered it a blessing that corn and fog are peak-of-season together, for that means I can enjoy fresh corn chowder with all of its sweet, warm comfort against a damp grey night.
There are endless permutations of corn chowder, of course, and I love that, too: corn chowder with a fresh tomato salsa; or with diced summer squash, garnished with cheery squash blossoms or bright herbs. Vegetarian or vegan, it’s delicious, and is a fine match to shellfish of many sorts, for those who so choose.
No matter the style, one thing I insist on including in all of my corn chowders is peppers, up to five or six sorts of fresh, and always some hot pepper sauce, for not just heat but also for the nice acid kick that helps balance out flavors. I recently made a summer corn chowder with peppers and a tomato-basil garnish, and it struck me what a wonderfully New World dish that really was, featuring three of the Americas’ greatest contributions to world cuisine: corn, tomatoes and peppers.
And then, the very next day, in my inbox was the monthly newsletter from Rancho Gordo, the amazing little company in Napa, California, dedicated to promoting the consumption of heirloom beans of many, many types, and to preserving them by collecting beans from small Mexican and South American producers and growing them in Northern California - as well as via direct imports from small family farms. But it’s worth noting that the company isn’t “Rancho Gordo Beans” but “Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Foods” - they don’t limit themselves to beans - and in that newsletter was a recipe for a corn chowder that also called for quinoa, a long-time staple of native peoples of the Andes, and amaranth, another Incan staple. While my version of corn chowder may have been “wonderfully” New World, it wasn’t “perfectly” New World - and this one came close!
The recipe provided by Steve Sando (founder and president of Rancho Gordo) is based on an out-of-print book called “Spirit of the Earth: Native Cooking from Latin America” and Steve had this to say about the recipe:
Everybody seems interested in whole grains these days, thanks to the good work of people like Heidi Swanson, Lorna Sass and the gluten-free movement. Grains like amaranth and quinoa are high in fiber, protein and flavor and it's been fun finding ways of incorporating them into a modern diet. Amaranth is particularly hard as it gets a little gooey when cooked. In Mexico, you mostly see it popped and in a sweet treat called Alegria, if at all.
I took some liberties with Steve’s interpretation of the recipe and came up with this deep, nourishing summer soup.
Corn Chowder with Quinoa and Amaranth
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup finely diced celery
1-1/2 cups finely diced fresh peppers - poblano and red bell
1 1/2 cups finely chopped leeks (white and light green parts)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup amaranth
4 cups water, divided
1/2 cup quinoa, well rinsed
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1teaspoon dried
4 cups corn kernels (from 4-5 ears), divided between 3 cups and 1 cup
1 Tbsp hot sauce
Juice of half a lime
1 cup half-and-half or whole milk
1/4 cup minced fresh herbs for garnish: basil, Italian parsley, or chives
In a large, heavy pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Stir in celery, peppers and leeks. [If using dried thyme, add it here.] Sprinkle salt over and stir frequently until the vegetable are soft, 3-5 minutes.
Stir in the Amaranth and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the Quinoa and [fresh] thyme. Return to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cook at a gentle boil, partially covered, for 10 minutes.
In a food processor, puree 3 cups of corn with the remaining cup of water. Stir the corn puree and the remaining 1 cup of whole corn kernels into the soup. Add hot sauce and lime juice. Simmer 5 more minutes or until the Quinoa and Amaranth are tender.
Stir in the half and half and remaining tablespoon of butter. Add salt or other seasoning, according to taste. Divide into portions and garnish with fresh herbs.
Note: The soup may thicken on standing; thin as needed with water, milk, or vegetable stock.
Links related to this article:
Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market
Alemany Farmers’ Market
Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Foods
I have a pot of this soup starting right now-- Peace, Mari