20 October 2013

A Chowder for Fall


We were out of town for a weekend, off the grid on a church retreat which usually takes place in crisp Fall weather. But this year the retreat was a week earlier than usual, and thanks to Global Warming or just bad luck, it was shorts and t-shirt weather the whole time.  I wanted cool days and chilly nights. I wanted to need an extra blanket and to find the heat of the Saturday night campfire a relief, to draw closer. Instead it was warm and the bugs were still out and the fire was so hot I had to roll my log-seat further away. It was still a good retreat. There are no bad weekends at the Shrine, but it was not Fall.

Fall arrived on Monday. The morning was grey and we all knew it would storm even before we checked the weather.  By late morning the wind was blowing hard and the clouds had cracked open. The rain lasted most of the day and the air it left behind belonged firmly to October. It was time to make soup.

I wanted this batch of soup to be vegetarian. The challenge is to make a rich broth without stock. I've never bought a canned or boxed vegetable broth that made me happy. They all seem to be trying too hard. I find it’s easier to build one from the ground up. It does require some chopping. I used my mandoline, and I recommend everyone who wants to cook get one, but a knife and cutting board will do the job just fine.

The garlic might seem excessive, but in a big pot it’s not too much. The garlic cooks and softens and provides a deep roasty background to the soup. The lone jalapeno doesn't add much heat if you remove the seeds and membranes before chopping, but, like the garlic, it adds complexity. Don’t leave it out.

You’ll notice that this soup has frozen and canned corn. Most chowders get a round mouth-feel from dairy, but this one gets it from the canned corn pureed in its own liquid.  It’s not as lush as a cream-based soup, but it does save this soup from the thin feel that many vegetarian broths have.

I made the first batch two weeks ago, and another yesterday.

This recipe is vegan as written and it doesn't need anything, but you could always stir in a spoonful of sour cream or some cheese, and if someone really wants meat in their soup, a bit of crumbled bacon wouldn't be a bad idea.

Bean and Corn Chowder

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large white onion
1 lb carrots
1 head celery
4-6 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno
1 16-ounce bag frozen corn
1 15-oz can corn
5 15-oz cans assorted beans
salt and pepper to taste

Place your largest soup pot over medium heat and cover the bottom in a thin layer of olive oil.  Dice the onion and add to the hot oil with a half-teaspoon of salt. Stir. Wash and slice the carrots. Add to the pot and stir. Wash and slice the celery. Add to the pot and stir. Crush and mince the garlic. Mince the jalapeno, first removing the seeds and membranes if you want mild flavor, leaving them in if you want a kick.  Add the garlic and jalapeno to the pot and stir.

Dump the canned corn and liquid in the blender and blend completely.  Drain and rinse the canned beans. Add the beans, frozen corn, blended corn, and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the pot, then add enough water to cover. Increase heat to high. Stir and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes.

Serve with crusty bread.

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