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by Dan Moore, Deli Manager
When I was younger (not that long ago mind you) my attitude towards cooking was very much “seize the day.” I’d go out and find some obscure ingredient and search the internet for recipes that were more and more complicated each time I cooked for anyone. I ended up with some tasty food, but with guests a little leery of eating it. I also ended up with very little time to spend with them, since I was in the kitchen the whole day trying to figure out how to make the recipes work. Nowadays, I developed a new attitude. Think of it more as “embrace the day.” I let the day and the food come to me and make the best of it. I’ll give you an example from this past weekend...
It was a Saturday like any other, and I was drinking my morning cup of coffee thinking about lunch. It was, after all, already 9am and NPR had had a pretty good story on hot peppers. Then they started interviewing Marcella Hazan about cooking Italian food, and I knew that it was time to inventory the freezer. I opened the door to have a look, and the contents began pouring out onto the floor and me—I probably should’ve cleaned it out sooner. So there I stood, holding the one container I was actually able to catch, looking at the food on the floor while Marcella talked about bringing out the full flavor of vegetables by sautéing them and how the best recipes are the simple ones. That’s when I actually looked at the container I was holding. It held the peppers my buddy Rob had given me from his garden.
Between the two NPR stories and the obvious message my freezer was giving me, I figured it was time to do some simple sautéing of the peppers somewhere in the preparation of my lunch. I had just been looking for soup recipes, and I remembered one I’d come across on Epicurious.com from Bon Appetit. It’s called Fresh Corn Soup, and not only could I use the mix of jalapenos and Anaheim chilies I was holding, but I could also clear out the corn I’d frozen over the summer. So, I began the cleanup of the kitchen floor and began gathering the ingredients.
Before we begin with our recipe, let’s start with a little information on the peppers. As a general rule you can tell the hotness of the pepper by how dark, small, or narrow it is. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, such as the round and bright orange habanera, but for the most part if your pepper is dark, small, and narrow you’re eating a real hot one. Jalapenos, while hot, are somewhere in the middle of the heat range for peppers. Anaheims, on the other hand are large, bright, green peppers—not too hot. The heat comes from capsaicin and isn’t found directly in the flesh of the pepper, but rather in the white ribs on the inside. Most recipes call for you to remove the seeds to make the dish less spicy, and this is true since the seeds are in such close contact with the ribs—just make sure you’re wearing gloves while you deseed, especially hot peppers like jalapenos. I’ve heard a number of ways to get hot pepper juice off of skin, and believe me after ignoring the warnings of my wife I have tried them all, but nothing really works all that well. (By the way, it is rumored that eating hot peppers triggers the body’s endorphin production to produce natural high which functions as an aphrodisiac—please note I said eating, not rubbing on exposed skin: which produces a natural high similar to covering oneself with burning oil.)
And now, let’s get back to our recipe. Here’s what you’ll need:
1 TB olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 Anaheim pepper, seeded and
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
6 ears of corn, or about one pound
1 3/4 cup veggie or chicken broth-
1 1/2 cup low-fat milk
Chopped fresh cilantro
We are now ready to cook, keeping in mind Marcella’s advice. Proper sautéing is the key to any soup, and there’s only one way to sauté vegetables—one at a time.
Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and sauté a minute or two, making sure not to burn the garlic (you want it softened, not scorched). Add chili and cumin and sauté another minute.
Cut corn kernels from cobs, if you haven’t already. Add corn to saucepan and sauté 2-3 minutes. Stir in chicken broth. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until corn is very tender, about 45 minutes or less. Add milk and heat, stirring frequently.
Transfer 1/2 of mixture to processor and purée. Return to pot; stir to heat through (do not boil). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls; garnish with cilantro and serve. (Serves 4.)
If I’ve said it before, I’ve said it a hundred times, when cooking soup do not omit the garnish. In this soup, as with most I cook, the final flavor is heavily dependent upon the garnish. I will say that if you want a richer soup use half and half or heavy cream instead of milk. In this case, I think parsley might be a better topping than cilantro. In either case it adds a freshness to your soup that really complements the chilies well.
Now some of you may have heard this interview with Marcella, and may even have seen this recipe in Bon Appetit. If this is the case, you know I’ve violated her number one rule of cooking—always follow the recipe the first time so you know how it’s supposed to taste. Mea culpa, you should check out the original. I’ve made it, and like my version better. In my defense, I’ve only changed a few steps.
The bigger point is that I let the day and the menu come to me. It’s very stressful to force your will upon the world. It’s so much nicer to take its messages and cook some soup.