Many of the bright flavours of the southwest are found in this distinctively thick soup. Many cooks in that region toss toasted corn tortillas into a simmering broth where they break down and thicken the liquid. I realized I could simply jump-start the process by using cornmeal, the flour the tortillas are made from.
Yield: 4-6 Servings
4 cobs of husked corn
3 red peppers
4 tablespoons of corn, vegetable or olive oil
2 tablespoon of corn, vegetable or olive oil
4 thinly sliced small onions
4 cloves of minced garlic
1 tablespoon of cumin powder
4 cups of chicken broth, homemade or canned
1 ancho pepper
1 cup of cornmeal, fine or coarse
1 cup of grated cheddar cheese, sharp or old for the most flavour
1 lime, juice and zest
1 cup of chopped cilantro
For the grill:
Preheat your grill. This is an optional step, you may choose to use a can of creamed corn instead but you’ll miss the toasty flavours of the grill if you do!
Halve and remove the seeds and stem from the red peppers. You may also use green, yellow or orange peppers for a multi-hued effect.
Toss the corn and pepper halves with the oil.
Grill until they start to char and become tender, about ten minutes. If you don’t have a grill, you may roast the corn and peppers under your oven’s broiler; turning frequently. Place the hot peppers in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap allowing the steam to loosen the skins. After 10 minutes or so – when the skin is easily peeled off – thinly slice the peppers and set aside to add to the finished soup. Meanwhile allow the corn to cool then cut off the kernels with a sharp knife and set aside with the peppers.
For the soup:
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a thick-bottomed soup pot over a medium-high heat. You may use a regular-bottomed pot, but thicker versions spread the heat more evenly as a result the ingredients in the pot don’t burn over any inadvertent hot spots.
Add the onions and cook – stirring frequently – until golden brown. After a few minutes the onions will lose their pungency and actually taste quite bland, once they begin to brown their flavour revives considerably.
Add the garlic and cumin powder. Stir for a few minutes longer until you can smell the garlic and cumin. It’s best to add the garlic now instead of with the onions as the garlic will burn in the time it takes the onions to brown. The cumin may be stale from sitting in a can. The high heat of the browning toasts it a bit, brightening its distinctive flavour.
Add chicken broth and ancho pepper and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes until the pepper softens and infuses the soup with its mildly spicy flavour. Remove it, mince it and add it back to the soup base. You may also choose to puree the soup at this point with a handheld blender.
Slowly stir in the cornmeal. The cornmeal will swell in the surrounding hot liquid and thicken the soup. This will take about 10 minutes. If you prefer you may add more cornmeal for a thicker soup.
At this point the soup is ready to be finished and served. Alternatively you may refrigerate it overnight then reheat it when needed and finish it just before serving. You may also finish it and refrigerate or freeze it, – but if you do the cilantro will lose its bright flavour and colour.
To finish – stir in the reserved corn kernels, the reserved red pepper strips, grated cheddar cheese, lime (juice and zest) and the cilantro.
Taste, and season with salt. Garnish with a few more sprigs of cilantro and perhaps a dollop of sour cream or even plain yogurt. Enjoy!