It’s corn season, and everywhere you go there is so much of it. Fresh corn is light, sweet and makes this chowder something worth revisiting until the corn is gone. Freshness here is key. Remove the corn from the stalk and the sugars fade quickly to starch, changing the whole experience. With corn you can really taste the difference a day makes.
The corn broth, the star of this soup, is light, textured and complex, infused with protein-rich quinoa. A range of team players complements the base: fragrant smoked paprika, cumin, jalapenos that surprise the palate, a sizable chunk of sweet potato that holds onto that broth like it’s the last thing it’s got, and finally the sweet corn kernels added at the end, whose freshness expires so quickly that you guard its delicate phase like saffron or gold.
The way in which I’ve adapted the recipes turned this soup into something very much like I’d had in Peru. Maybe it’s because Peru is a place where you cannot separate the landscape from the food and this soup came right on the heels of another camping trip in the Adirondacks teeming with abundant fresh corn and greens. Camping for me is one of the best things in the world. It brings your thoughts back to their basic common denominator–survival and existence. The act alone creates a place where everything is okay even when it’s not, where your happiness is contingent upon small present realities like the sun burning out in the sky, the moonlight reflecting over water, waking up to the birds’ songs or being empathetic towards the thousands of spiders and centipedes that try to share your space. Contentment is the smell of wood burning, keeping warm by the flames of the fire licking the night sky, the act of faith in pitching a tent and the vigor behind a long hike up a mountain. Most special is just the state of being in a place that’s already seen it all, but you’re seeing it for the first time, alone and with the people you love. This soup is made with my spoils from the Adirondack mountains.
This recipe comes to you courtesy of a combination and an adaptation of some tremendous recipes from my (amazingly talented) fellow cook over at Cottage Grove House and the ever talented Laura at The First Mess. Definitely check out their beautiful works and to see the provenance of this dish.
Creamy Quinoa Corn Chowder with Baby Spinach
- 3/4 cup white quinoa, rinsed
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 sweet potato, diced
- 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (3-5 cobs if you’re using fresh, reserve the cobs for the stock)
- 1 handful of chopped cilantro
- 8 oz baby spinach
- salt and/or pepper for taste
- extra cilantro, paprika, extra virgin olive oil and fresh pepper for garnish/serving
In a medium stockpot, bring 7 cups of water to a boil along with the stripped corn cobs. Add the quinoa and a pinch of salt. Cook for about 15 minutes. Remove the corn cobs with tongs.
Meanwhile in a separate small pan, heat the olive oil in it over medium. Add the garlic, jalapeno pepper, cumin and smoked paprika. Sauté the mix until the garlic starts to appear golden in spots, about 30 seconds. Add the diced sweet potato and saute for a few minutes. Then add this mixture to the pot with the quinoa and corn stock.
Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes or so. At this point you can purée with a hand blender. Then add the corn, cilantro and greens to the pot, give it a stir and allow the greens to wilt just a tiny bit. Serve the soup hot with extra cilantro, sprinkles of paprika/pepper and drizzles of olive oil if you like.