25 Sep / Asian Sweet Corn and Squash Chowder
My earliest memories of eating sweet corn are set in the mountainous region of Puncak, two hours from Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. Puncak, with its brisk mountain air, panoramic scenery and cool climate, was and still is a popular destination for city dwellers. My relatives often took us up the winding roads (I once rode tandem on my cousin’s 300 cc motorcycle sans helmet—needless to say, my mother was incredibly upset!) for weekend getaways filled with misty morning walks and invigorating swims in icy pools.
As is everywhere in Indonesia, food vendors lined the streets. And a trip to Puncak wasn’t complete without a stop for jagung bakar or grilled corn. Ears of corn were grilled in their husks over charcoal, the intoxicating smoky aroma infusing the corn with flavor, and drawing customers from miles away. The creamy kernels were made even sweeter with a brushing of sugar water just before hand-off.
Today, I settle for corn-on-the-cob grilled over a gas barbecue during summer cookouts. Not bad but it’s definitely less romantic than corn cobs burnished over a charcoal fire backdropped by mountains.
In addition, I enjoy sweet corn in all its glory. I love scraping kernels off the cob to toss into one of my favorite salads, a combo of corn, garden-ripe tomatoes and crunchy cucumber brightened with fresh herbs and lemon juice. I’ve made corn kimchi and I’ve come to adore the absolutely mind-blowing, and unexpected pairing, of corn and ham on pizza.
Plus, I’ve discovered a simple way to roast corn—lay corn cobs (husks, silk and all) on a baking sheet and roast in a 400 degree F oven for 30 minutes. The corn is perfectly cooked and husking and de-silking is made easy-peasy.
When it was literally raining corn, thanks to a potluck at our house (seems like everyone likes to bring corn-on-the-cob to a cookout!) and several consecutive weeks of corn in my vegetable box, I thankfully already had an arsenal of corn recipes.
The first thing I did of course was freeze all that corn (I cooked them, then froze them whole because I was lazy). There was no way my family and I could cook and eat all that corn in a reasonable amount of time.
And when the rain came, I made chowder.
What do you do with your over-bundance of corn?
Asian Sweet Corn and Squash Chowder
In this East-meets-West mashup, the Thai soup tom kha is given an update with summer’s-end sweet corn. Add some squash—I used delicata but any sweet squash for example, acorn or butternut would work—and the dish comes together like Brad was meant for Angelina.
Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 6 to 8 servings as a first course
1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 stalks lemon grass, loose outer leaves removed, tops and root ends trimmed, and bruised
6 thin slices galangal, fresh or dried
3 lime leaves, torn in half (read this article to find out why the name ‘kaffir’ is a no-no)
1 medium delicata squash, chopped into 1/2 –inch pieces (2-1/2 cups)
4 ears corn, kernels scraped (about 4 cups)
6 to 8 red Thai chilies, crushed with the butt of a knife, or 1 long red chili, sliced
1/2 teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons fish or soy sauce
4 tablespoons lime juice (about 2 large limes)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
In an 8- to 10-quart pot, combine the coconut milk, stock, lemongrass, ginger, and lime leaves. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat.
Add the squash and adjust the heat as needed to maintain a steady simmer. Don’t let the soup come to a boil or the coconut milk will curdle. Cook squash for about 10 minutes, then add the corn. Cook until the squash is soft and the corn crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes more. Test a piece of each to see if they’re cooked to your liking.
Add the chilies, sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Remove herbs and ladle into individual bowls. Garnish with cilantro leaves and chilies.
To make the squash easier to peel and cut, I microwaved it on high for about 2 minutes.