Sad sad sadness. Summer is nearing the end.
It’s still hanging on, but not for long. One good thing about this time of year though, is…
I seriously love fresh sweet corn at the end of summer. Something about that sweet earthy bursting crunch.
While grilling the whole ear and just rubbing it in salted butter might be the very best way to enjoy corn, there are so many things you can do with corn when it’s in season. One of my ultimate favorite things to do with corn in the late summer is take a whole mess of fresh vegetables and make up a sweet, thick, creamy, earthy chowder.
I think my love of corn chowder really took root a few years ago when I was unemployed for a short time. I used to work for a fundraising walkathon called AIDS Walk New York, and while I absolutely loved being involved with them, they could only offer me work for about six months out of the year. This left me scrambling to find work waiting tables or slinging lattes for the other six months, over and over until I was finally able to find a full time permanent position somewhere else.
One year, a great friend of mine found herself unemployed at the same time that I was laid off from the walkathon. We spent a lot of time together helping each other look for work and prepare for interviews, and trying to keep our spirits up with plenty of food. We actually spent so much time cooking and eating together that we started referring to ourselves as the unemployment supper club.
We would regularly try to find recipes that seemed rich and filling while being relatively affordable. One of my favorite recipes we ever made was a corn chowder that was super thick and rich and decadent with tons of cream and butter and bacon. One of my favorite things about the recipe though, was the unexpected number of vegetables the recipe called for, including sweet potato and red bell pepper. Every year since, I’ve made a variation of this recipe at least once every summer, but this year I thought it might be interesting to see if it would be possible to lighten it up, lose the cream and butter and bacon, but keep it every bit as thick and creamy and decadent.
The only problem with trying to make a chowder without cream or butter is the issue of thickening it. A while back i made a soup with roasted cauliflower and tomatoes, and when I decided to puree it I was shocked at how thick it got, so I thought it couldn’t hurt to try that trick again. Its amazing what a roasted and pureed head of cauliflower can do for a soup. It thickens it up like a dream, but it also imparts a velvety smooth creaminess that you’d expect had come from a boatload of butter and flour. Roasting the cauliflower helps release some of it’s moisture ensuring maximum thickening potential, but also concentrates it’s earthiness, adds toasty brown depth, and curbs it’s cabbagey flavor in a way that changes it from utilitarian thickening agent to “secret ingredient” that no one would suspect if they weren’t told.
I will admit that the flavor of this chowder is quite different from the one I used to make years ago. While the flavors of bacon and butter are definitely not present, they don’t at all feel like they’re missing. If you’re a regular reader you know I’m not afraid of butter or bacon, but I promise you won’t miss them. This soup is bursting with fresh late summer flavors. It’s sweet and earthy and rich and hearty and unbelievably thick and creamy. This is a soup to satisfy carnivores and vegans alike.
Vegan Sweet Corn Chowder
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt, divided
1 tsp ground pepper, divided
3 or 4 ears of sweet corn, stripped *see note (or 1 lb frozen sweet corn)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 lb (2 medium) yellow waxy potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
1 lb (2 medium) sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
6 cups vegetable stock, divided
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Preheat oven to 400. Toss cauliflower with 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp salt, & 1/2 tsp of pepper. Spread cauliflower evenly on a parchment lined baking sheet, and roast for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a heavy bottom stockpot over high heat, and sautee corn for 5 to 8 minutes or until it’s just beginning to brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
Turn pot down to medium-high and heat last tbsp of olive oil. Add onions, celery, carrots, bell pepper, 1 1/2 tsp salt, & 1/2 tsp pepper. Sautee for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add potatoes, sweet potatoes, and sautee 5 minutes more. Add 4 cups of stock, thyme sprigs, & browned corn kernel. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
While soup simmers, puree roasted cauliflower in a strong blender with remaining 2 cups of stock. After soup has simmered for 30 minutes, stir in pureed cauliflower. Simmer for 10 minutes more. Scoop out 2 cups of soup, cool slightly, and puree in blender with 1 tsp cider vinegar. Stir back into soup, taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. (If you want soup thicker, puree another cup of finished soup.)
*cooks note: To remove corn kernels from a fresh ear, I hold the ear upright against a cutting board and shave down with a sharp knife, rotating the ear until it’s shaved clean. For this recipe I also scraped off the remaining starchy corn milk with the butt end of the knife and added it after sauteing the kernels.