fresh sweet corn

chicken tortilla soup

When I was in college my mom sent me a DVD of a movie called Tortilla Soup, and to this day I still don’t really know why.

chicken tortilla soup from scratch | Brooklyn Homemaker

I was really into cooking even then, and I was taking a few culinary courses for my degree, but as far as I understand it my love of cooking was reason enough for Mom to think I’d LOVE a movie about soup. She’d apparently rented it, liked it, and since it was about cooking, thought I’d like it too. Rather than telling me to rent it for myself though, she bought a copy and mailed it to me.

chicken tortilla soup from scratch | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’d never heard of the film, and having lived a pretty culturally sheltered life, I’d never heard of the soup either. It took me a while to get around to actually watching it, and when I did I found it pretty unremarkable. I liked it okay, and I told mom so, but I never watched it again and today I have little memory of what it was even about (besides soup).

chicken tortilla soup from scratch | Brooklyn Homemaker

A few years ago, when I started my first recipe based pinterest board, I started seeing recipes pop up for this soup that I’d largely forgotten all about. Suddenly my interest in the soup (but not the film) was sparked anew. The only problem was that whenever I clicked on any of the recipes, most of them called for loads of canned ingredients and seasoning packets and other fun concoctions loaded with sodium. While the idea of the soup sounded good, the recipes I was seeing never looked good enough to bother.

Then, earlier this summer the siren song of New York’s Green Markets got the better of me and I suddenly found myself wanting to put sweet corn and tomatoes and peppers in everything. It seemed like the time was just right and I needed to finally make it happen. I searched the internets for tortilla soup FROM SCATCH (I don’t know why it never occurred to me to do this before) and finally found one that sounded great.

chicken tortilla soup from scratch | Brooklyn Homemaker

The first recipe I tried was overflowing with tons of vegetables and only called for one canned ingredient: crushed tomatoes. I know it’s tomato season right now but I really hate peeling them so I’ll save the fresh ones for tomato sandwiches and reach for the can when it comes to soups.

Anyway, this soup was absolutely delicious but the torn corn tortillas used for thickening didn’t break down enough for me and just seemed kind soggy and weird. I mentioned this to a friend who, unbeknownst to me, turned out to be a tortilla soup connoisseur. She told me that she’d recently learned the trick to making what was now her favorite “authentic” tortilla soup. I assumed this would be some time tested family recipe handed down through generations and just passed on to her by her great aunt, but when I asked for the recipe instead of a stained and faded recipe card she sent me an email with a link. A link to a recipe from ABC’s “The Chew”.
Say what?

The main difference here is that rather than just tearing and tossing the tortillas in to the soup to break down and thicken, they’re ground up in a blender with some stock and onions. That would definitely solve the soggy tortilla chunk issue, and would probably make for a thicker soup, so I decided to give it a go. If it was good enough for my friend, it was good enough for me.

Rather than just using the recipe as is though, I decided to just steal the thickening technique and use it along with all the fresh veggies from my first recipe.

chicken tortilla soup from scratch | Brooklyn Homemaker

Oh boy oh boy. This recipe sure is a keeper. I definitely see why someone might want to make this in the slow cooker in the dead of winter using a bunch of canned goods and salt, but you’ll never beat how amazing this soup can be when made with super fresh ingredients in the height of summer. By the way, this is a perfect way to put some of your end-of-summer produce to good use.

The soup itself is rich, hearty, and loaded with fresh vegetables. The broth is thick and tomatoey, with just a touch of heat from the jalapeño. A squeeze of fresh lime juice and sprinkle of chopped cilantro really add a wonderful brightness to everything.

I know most people like to finish tortilla soup with grated cheese and sour cream, but I think a few slices of ripe creamy avocado are all that’s needed to make this soup feel rich and decadent. Of course, the crunch of a few crispy tortilla strips can’t hurt either.

chicken tortilla soup from scratch | Brooklyn Homemaker

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Adapted from “The Chew”

olive oil
2 to 3 ears of sweet corn, kernels removed with a sharp knife
2 medium bell peppers, seeded and diced
3 stalks of celery, diced
4 carrots, sliced into thin disks
Salt and pepper
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 jalapenos, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1/2 cup of fresh cilantro, divided
9 to 10 corn tortillas, divided
6 cups of chicken stock
one 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 to 3 cups of pulled or cubed cooked chicken
lime wedges
avocado

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil a large heavy bottom stock pot or dutch oven. Add corn kernels, celery, carrot, and bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper and sauté for about 10 minutes. or until vegetables are beginning to soften and get some color in the pan. Transfer to a bowl and set aside, scraping everything out of the pan.

Heat 2 more tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan and add onion, garlic, jalapeño, & cumin. Season with salt and pepper and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of cilantro leaves and sauté for 5 minutes more, or until onions are soft and translucent.

Scrape onion mixture into the pitcher of a powerful blender and add about 1 cup of chicken stock and 3 to 4 torn up corn tortillas (depending on how thick you want the soup). Purée the mixture until well blended and free of lumps. Transfer back to the pan and heat until it bubbles and just begins to thicken. Add crushed tomato, chicken stock, and cooked vegetables from before. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add cooked chicken and cook for 10 minutes more.

While soup simmers you can make your tortilla strips by slicing 6 remaining tortillas into strips and crisping in a cast iron skillet over high heat with 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir very frequently and try to promote even browning. Once well browned and crisp transfer to a paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Alternatively, you could just crunch up a few tortilla chips.

Serve the soup with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, a sprinkle of torn cilantro leaves, a few cubes or slices or avocado, and a few tortilla strips.

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vegan sweet corn chowder

Sad sad sadness. Summer is nearing the end.

vegan sweet corn chowder | Brooklyn Homemaker

It’s still hanging on, but not for long. One good thing about this time of year though, is…

vegan sweet corn chowder | Brooklyn Homemaker

CORN!

I seriously love fresh sweet corn at the end of summer. Something about that sweet earthy bursting crunch.

vegan sweet corn chowder | Brooklyn Homemaker

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.

vegan sweet corn chowder | Brooklyn Homemaker

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.

vegan sweet corn chowder | Brooklyn Homemaker

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.

vegan sweet corn chowder | Brooklyn Homemaker

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 | Brooklyn Homemaker

Vegan Sweet Corn Chowder

1 large head of cauliflower, cleaned and roughly chopped
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.