Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sweetcorn Soup

Dear Farmers of Paderborn, I have a slight complaint. Every time I leave the centre of the city I see fields of corn, tall and lush, often dominating the landscape. However, Summer has passed, and your corn would have well and truly ripened by now. So, why is it that only one market stall has had corn for sale? So they could charge exorbitant prices for it? Or is it that you're feeding all the rest to factory-farmed animals, hmm? And when I go to the markets and see that that one stall has corn again (it's a sporadic thing), and I buy five cobs for three Euro, you'd better count on my being disappointed when they're starchy and dry and not fully formed. This cries out to me that corn season is over, and I feel completely ripped off. And if any German dares to suggest that I should buy the pre-cooked, shrink-wrapped, long-life corn in the supermarket, made by the same company responsible for the inedible beets, then I'm probably going to punch them.

So, what's a girl to do with disappointing corn? The last time I found it, I just ate it straight from the cob. Without salt, pepper, or any slather of hydrogenated fats. This time, I did that with one cob, and felt too bitter about the starchy taste in my mouth to bother with the others. So I did the most reasonable thing for a person to do: I made sweetcorn soup. (I also resolved never to buy from that stall again - a resolution that I've made once, and broken simply because of the availability of corn. But this time, I mean it.) The corn kernels were sliced from the cob, mixed into some sauteed onion and chilli, and blended to make a thick soup. I know everyone (including me) sings the praises of using the best-quality fresh ingredients, but sometimes, we have to compromise. And, I assure you, this was a delicious compromise.

My first taste of sweetcorn soup was of the chicken-and-corn variety, when I was in New Zealand as a twelve-year-old. Dad had been to a conference, and it was something of a family holiday. It was my first time overseas, including my first time on a plane, and it wasn't very different to Australia, except that I saw a chestnut for the first time. And I tried corn in soup at the house of some family friends. When I was told we were having corn soup for lunch, I remember saying to my mother that I didn't want to eat it. (I wasn't very good with trying new foods sometimes.) She told me that I couldn't be rude, and that I had to eat at least some. I think I was pleasantly suprised at how edible it was. And in my older years, I became a fan of the version served at Chinese restaurants. Now I'm a fan of my own version, sans chicken and MSG, which is blended just a little. Sometimes I add a spoonful of peanut butter for some satay-goodness, but not today. When I do that, I like to add a swirl of coconut cream, or use coriander instead of parsley. However, sometimes simplicity is the best answer to complicated questions.

Sweetcorn Soup
4 ears of corn, kernels shaved
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
1 small (brutal) thai chilli, finely chopped
1 tbsp thyme leaves (if using dried, halve the quantity)
fresh parsley (optional)
1 litre vegetable stock
salt and pepper
chilli powder (optional)
olive oil

Pour a small splash of olive oil into the bottom of your pot, and sautee the onion until softened and transparent. Don't be afraid to let it colour a little. Add the garlic and chilli, frying about a minute longer, until fragrant. If you're not coughing from the chilli fumes, add a little more!
Throw in your corn kernels and thyme, sautee for a minute, before adding the vegetable stock.
Simmer until the corn has brightened in colour - it really only takes a minute or two.
Add chilli powder, salt and pepper, and fresh parsley to taste.
Blend, in batches as necessary - I like to blend maybe 3/4 of the mix, so that I still have some chunks of corn in the finished soup. Don't worry if it froths up a lot - it's just because the corn is so high in natural sugar. The bubbles will subside by themselves.
Scatter with parsley and pepper. Best served with crusty bread.

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