Corn is contentious. Not the sweetcorn that we eat – and the only corn crop grown in the UK – but the corn that has infiltrated our lives in some very non-food and non-nutritious ways.
In the US, where it is by far the most-grown and most renumerative crop, field corn is used in manners various and sundry: as fuel in the form of ethanol; to hold food as plastic bags, plastic spoons and forks; to fatten livestock and thicken food. Because it is less sweet, field corn is also used to make tortilla chips and cornmeal.
Its sugars are also used to sweeten food, namely the ubiquitous, liver-damaging, high-fructose corn syrup. Plus, eighty-five per cent of field corn in the US is genetically modified, often without product labels to tell you so. Contrast that with less than five per cent for sweetcorn, but that number is increasing. Thanks a lot, Mon-flipping-santo. Although it is one of the least sprayed crops, if I still lived in the US I would be tempted to go organic with this one just to be sure it wasn’t genetically modified. This article enumerates the many ways corn is used in unexpected ways. Most are not bad, by the way. It is a useful crop in many respects.
As is the case with this soup.
But to be perfectly honest, freshly harvested corn should be eaten as corn on the cob. The juicy sweetness of just-cooked corn – the white or yellow kernels bursting in your mouth – cannot be bettered. A plate of sliced, just-picked tomatoes and boiled and buttered Silver Queen sweetcorn was just about my favourite thing to eat as a child. I have not even tried to replicate this plate as an adult; I am certain it cannot be done here in Scotland. Not to my satisfaction anyway. Long, hot Tennessee summers spent at my grandparents spoiled me for many things, knock-out vegetables and fruits among them.
I remember my sister and I helping my grandmother pick corn on her sprawling Tennessee farm. Just for ourselves, mind you. No child labour laws were contravened. I recall walking through the rustling canyons of twice-our-height rows of ripened ears of corn – the intense humidity, the occasional brush with creepy crawlies, the eagerness to get the fat ears into a boiling pot of water. If we were lucky it would go straight into a pot, buttered, then eaten without pause – or manners. A few kernels were always saved to shove onto our teeth to see what we would look like if we didn’t brush our teeth.
If I grew corn this is what I would do: I would shuck the ears of their green, papery husks, rub away the tickly soft silks (brush the silks over a close relative and watch them squirm!) and drop them into a boiling pot of salted water for about four minutes (or barbecue as per this recipe). I would then drain then plop the ears back into the pan with a few pats of best butter or good olive oil. And, if no one was looking, I would sneak in some salt too. Not much beats freshly cooked corn on the cob.
But a close second, especially now that the weather is cooling and we are all craving a bit of soup-action, is this smoky silky corn soup. Now, you know me, I like bold flavours (it says so in my wee bio to the right), but with this soup I have kept the spicing child-friendly so as to entice them into eating loads of vegetables without them knowing. Not only is there loads of sweetcorn, but sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, tomatoes, garlic and onion, too. I often add some chilli, or hot paprika with the smoked paprika, just to warm me and my slow metabolism up a bit more. But it is really lovely without the extra fillip of heat.
And I know you don’t need convincing to eat corn, but just to remind you that this soup has bags of beta-carotene, and eye-protecting zeaxanthin and lutein. And a ridiculous amount of dietary fibre. Just don’t expect such health bonuses from HFCS-sweetened drinks.
Silky, Smoky Sweetcorn Soup
Of course, the best way to enjoy corn is boiled and slathered in butter but, once you have had your fill, why not make this subtly spiced, veg-packed soup?
Tip: blend in a high-speed blender – like a Froothie, but other heavy-duty makes are good too – and you won’t need to sieve out the ‘bits,’ nor be tempted to add cream. High speed blending makes any soup like velvet and ever-so creamy. I give a ‘raw’ version below the main recipe.
4 corncobs, husks stripped and silks removed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, skinned and chopped
1 tsp each cumin and coriander seeds – dry toast in a pan and grind finely
½ tsp smoked paprika
2 carrots, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 large tomatoes OR tin/jar best quality whole tomatoes (chopped ones are often bitter)
1 litre vegetable stock (I use Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon powder) OR water
Garnish suggestions: chopped parsley, coriander, chopped tomatoes, corn kernels, and/or thick yogurt.
1. Stand each corncob – I break the cobs in half to make them more stable – on a chopping board and, holding a sharp, heavy knife at the top of the cob, scrape the kernels off the cob, extracting as much ‘milk’ and pulp as possible. Fresh corn and its pulp make the soup much creamier-textured than using tinned or frozen corn. But use either of these if fresh corn isn’t available. It will still taste great.
2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a low-medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened – about five minutes – stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, spices, carrots, sweet potato and celery. Stir and cook until the vegetables start to soften. Add the tomatoes, stock and corn. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked.
3. To blend, either carefully ladle the soup into a food processor or blender and blitz until smooth, or use a hand/immersion blender. Depending on how powerful your equipment is you may need to sieve the soup to remove the corn skins. Or you could cook, blend and sieve the corn separately and add to the cooked soup.
Tip: you may want to keep back some corn kernels to add texture to the soup after blending.
Corn Soup in the Raw
As above but ditch the oil, use 8 spring onions/scallions (if large ones, use a little less) instead of the onion, and use very warm stock or water, blending in a little at a time until you get the desired consistency and taste concentration. You may want to use more or less stock/water. The heat from a high speed blender will warm and lightly ‘cook’ the vegetables.
Other corn recipes on Food to Glow:
Southern Cornbread Dressing (a Thanksgiving/Christmas recipe)
Southern Cornbread (the real – Deep South – thing)
Corn Recipes from Others:
Creamy Coconut Corn Chowder – Amuse Your Bouche
Roasted Sweetcorn with Lime and Coriander Butter – Coffee and Vanilla
And More Seasonal Soups in the Blender:
Butternut Squash Soup – Franglais Kitchen
Carrot-Cumin Soup – Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Parsley Pesto – Little Miss Meatfree
Five-Minute Green Smoothie Soup – Tinned Tomatoes
Garlic Mushroom Soup – The Crafty Larder
Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Ginger and Cinnamon – Food to Glow
Courgette Pea and Pesto Soup – Food to Glow
Creamy Zucchini, Walnut and Lemon Thyme Soup – Food to Glow
I’m entering this veg-tastic, seasonal soup to a few round-ups and blog challenges: