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Corn Soup with Beer (Sopa de elote con cerveza)
When life gives you kernels, make corn soup!
Here in Illinois we wait expectantly for sweet corn season. It is a coveted time of year earmarked (pardon the pun) by phrases such as " On a hot summer night you can lie in bed and hear the corn crow", and " Up by Memorial Day and knee-high by the fourth of July". We watch the weather praying for just enough rain to water the crops but not on our parades. And though tempting, we avoid the early corn from Kentucky or Florida knowing it will only disappoint and fail to satiate our craving for the sweet morsels of sugar dripping with butter.
You can tell a good ear of sweet corn before you even bite in to it. When you pull back the husk, it glistens with a yellow or mixed white and yellow opacity that when pierced, runs nearly clear. It you can't wait, a bite into that husk will reward you with a combination of corny goodness and the freshness of the earth all mingled together. Some farmers claim to even dip the ears right on the stalk in to boiling water just to have it that fresh! I don't know if I buy that urban legend, but from the first tassel to the anticipated early harvest, our mouths have already begun to water.
The farmers here are smart and they stagger their planting so we can enjoy sweet corn late in to the summer, perhaps even in to fall weather permitting. I've tried my own dismal attempts to grow sweet corn in an otherwise successful garden. It seems however, that the elements do not approve of this and I am inevitably the victim of a microburst, hail storm, or windstorm. One year I was able to harvest about a dozen ears which we enjoyed in one meal. No, we are not frugal indulgers of sweet corn. My husband can easily make a meal on just corn, six ears at a time. I can do about three before I burst. And like a great pizza, we all burn the roofs of our mouths digging in too quickly to wait for our feast to cool. We drown them in butter, generously coat them with sea salt and without virtue of fancy corn forks, pick them up in clean hands and devour that first ear without a breath until our faces are covered in corn and greasy remnants.There's no etiquette to corn in the midwest, and you are welcome to make a pig of yourself on it. We relish corn boils and roasted corn on the grill, just don't muck it up with fancy seasonings. You can't improve on perfection
As the season dwindles and corn prices inch their way up, we are saddened at this seasonal passing that even the lure of late season watermelon and crisp apples at the orchard can't appease. And while a cider donut might help, we still long for summer's best and do our part to preserve it by freezing it off the cob at the peak of harvest in great batches. Despite warnings to the contrary, some of us try to convince ourselves that the last harvest will rival the first, and willing to pay the price, are drawn by the now weathered sweet corn signs to a battered table full of ears and a bucket to pay in on the honor system as tradition would dictate. We trust our neighbors and our farmers. It is the heart of the midwest.
So it was for the last batch this year. We had a long, hot summer with plenty of rain despite drought early on. The corn was some of the best I can remember. So on the drive to church, my husband spied one of those tempting weathered signs and stopped on the way home to surprise me (except that the $20 came from my purse!) with a large bag of "sweet" corn. I appreciated the thought but knew what we were in for, so I smiled and thanked him sweetly. We had guests coming for dinner who never buy local sweet corn for whatever reason. We planned to have some for them all summer but it just got away from us and never happened. So with a last ditch effort he decided that Sunday was the day.
The menu was homemade pizza, but he added a corn course! Yes, a corn course. In between the fruit and cheese and cocktails, he set out a steaming bowl of corn and four sticks of butter. They polished off a dozen mediocre tasting ears and left a dozen in a bag uncooked for me to deal with later. Everyone oohed and ahhed including my husband who I know knew better corn than what he was eating. In my mind, we might as well have been eating field corn. I suspect the farmer had a crop he'd been hanging on to because I can assure you, that corn had seen better days! But whether it was pride or just an insatiable desire for corn no matter what the season, he still ate three ears. We rolled our guests out the door full of corn, pizza, and pie and cleaned up the kitchen. He asked what I planned to do with the corn and I suggested corn soup. It wasn't worth freezing and I secretly hoped that cooking it for a long time might improve it.
The weather turned very cool, so the bag on the back porch never knew a week had passed. With my husband safely out of the country on business, he never knew either!
When I finally decided the bag wasn't going to cook itself, and I wasn't about to let $10 a dozen corn go to waste (yes, he paid $10 a dozen), I set about the task of making soup. In the end, I was rewarded and can honestly say that cooking it did improve its demeanor greatly and is I believe a good use for late season corn. I certainly wouldn't waste peak sweet corn on this, it's just too good to cook down. But hearty and satisfying, a vegetarian friendly affair (I am not one of them but knock yourselves out folks. I'll be in the kitchen enjoying a fat steak), I'd make it again. However, since I had a dozen ears, I won't be needing to as this batch is going to serve a few meals to come!
So while I don't condone $10 a dozen corn, if you find yourself with an abundance of corn, perhaps you couldn't wait for summer, or maybe you live outside the midwest, do try this recipe. And if you like it, let me know. I'm a schmuck for corny compliments!
Corn Soup with Beer (in the soup, and on the side)
Serves a crowd (or like 10-12)
You will need:
A large soup kettle
Immersion blender or a regular blender
Six pack of beer (save one bottle for the soup, you can have the rest)
A good bottle of tequila with shot glasses
A loaf of crusty bread
Did I mention beer
And friends, who will come if you tell them there's beer
1 dozen ears of corn
1 C chopped onion
4 cloves of garlic
4 T olive oil
4 T flour
2 T Instant Mesa Harina
1 T sea salt
1 t black pepper
2 packets Goya Sazon
Hot sauce to taste
4 C chicken broth (vegetable broth if you're a vegetarian)
4 C milk (Almond milk if you're vegetarian, not vanilla and please don't use soy.)
1 bottle of light beer, I don't care what you use, just make it a drinkable one.
2-4 chopped jalepenos or other hot pepper you might like. This isn't a spicy soup unless you like it that way
Juice of one lime
1 8 oz jar of nacho cheese sauce (make sure it has real cheese in it folks. And veggie people, if you insist, you can use the veggie cheese in a bag, just get an 8 oz. bag of shredded fake cheese)
Sour cream for garnish (optional)
Tortilla chips for garnish
Here we go
With a serrated knife, cut the kernels off the cob and scrape the cob to get all the milky kernel stuff too. When you finish, you should have anywhere from 8-10 cups of fresh corn. Discard the cobs but save 4 cobs for the pot and about a cup of kernels. Chop a large onion and mash the garlic with some of the salt (chop the garlic, sprinkle salt on it and using the knife flat or a spoon, mash the garlic and salt in to a paste. Or if you're lazy, just crush the garlic in a garlic press and move on.)
Heat the soup pot and add the oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the corn, onions and garlic and saute until the onion is translucent. With a large pot of corn keep stirring it around. Add the jalepenos and stir a bit. Sprinkle the corn with the flour and mesa and mix it in well. Let it cook for a minute or so then add one bottle of good light beer. Stir as the mixture thickens then add the remaining liquid. Add the corn cobs to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover the pot and continue to cook for 10 more minutes. Check seasoning and adjust for salt or hot.
Remove the cobs. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth but still with some texture. If you don't have an immersion blender, stop and go buy one.
In batches, puree in a blender. Be careful to cover the blender and not do too much at a time or you will splatter it and burn yourself. Return to the pot (or leave it in the pot if you're using the immersion blender which I like to call a motorboat) and add the cheese sauce or shredded veggie cheese. I know I could use shredded cheddar, but the cheese sauce incorporates really well and reheats without all that cheese stringing along for the ride. But suit yourself. Just use a good cheese sauce. You could use a small brick of Velveeta or about 1/4 of a large one too. At this point, add the lime juice and the fresh corn you saved but didn't cook, and serve with some crusty bread and a dollop of sour cream if you desire. Put a good bottle of hot sauce and the tequila (drink the tequila, toast the soup, don't put it in your bowls, that would not be a good use of sipping tequila) on the table for the adventurous guests and some tortilla chips to sprinkle on top. Please don't over dress this soup. It's so good just as it is. Oh and don't forget lots of beer. And tequila shots.
Did I mention beer...
And call the neighbors. Tell them there's beer. And tequila