Here’s the thing with corn: it’s really, really good when it’s really, really fresh. When it’s sweet and crisp and the corn kernels pop in your mouth when you bite into freshly grilled corn on the cob, slathered with avocado butter and drizzled with some flaky salt. Heaven. There’s just one problem with heaven; it apparently doesn’t always have a place in danish grocery stores – and that’s a real pity and a shame, since corn grows well in Denmark. Should I really have to go into a supermarket to pick up some fresh corn and find some (granted, all right looking) corn imported from Morocco? Understandable maybe in May when nothing much is seasonal here yet, but in August? During corn season? Corn might look like a sturdy plant and corn cobs aren’t fragile in the “don’t drop the shopping basket, there’s eggs in there” way, but once they’re picked, the clock starts ticking and the beautifully sweet milk inside each corn kernel starts converting into starch – the longer it takes to get the corn from field to market, the starchier the corn gets and a starchy ear of corn is not a good thing to sink your teeth into, no matter how much butter you put on top of it.
So, that day I tried to buy corn last week? I went to 3 different shops and came home empty handed. To my horror, I must admit that the Moroccan corn looked best of all of them, green and crisp, it had probably been refrigerated within an inch of its life on its long trip around half of the world and looked fit enough – still, I couldn’t make myself buy it. The other two offerings were danish, but looked much worse for wear, sitting out in the sun with no refrigeration at all, the husks greyish brown and broken in many places; not appealing at all, even though they ticked the “local” box (Denmark is not that big – in three and a half hours you can drive from Copenhagen to the Westcoast and stick your toesies int the sand of the endless beaches there…so, local enough), they looked so poor – due to mishandling, but still! – that I couldn’t, just couldn’t buy those, either.
My quest for corn ended the next day at a (not quite so) local greengrocer, where I bought 8 perfect, danish ears of corn with green husks and yellow silk, nice and heavy for their size and parked in the shade of an awning and I’m not frustrated anymore, just exasperated. There will be corn soup, after all. Oftentimes the best produce and certainly the best herbs, are found at smallish greengrocers, more often than not run by Iranian, Turkish or Lebanese people, which adds the happy coincidence, that I can shop there, too, for all my dried beans, rice, olives or flatbread – and there are always big bundles of cilantro, dill, parsley or mint (when it’s too darn cold for my own to grow) to be had. One of the reasons for the corn-odyssey was the fact that my local cilantro – dealer was on vacation, good for him, I’m glad he’s back.
This corn soup is inspired by the flavors of the Southwest, an area of the US that I particularly like; cumin and chipotle powder go well with the sweet creaminess of the corn. You’ll get the best results when using a blender, an immersion blender will blend the soup, but the result is a bit more rustic and you’ll chew on a few bits of corn with every other spoonful. While I don’t mind that, I do prefer the creaminess without the chew in this soup. For the luxury edition you could add a bit of cream after blending, but with really good corn I find it unnecessary.
Note: for all its simplicity and straightforward ingredients, there’s a secret weapon to making this soup: the cob itself, after it has been shaved, goes into the soup and gets boiled along with the corn kernels (and of course extracted before the soup is blended…), to give up all its milk and make the dish as corn-y as possible.
4 ears of corn (about 500 g / 4 cups of corn kernels)
4 cloves of garlic
2 tblsp olive oil
1 tsp chipotle powder – this much will make hot soup; use less, if you feel like
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
6 cups chicken stock, or if you prefer to keep it all veggie, use vegetable stock
optional: 1/2 cup of cream
Sour cream and chopped cilantro for garnish
1. Shuck the corn and cut the kernels off the cob – doing this in a (clean!) sink or a bowl wide enough to comfortably use the knife in will make you happier; the kernels are prone to hopping every which way when being sliced.
2. Chop the onion and garlic.
3. Combine the chipotle powder, cumin, salt and pepper in a little bowl.
4. Heat the oil in a large pot and sauté the onions until soft; add the garlic and cook a bit more, then add the spice mix and stir until all the onions are well coated and the spices become fragrant.
5. Add the corn and stir until well mixed and fry for 5 minutes more.
6. Add the chicken or vegetable stock and corn cobs, bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
7. Remove the corn cobs (they’re hot! Don’t! use your fingers…that’s what they make tongs for…) and blend the soup in the blender until smooth. Test the consistency and taste; if it’s still chunky, blend the soup some more and add some salt if it needs it.
8. Return to the pot (add the cream now, if you like) and reheat before serving. Serve with some crusty bread, a dollop of sour cream and some chopped cilantro for garnish.
One last thing: if fresh corn is out of season or, heavens forbid, hard to find, you can substitute with frozen corn. It lacks the sparkle, but better frozen than a fresh ear of corn that’s overstayed its welcome. For those occasions I keep the shaved cobs of the corn that has gone into other dishes and freeze them; just pop them in your soup straight from the freezer – instant corn flavor waiting to happen.