Dining In: Chilled Buttermilk Corn Soup

There’s still time to take advantage of sweet summer corn. Fresh steamed or grilled corn on the cob is hard to beat — and I admit I’ve had my fair share of the cob this summer.

But when I overheard a fellow volunteer at Food & Friends describing a corn soup she had served at her Fourth of July get-together, something caught my ear and imagination. Buttermilk. Buttermilk, she swore, was the key ingredient in her favorite chilled soups, including this corn one she devised for this party. Unlike other dairy products used in chilled soups — yogurt or sour cream, for instance, buttermilk, she told me, adds body without coating the palate. I had never used buttermilk in a chilled soup before so this was too intriguing to pass up. I begged the recipe from Dyane, which she generously shared, along with all her hints for tweaking the recipe.

This soup calls for 2 pounds (about 1kg) of corn, and I intended to use all fresh corn off the cob. Events conspired against me when we had a guest in town and I had to prepare the soup in advance but did not yet have fresh corn on hand. Instead I took Dyane’s cue to use frozen corn, namely Trader Joe’s Super Sweet Corn, for the base, which I cooked and pureed with the buttermilk, and chilled overnight. I added fresh corn off the cob and the reserved buttermilk (per Dyane’s tip) before serving — the tender kernels added texture and an extra touch of freshness to the finished soup.

We loved this soup, as did our visitor from Cyprus. Dyane was right about how buttermilk adds depth and creaminess without heaviness in texture or taste. I would like to make this soup again while fresh corn is in season, and try it with all fresh kernels. To be honest, though, the TJ’s frozen corn was pretty darn good in this soup and left no gummy kernel skins, which is what I was afraid frozen corn would do. Another nice note was the jalapeno — de-seeded, it added little heat, but really seemed to lift and highlight the buttermilk in a symbiotic way. Don’t leave it out even if you don’t like spicy foods — it really accents more than adds spiciness.

Best of all, this was easy enough I could do it in our tiny hotel kitchenette. So if I could do it here, you can definitely do this!

Thanks, Dyane, for sharing your wonderful recipe with us, and now everyone else!

Serves 6 persons
Except where noted, the rest of this post will be in Dyane’s voice, as I am reprinting her recipe (with her kind permission) as she sent it to me, with minor changes for syntax and to include metric measurements.

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium size onion coarsely chopped
½ lb (226g) tomatillos, husked, rinsed , and quartered
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
(I like a lot of garlic)
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3-1/2 cups (28oz/830ml) chicken stock (or vegetable stock would work)
1 teaspoon ground cumin, plus a pinch for garnish
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro, plus some for garnish
1 cup (236ml) buttermilk
(I increase the buttermilk by another 1/4 to 1/2 cup (60-120ml) depending on soup consistency while blending)
Kosher salt and finely ground pepper
2 16 ounce (1kg) frozen bags  of corn which were unthawed,
you could you fresh, can, whatever combination to make up to 28-32 ounces
Lime, lime juice

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat if the onions being to brown (you don’t want any brown color in this soup)

2. Add the tomatillos, garlic, and jalapeno and cook for 5 minutes. Add the corn cook for 3-5 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high, add the chicken stock, cumin, cilantro, and cook 5-7 minutes more. Remove from heat and cool.
3. Pour the mixture into a bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. (Note from 3T: I used a hand, or stick blender) Add the buttermilk, salt and peeper and pulse to combine. Transfer to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator.
Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro and cumin.

When blending I did it in batches: 3/4 of the soup was blended with the buttermilk, 1/4 was not blended with the buttermilk and this was added to the end to not have the jalapeno diluted/cooled too much by the buttermilk. Also, because I like a little more heat I increased the jalapenos and increase the cilantro per my taste.  Adjust salt and pepper.Serve this chilled. Before you do hit it with a shot of lime juice to brighten the taste. Have lime also on the side so your guests can adjust accordingly.

Back to 3T:
More recipes with corn:
Creamy Ewa Sweet Corn Soup with Kauai Shrimp
Okra & Corn Stew with Jerk Salmon

Blueberries of Happiness

Recently my entire family came for a visit here to Maryland — that’s my dad, two brothers, two sisters-in-law, a niece and two nephews. One family, my brother’s family on Guam, I had not seen in over 4 years. And T had not seen them since they came to our wedding in Germany, and that was in 1997! There were also a few first meetings, as the cousins had never met each other, and T had not met his nephew from Guam.

It was a wild ride because not only were we still staying in a hotel, but while they were here we finally saw it: our elusive holy grail — the house we were going to buy. Yes, it was kind of a crazy week. We put in an offer on the house 2 days into their visit, which also happened to be my sister-in-law’s birthday. Mind you, this was the 4th offer we’ve made on a house, so we were both jaded and exhausted by the whole process. And for 3 of the 5 days of this visit, everyone wanted to spend their time in DC visiting the Smithsonians, touring the monuments, you know the drill… but at a pace too strenuous for our 83-year-old dad. T and I stayed with Dad, who was here last year and had done the tourist circuit at his own pace already, and instead showed him around the neighborhoods and towns where we were house-hunting.

Finally the word came down from our realtor: the house was ours. You would think there’d be joy in Mudville that night, but I was more in shock than anything. Six long months… over. At last. Assuming everything is copacetic with the inspections, etc. Wow. I call my sister-in-law our good luck charm now since our successful bid was made on her birthday! But the next day was the last full day of everyone’s visit, so it was a little sad, too.

For their last day we wanted a day of more low-key adventures that our Guam family did not have the opportunities to enjoy at home: picking blueberries and fishing for trout and bass in the country, away from the hectic pace of Downtown.

Picking a papaya or mangoes from a tree was old hat to the folks from Guam,
but berries and apples…. now THAT was exotic!

It was a warm day, but fortunately it wasn’t during
the record-breaking heatwave we had here this summer.

With 5 buckets and 9 pickers, we ended up with way too many berries!

A natural athlete, our niece brought her athletic grace to this new sport too.

It’s neither a trout nor a bass, but this little sunfish did spawn two new sport fishermen!

Then just like that, they were all gone! And even after everyone took a share for their respective plane trips home, we were left with 5-6 lbs. of blueberries. We gobbled many handfuls straight from the colander, and in cereal, yogurt and pancakes. Some were shared around the hotel (you get to know people after 4 months…). Soon, the berries were gone, too. (The photos are just food porn and only representative of ways to use blueberries, they weren’t taken while we at the hotel!)

I so enjoyed spending that almost full day with the family together, and hope it won’t be another four years before we see everyone again. In 21 days we will be closing escrow on a house (*knock on wood*), so we hope everyone returns soon to spend time in the house their good luck helped us find!


Chocolate Chip & Maple Bacon Cookies

I know we’re a little late to the bacon-in-sweet-treats party that seemed to sweep the globe the last couple of years, but just at the tail-end of the year I saw this recipe for chocolate chip cookies with maple flavored bacon posted by Susan the Food Blogga when she hosted her third annual “Eat Christmas Cookies” event.

I had already made 3 different sweets to share with friends and neighbors, but still had not delivered treats to the crew at the neighborhood garage who diligently look after our car. The Brothers Magliozzi over at NPR’s Car Talk encourage their listeners to bring brownies and other treats to their dedicated auto mechanics often and in large quantities. I’ve taken this advice to heart and have plied our poor mechanics with heart-stopping quantities in the last year. Why stop now? Why not add another heart-clogging ingredient to the mix? Why not, indeed…

I knew I would love this combination so I made a double batch of Susan’s recipe for Maple Bacon Chocolate Chip cookies, following her directions for the thin and chewy variety. Instead of looking for maple-flavored bacon, I baked some bacon with a drizzle of maple syrup on them and used the cooled bacon crumbles in the cookies. There were enough to share with the team at the garage as well as many other cookie lovers. Not to worry — the guys at the garage also got plenty of the fat-free Cocoa Cherry Biscotti, as well as melt-in-your-mouth Kipferln on the holiday cookie platter!

As for the cookies, I did love them! I thought the touch of sweetness and salt came together in a unique and harmonious way. Mmmm… yum… chew, crunch…

But I did hear grumblings. Mutterings such as “Why ruin a perfectly good chocolate chip cookie that way?” (That was T.)Ruin?! Well, I guess one person’s enhancement is another person’s ruin…

That’s okay. More for me…

More from the cookie jar: Cocoa Cherry Biscotti, Green Tea Shortbread, Molasses Crinkles, Nut Horns

5-A-Day: Sesame Chinese Broccoli with Wolfberries

A whole bowl full of goodness: dark green Chinese broccoli, soft wolfberries, toothsome shiitake mushrooms, crisp slices of woodear fungus, carrot coins and fresh whole ears of sweet baby corn. A vegetarian’s delight that could make a believer of the heartiest carnivore!

The preparation could not be simpler. Fresh vegetables and rehydrated fungi are stir-fried together with a kiss of sesame oil, sugar and salt for a total cooking time of about 6 minutes!

Chinese broccoli, or gai lan, is a member of the mustard family (Brassica) along with all those other favorites: cabbage, broccoli, choi sum, Brussel sprouts, mustard greens, and rapini. It can be confused with its cousin, choi sum, but there are a few cues in telling them apart. Like its more distant cousin, the Western broccoli, the sweetest part of the vegetable is actually its stem, though I suspect the leafy greens contain the best of its nutritional goodness. No matter, you’re going to enjoy the whole thing!

Wolfberries (lycium barbarum) are commercially marketed as “goji berries” and are available both in Chinese and Korean groceries, and in most health food stores. Some high end supermarkets may also carry them in the natural foods aisle. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), wolfberries are thought to strengthen, or tonify, the liver and kidneys, and Western science has shown that they contain nutritionally significant amounts of important nutrients including the anti-oxidants Vitamin C, linoleic acid, thiamine, beta-carotene, and riboflavin. In TCM, wolfberries are included in tonics to boost immune system function and for certain eye disorders, but most interestingly, it is also prescribed for the treatment of dry winter skin! We usually buy wolfberries in Chinese groceries (where it may often be sold by its pharmacological name, Fructus lycii), and all the packaging I’ve seen recommend that the berries be cooked before eating — so this is not something we eat out of hand either plain or in trail mix. We do, however, add them to cooked oatmeal, substitute them for raisins in oatmeal cookies, and throw them in to soups. When cooked or boiled, as in soup or oatmeal, the berries don’t really have a distinct flavor, but baked in the cookies they retain a mild tartness similar to cranberry.

Woodear, or black, fungus (might also be labelled as mok-yee) is most often sold dried. Once rehydrated in cool or warm water for 20-30 minutes, the fungus swells to 2-3 times its dried size, so a little goes a long way. Woodear does not really have a distinctive flavor, but is mostly added for the pleasant crunch it adds to stir-fries and soups. TCM also recognizes that woodear is useful to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Together with fresh baby corn and carrots for additional sweetness and chew, these ingredients join for a dish as colorful as it is nutritious. And tasty!

(adapted from Breath of a Wok by Grace Young)

2-3 pieces of dried woodear
4-5 dried shiitake or other black mushroom
1 bundle of Chinese broccoli, about 1lb/450g
4-8oz. (113-226g) fresh baby corn, washed and cut in half
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup dried wolfberries
3-4 medium cloves of garlic, minced

Prepare the vegetables:
Soak shiitake and wood ear fungi in separate bowls for 45 minutes to an hour, or until all are fully re-hydrated (will depend on the size and thickness of the fungus).

Clean gai lan, baby corn and carrot using a mild vinegar solution. Peel and slice carrot crosswise, at a slight diagonal. Separate leaves of gai lan from stems, and cut thicker stem pieces into 2” pieces.

I like to rinse the wolfberries, with a gentle rubbing action to loosen any grit that may have settled on them during processing.

Prepare the Sauce: