- One’s place of permanent residence
- The feeling that comes with familiarity, safety, love.
E.x. “It reminds me of home.”
I’ve come to a recent realization — one perhaps contrived by the time and nature of a post like this – that corn chowder has a habit of following me around during periods of change in my life.
Back when I first started cooking, had just moved to a new house, and was a week or two into my first year of high school, I remember enlisting a friend of pure convenience to help me try out a recipe I had found on the Internet for some generic chowder. I remember heavily judging how my friend haphazardly chopped an onion (my technique clearly so much better), scrambling to pull said ingredients from the fridge as they appeared in the recipe, scorching the bottom of the soup as I realized I hadn’t bought enough frozen corn (during sweet corn season), cream, or anything, and tearfully begging my mom to help me save this disaster. Guilty of my wasted resources, I was the only one who ended up eating the quite bad soup.
Last year, deep into the intense homesickness of my freshman year of college, I remember spending a Saturday with one of my absolute best friends going to the farmers market, buying plants and chatting with vendors, looking through spice stores and tasting our way through olive oils and breads and everything at Zingerman’s. We later went back to her dorm, and she warmed me up a paper bowl of corn chowder her mom had made her from “the best farm stand’s sweet corn” next to her cottage in Up North Michigan. I didn’t feel sad that day. In fact, that was probably one of my happiest days in my memory. The day brought with it a sense of familiarity — one I hadn’t yet felt in this new college pseudo-home.
Fast forward to just a few weeks ago: my third day at my first apartment, my second year of college. Earlier that week, I had been at that best friend’s cottage to celebrate her birthday. After I had already left to prepare for my move-in, she had stopped at that same family-favorite local farm stand and bought me the absolute sweetest Michigan summer corn, even delivered it to me that same night. Of course I had to bring that corn with me when I moved.
It takes a while for me to acclimate to a new place, and my apartment most certainly didn’t feel like home. So I decided to indulge in the little things that set my routine in place – grocery shopping plus breaking in the kitchen with an inaugural meal of, well, corn chowder. It was a recipe I had been pondering for the last week or so with a certain challenge in mind: could I make a sweet, creamy, and even rich corn chowder that was vegan and, dare I say it, healthy? I literally fell asleep to thoughts about steeping the corn husks in the soup for extra flavor, adding a touch of turmeric for a more vibrant yellow shade. I thought about how pan-roasting the corn would bring out its sweetness and make the soup almost warmer, “smokier”, if you will. Bay, thyme, all the fixings of a classic chowder, and yet, so much lighter with veggie stock and almond milk.
I woke up early on cook-day and proceeded to prep, roast, and simmer, stirring away the late morning in my tiny, non-air conditioned kitchen. By lunch, the soup was done, and I suppose soup wasn’t the best meal to eat in a 90+ degree apartment, but it was good.
I went back home that same night for a family friend’s wedding that weekend, bringing some Tupperware of soup with me. My brother and his fiancée flew in the next day, and sitting down for lunch with them and my parents, a smorgasbord of bread and hummus and fruits plus a bowl of corn chowder each, the entire family was together. My brother proclaimed the chowder to be one of the best soups he’s ever had.
Two days later, my brother and future sister-in-law flew back to their city, and our family seemed to get a little smaller. I drove back to campus soon after, missing them, missing my parents, and missing home. I texted my best friend when I was back in my lonely, foreign apartment, and we both decided we needed to see each other ASAP. I made sure to bring her a Tupperware of corn chowder.
So we sat on her fluffy red rug in her new single dorm room, hugging and talking about our homesickness and anxieties, goals and dreams. In that way that happens when you have the support of your favorite people, suddenly change didn’t seem so overwhelming, and I thought: maybe I am home.
Then she remembered the soup. She grabbed it from her mini-fridge, plastic spoon in hand, and straight from the Tupperware, took a bite. Then two. Then three.
“I think I like this better than my mom’s”.
Vegan Roasted Sweet Corn Chowder
5 ears sweet corn, kernels cut off and husks reserved
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small onion, diced
3 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 springs thyme, leaves picked off
1 teaspoon turmeric
¼ cup flour
5 red potatoes, cubed
1 quart vegetable stock (low-sodium is preferable)
3 cups unflavored, unsweetened almond milk or other plant milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives
In a large pot, heat up one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Sauté onions with the bay leaves and a pinch of salt until softened, about 6 minutes. Add in garlic, then stir in the turmeric and thyme leaves and cook for a minute. Add in the potatoes and then dust in the flour, stirring so that all of the veggies are completely coated. Let the raw flour taste cook out for a minute and then pour in the stock and almond milk. Throw in the corn husks and turn up the heat. Once boiling, bring the heat back down to medium, season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through and beginning to break down.
Meanwhile, heat up the other tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add in corn and sauté, tossing occasionally, for about 12 minutes. The corn should be soft and lightly charred.
Once the potatoes are soft and the soup is starting to thicken, scoop out the corn husks and bay leaves (you’re done with them). Also scoop out about half of the potatoes and reserve. Add in ¾ of the roasted corn to the pot and blend the soup (in a blender or with an immersion blender) until thick and creamy, but still chunky. Pour the soup back into the pot and stir in the chives and the rest of the potatoes and corn.
In my opinion, this soup really shines through when it’s not piping-hot. Let it cool down for about ten minutes and then dig in, preferably with some crusty bread.