If you take a look at the recipe index, you’ll spot in a second that I’m a soup girl: at last count there are 21 different soup recipes, with three versions of stock, and let’s not even talk about my somewhat random distinction between “soup” and “stew.” But it’s also clear that I like a hearty soup: number of stews aside, most of the soups are chock-a-block full of vegetables and beans, potatoes or pumpkin, something that thickens the broth into more of a dip, or produces big chunks for a hearty, one-bowl meal. This soup, however? This soup is light, delicate, almost floral; and all about the broth.
Corn, along with fresh tomatoes, juicy peaches, and berries of all colors, is one of the quintessential flavors of summer. This recipe does corn proud: corn on the cob is boiled until just tender, then the kernels are stripped off the cobs, the cobs returned to the corn cooking water for a slow simmer and a delicious corn cob stock. Corn & corn cobs alone make up the bulk of the flavor, with a little onion, garlic and chile tossed in for depth, and a big handful of fresh herbs to play off the corn goodness. It’s a simple and quite frugal summer soup: you probably have an onion, a garlic clove, and a small chile kicking about the larder; maybe some herbs growing in the yard or on the windowsill. If so, all you need to do is pick up some ears of corn and you are well on your way to enjoying this fresh, light and flavorful summer soup.
You could take this basic template in many directions: I choose fresh orgeano and summer savory to flavor this version, and I loved how the sweetness of the oregano played off the fresh, sweet corn flavor and the earthy, grassy notes of summer savory. But I can envision a spicy Mexican version, with cilantro, a bit more chile, maybe a touch of cumin; or corn and tarragon pair nicely, and a bit of diced fennel wouldn’t go awry; or maybe an Asian-inspired version with lime juice and lemongrass. Summer corn is delicious by itself, but can also be the backdrop for whatever flavors you’re hankering for at the moment. So, pick up some fresh ears at your local farmer’s market or roadside stand and make your own version: before summer, and fresh corn, passes us by.
- 4 ears corn, shucked
- 2 quarts water
- 2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 white onion, diced
- 1 small red chile, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh herbs (I used oregano & summer savory)
- Add water and salt to a medium stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add corn and boil gently until bright yellow and tender, about 5 minutes. Remove corn with tongs, reserving water. When corn is cool enough to handle, cut kernels off the cob: return cobs to the stockpot, reserving corn kernels. Bring the water + corn cobs to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer cobs, covered, until stock is nicely corn-flavored, about 45 minutes. If you are long on corn stock and short on time, you can use frozen stock and freeze the cobs for another day.
- Strain the corn stock into a large, heat-safe bowl. Discard cobs. Wipe out the stockpot, then return to the stove. Add butter to the stockpot and melt over medium-low heat. Once foam subsides, add onions, garlic and chile pepper. Sauté vegetables over low heat until soft, about 6 – 8 minutes. Add stock and corn: simmer over low heat until heated through, about 5 minutes. Add black pepper; taste and adjust seasonings. Remove soup from heat and stir in fresh herbs (or, add herbs to each bowl just prior to serving – see Options). Garnish with a few whole-leaf herbs and serve.
- This is a delicately flavored soup that really needs the fresh flavor of corn stock to work. Substituting chicken or vegetable stock may well be delicious; it just won’t be the same soup.
- I suspect, that with frozen or canned corn stock and frozen corn kernels, that you could make this soup in the winter, assuming access to fresh herbs. I’m not sure that you’ll want to though; it is so light & fresh, it seems quintessentially summer.
- A lot of different fresh herbs could work nicely here. I chose oregano and summer savory, but tarragon goes very nicely with corn; cilantro and oregano could give it a Mexican spin, while thyme and rosemary are always nice. You could go very simple with just some snipped chives, cooling with fresh mint, or Italian with fresh basil and a few halved cherry tomatoes tossed in at the end. It’s easy to take this soup in any direction you fancy.
- You can, of course, make this soup vegan by substituting olive oil for butter.
Up to 5 days refrigerated. I’m not sure how this will fare frozen; the herbs may be a bit limp upon thawing. If I freeze some, I’ll report back. If you’ll be storing the soup, you may want to add fresh herbs individually, to each bowl, and reserve the soup base without herbs, or add the herbs once the soup has cooled to room temperature, as they will cook and lose their bright green flavor upon standing in the hot soup.