Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Roasted poblano and corn soup

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Every New Year’s Day our home calls for a gathering of family and friends.   After the detritus from fireworks has been swept away and our minds have cleared of the bubbly imbibed the night before, those closest to me trickle in for a low-key celebration to welcome the start of a new calendar year.  The stars of the meal are invariably Krofne - Serbian doughnuts.  Sweet and yeasty, they symbolize growth, abundance and everything good from the first day on.   While the yeast dough is rising and the kids wait patiently for the first batch of krofne to come out of the fryer, we indulge in a variety of soups.   In the old country soup is consumed almost every day and is an integral part of the main meal.   A clear thin broth at the start stimulates the appetite for heavier courses to follow.

In our new homeland, there are heartwarming and nourishing favorites that make an appearance every New Year’s Day – my sister’s Chicken Tortilla Soup from Stop and Smell the Rosemary;  Wild Mushroom Soup - a thick and creamy combination of wild and cultivated mushrooms always laced with sherry, port or Marsala and sometimes finished off with dried porcini powder; and Debbie’s Potato Soup that I learned to make during a ski trip to Utah several years ago. 

Since I love to change things up and can’t leave well alone (a common complaint of favorite husband!) I introduce a couple of new soups every year.  This year I made a Root Vegetable Soup including rutabagas and parsnips and a Roasted Poblano and Corn Soup.   Both were very well received!

My personal favorite this year was the Roasted Poblano and Corn Soup.   I come from a food culture that takes its peppers very seriously.  Every fall a haze blankets the old country and excites the senses with its sweet-smoky aroma.  Caused by the rising smoke of roasting sumptuous red peppers, families gather to make and can this distinctive relish known as ajvar.   It is a labor-intensive but much loved tradition.   Ajvar defines our cuisine and is eaten daily throughout the year. 

Living in Texas and in close proximity to Mexico has been a boon for me when it comes to food.   I think it’s safe to say that much of Mexican cuisine includes the use of an enormous variety of peppers.   Native to South and Central America, peppers were introduced to southeast Asia hundreds of years ago and spread throughout the world during the spice trade.   The poblano pepper has been my favorite pepper for many years now.   Far more complex in taste than your common green bell pepper, the poblano chile can range in heat from mild to hot.   My Roasted Poblano and Corn Soup will be as spicy as the heat intensity in the poblano peppers dictate.   In my mind, the higher on the poblano range of the Scoville scale the better!  

The poblano pepper’s firm walls and pseudo heart shape lends itself well to being roasted and stuffed as in Chiles en Nogada and Chiles Rellenos.   Poblano chiles are a bold contrast to avocados in my favorite omelette and add crunch to a flavorful chicken salad.    When dried, the poblano chile is called an ancho chile, a key ingredient of Mexican mole

Poblano peppers under the broiler.   Roasting the peppers imparts a smoky flavor and intensifies the heat:

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As you can see the skin has already separated from the flesh and is very easy to peel:

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Corn, another ‘new world’ wonder, adds sweetness and balance to the heat:

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The soup before it is blended:

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Roasted Poblano and Corn Soup  loosely adapted from a recipe by M.S. Milliken & S. Feniger

Serves 6

9 – 10 poblano chiles, about 2 pounds

2 ears or fresh corn, husks intact, silken ends trimmed

1 quart milk (I used 1% but any other milk will do)

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 large cloves garlic, minced

½ -1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 cups chicken stock

chopped chives, cilantro, sour cream and lime segments for garnish, optional

To roast the poblano chiles and corn you may grill or broil them – the choice is yours. Preheat the broiler in your oven or fire up your grill. Grease the poblanos by dipping your fingers in a little oil and rubbing them all around. Place poblanos and corn about 5 inches below the broiler or on the grill. Roast until charred on all sides, turning every few minutes. Place roasted poblanos in a bowl or paper bag. Cover and allow them to steam for about 15 minutes. Now clean them but do not run them under water to rinse them. You will lose their flavorful juices if you do so. Carefully peel the skin off the poblanos. Pull the stem off but be careful not to burn your fingers as the steam escapes.  Split the poblanos in two lengthwise. Remove the seeds and discard. Chop coarsely and place in a bowl with any juices that they may have released. When the corn husks are charred on all sides, remove them from the broiler or grill and cool. Remove husks and silk and cut kernels off with a knife. Place in a bowl with the chopped poblano peppers. Set aside.

Infuse the milk by placing it in a medium saucepan with the cumin seeds and bay leaf. Place over medium heat and bring to a bare simmer but do not boil. Remove from heat and let sit for 20 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until starting to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and ground cumin and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Then stir in the diced poblanos and corn kernels and continue to cook over low heat for 5 more minutes.

Using a sieve, strain the infused milk into the corn and chili mixture. Add the chicken stock and bring to a slow simmer over low heat. Simmer gently for 15 minutes.

To puree the soup you can use an immersion blender and puree to the consistency of your liking. You can also cool the soup for about 20 minutes (to prevent possible explosion of soup) and pour it into a food processor or blender to puree it. Pour it back into the soup pot to warm before serving.

Serve hot with sour cream, chives and cilantro as garnish and a squeeze of few drops of fresh lime juice.

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