Four years ago we began a new tradition for our annual larger family gathering. Rather than prolong the holiday menu of big meats and fancy dancy appetizers, we raise our soup ladles in unity for an annual Soupfest.
Soupfest is now one of my favorite events of the season. This pleasant weekend at my brother’s home nestled in the bluffs of Southeast Minnesota becomes a nice balance of activity and sloth, games, senseless humor, five canine chaos…and of course, really, really good food. A perfect way to start the new year.
A soup/stew buffet is an easy, inexpensive and heartwarming way to feed lots of people well with plenty of leftovers. You can make it in advance to prevent too many cooks in the kitchen. In fact, some soups taste better the second day after the flavors have had a chance to hang out and get to know each other.
This year I made corn chowder with grilled and frozen corn I helped raise this summer. Add a little Nueske’s bacon, roasted peppers and some heat, and you’ve got yourself a perfect marriage between the Southwest and the Frozen Tundra. These measurements are estimates, because making soup is an experimental free-for-all.
1 medium red onion, diced
8-10 strips of bacon, chopped
2 cups fresh or roasted bell pepper, mixed colors, diced
1/3 cup flour
3 medium red potatoes or 1 large sweet potato
About 6-7 cups of corn
6 cups broth (for a great lesson on making broth, check out Queen Jeanne’s tips)
Salt, pepper (1 tsp), cumin (2 tsp), brown sugar (1 Tblsp), hot sauce or peppers*
½ cup heavy cream
Fresh jalepeño, chopped cilantro and green onion, minced
Fry bacon in bottom of soup kettle, adding onion after about 5 minutes. (You can drain the bacon fat before adding the onion, but then add butter or olive oil. I cook the rest of the vegetables in the bacon fat for more flavor.) Throw in peppers and cook for about 7 minutes. You want some juice from the peppers and onions to still be in the bottom of the kettle. Sprinkle on some salt, brown sugar and cumin and stir well. Remove kettle from heat and add flour, stirring until it forms a paste. Cook on lower heat for about 2-3 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Slowly add broth, whisking well to avoid lumps. Turn up to medium-high heat and add corn and potatoes. Bring to just under a boil. Lower to medium-low heat and let it simmer for about an hour. Adjust spice, salt and pepper levels. Add cream and top with fresh jalepeño, cilantro and green onion.
*Everyone has a different heat tolerance. I love chipotle pepper sauce in corn chowder for its smoky flavor. Green chiles or cayenne also fare well. Some people, like my tender mother, are just fine with a sprinkle of black pepper.