A few years ago my husband and I had the opportunity to take a vacation to New Mexico, and as everyone does, we fell in love with it! Located in the American Southwest, the marvelous people who live there, the beauty of the landscape, the mingling of three distinct heritages (Mexican, Anglo, and Native American), and the indescribable energy of the area make it one of the truly magical areas of the globe. New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment and everything about it makes me yearn to go back.
While the landscape is breathtaking, the native foods delight in ways I never knew existed. Growing up in California, I know Mexican food and thought that was what we would eat when we were in New Mexico. While similar, they are distinctly different. New Mexican cooking is much hotter because they use more chiles, but it also differs due to the indigenous ingredients. Blue corn is a unique flavor that I crave – while it obviously tastes like corn, there is a nuttiness that sets it apart. One of the oldest cultivated crops in the Americas, blue corn has been a part of pueblo Indian life since at least the 1500’s. Once you’ve had blue corn tortillas you will understand what I mean. And to top it all off, it has a lower glycemic index than white corn and therefore is healthier for you – yea! I love excuses to eat foods I love. Blue corn tortilla chips are a great addition to today’s soup recipe. Ask your local markets to stock blue corn tortillas (Whole Foods does in our area), but if you can’t find any, at least you can buy blue corn tortilla chips online. For a good online source of New Mexican foods and ingredients, try the Santa Fe School of Cooking. They also offer classes, which is a great way to learn about the local foods on your next trip to Santa Fe.
The chiles of Hatch, New Mexico are infamous and if you ever have the opportunity, you should go to their annual Chile Festival. Hatch is in the southwestern corner of the state, near Las Cruces. Every Labor Day weekend people gather from all over the world for the Hatch Chile Festival. The smell of roasting peppers permeates the air and your stomach will be growling from the aromas of the foods for sale. We are lucky that there are several sources for Hatch chile peppers. The Hatch brand canned products (sauces, salsas, etc.) are sold online and in some grocery stores, you can buy frozen, roasted chiles from New Mexico Connection, and for all kinds of New Mexican products, try New Mexico Chili. For all things peppery, check out Chile Pepper Magazine. For a slew of wonderful southwestern recipes, check out my friend’s blog, Laura’s Best Recipes
When available, I like to roast my own poblano chiles and add them to many recipes. Their smoky flavor and mild heat give a lovely southwestern/Mexican flair to your meals. Roasting chiles is easy to do. You can do it on a grill (I love the extra smokiness!), in the oven, or over a gas flame. If you have a gas stove you can turn up the flame and, holding the chiles in a pair of tongs, turn them in the flame until blistered. No matter which method you use, the technique is the same. Cook the chiles until they blister, place them in a bowl and cover with plastic for about 15 minutes. Using your fingers, peel away the skins, then cut off the stem and discard the seeds. Slice or chop and use in all your favorites dishes!
Tomatillos are an ingredient that a lot of people like the flavor of even though they have no idea they are eating them! Have you ever had green salsa on a taco or burrito? A little tart, citrusy, and spicy, green salsa or Salsa Verde is made with tomatillos. In the same family as tomatoes, tomatillos are an integral part of Mexican, Latin American, and New Mexican cuisines. Small and round with a papery husk, they can be many colors when ripe, but green is most common. Look for firm, bright green fruits. Although they look similar, do not confuse them with green tomatoes! They will keep several weeks in the refrigerator if you remove the husks and store them in a sealed plastic bag. You can also freeze them for longer storage. Husk them under running water to easily wash off the sticky residue. If you can’t find fresh tomatillos, there are many high quality canned products you can use instead.
A huge part of turning out great food is the tools that you have to work with. When soup is on your mind, the perfect stockpot will make your life much easier. There are all kinds of pots; large, small, fat, tall, heavy, light weight, etc. While I have a lot off cookware to choose from, when it comes to soup, I keep going back to two basic models, an enameled cast iron Dutch oven and a “Multi-pot” we were given as a wedding gift.
Dutch oven kettles have been around for centuries. They were on every chuck wagon in the Old West. In the 1700’s the original manufacturing process was improved upon by Dutch metal workers (probably the source of the name) and they were used for everything from chilies and soups to beans and stews. You can bake in them to produce beautiful biscuits and rolls, and even pies! A wonderful friend of mine, Kate McDermott, recently baked the most glorious pie in a Dutch oven outdoors like the pioneers used to. You have to see it to believe it! One of the most versatile tools in the kitchen, Dutch ovens can be very expensive, but invest in a good one, you will have years of wonderful meals, and then you can pass it to future generations. Cast iron cookware appeals to my “heritage” sensibilities and brings back memories of my childhood and wonderful grandmother. I still have her cast iron skillet that she fried chicken and potatoes in for us!
There are many manufacturers out there to choose from and most of them make superior products. One of the most popular brands is Le Creuset. James recently got me a purple one, my favorite color! Recently Lodge (the premiere maker of Dutch ovens in America for over 100 years) came out with a line of enameled cast iron products. They are much more reasonably priced and perform just as well as the more expensive brands. If you are looking for a bargain, look no further. If you have shied away from cast iron because of the upkeep, the new products can be purchases pre-seasoned which makes them much easier to maintain, but I swear by the enamel-covered products for their quality and ease of use. Just don’t use metal utensils on them and they’ll last a lifetime or longer.
A multipot is exactly as the name implies, a pot that you can do a multitude of things with! I have one of the standard ones, it is a stockpot with a couple of perforated inserts so you can steam, boil, or fry various foods. I love mine, but I just discovered a multipot from All-Clad that has mesh inserts. When you use the kind with perforated inserts, you have to be very careful that boiling water doesn’t splash all over you and the stove. With the mesh inserts, this All-Clad has made this product much safer and easier to use. This is definitely going on my Christmas list! This soup can be made all year round thanks to high quality frozen corn, but I like it best when you make it fresh with sweet corn straight from the fields. Take a few minute to try this recipe and I guarantee you will understand when I say it has all the flavors of New Mexico in one pot! Enjoy!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Fire-roasting your own chiles is easy. Cook the chiles in the oven, on a grill, or over an open flame, until they blister and turn black over most of their surface (a few green spots are fine) then place them in a bowl and cover with plastic. The steam they produce loosens the skins and makes them easy to peel. After about 15 minutes they should be cool enough to handle. Using your fingers, peel away the skins, then cut off the stem and discard the seeds. Do not rinse them or you will lose a lot of the delicious flavor! Most of the heat of peppers is in the ribs (the white stripes on the inside), so trim those away if you like more mild chiles.
Corn, Poblano, and Tomatillo Soup
Jane Evans Bonacci © 2003
Yield: about 4 to 6 servings
You could also make this with dried blue corn posole for a New Mexican twist. I like to use fresh produce in season and this soup highlights the sweet corn of summer! Serve this with blue corn tortilla chips for a taste of the Southwest.
2 or 3 large fresh poblano chiles
6 ears of fresh corn
8 cups water
3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme
3/4 lb fresh tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and quartered (the more yellow, the sweeter)
1/2 cup water
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp butter
3 large shallots, peeled and diced
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces about the size of corn kernels
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
Minced chives, green onions, or parsley for garnish
Blue corn tortilla chips, optional
Preheat a broiler. Place poblano chiles on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil, turning as needed, until the skins are completely charred and blistered. Remove from the oven and pull the foil up and over the chiles, steaming them for 10 to 15 minutes. Peel, remove stem and seeds. Cut chiles into small pieces.
Husk and clean corn. Break each ear in half and with flat end on cutting board, cut kernels off. Reserve kernels in a bowl.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, place cobs and add 8 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, add thyme and simmer for 30 minutes. Skim any foam that rises and discard. Remove cobs and discard; strain solids (especially any remaining silk) out of corn stock.
While cobs are cooking, puree the roasted poblanos, tomatillos, 1/2 cup water, garlic, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and oil in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add this mixture to the corn stock. Do not clean out the blender, you’ll be using it again in a few minutes. Continue simmering.
In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat and cook shallots, potatoes, cumin, and coriander until softened, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in corn kernels and continue to cook another 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly toasted and corn is soft. Add to tomatillo and corn stock, stirring to blend. Ladle half of soup into blender and puree until smooth. Add back to remaining stock. You can leave as is if you like it chunky or puree completely for a smooth soup. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Add a little more lemon juice if desired.
Ladle into warmed soup bowls, garnish with minced chives, and serve. Blue corn tortilla chips can be served alongside or crumbled on top of the soup for a nice crunch and bright color.