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creamy corn chowder with seared summer squash

Posted Jul 12 2009 12:54am


Corn chowder is especially great for children like mine, who scream "WE'RE HAVING CORN MAMA WE'RE HAVING CORN HOORAY!!!!!!!!" It's an accessible, easy and playfully modifiable summer dish. I love corn chowder with southwestern influence, or combined with Old Bay seasoning, or mixed up with other summer vegetables like squash, okra or bell peppers, but this simple recipe is still my favorite. The seared squash adds a lovely color and artistic appeal to an otherwise drab dish.

One of my favorite things in the world is to cook with my kids. They really shine in this capacity and they revel in the added responsibility. It might sound overwhelming, but if you set the kids to some basic tasks, they won't be underfoot or setting themselves on fire.

Some chores that my children appreciate are peeling garlic cloves, chopping mushrooms (with a butter knife), washing vegetables, shredding greens, cutting herbs from the pots on the porch, choosing ingredients, or gathering needed items. They also serve as personal taste-testers, salt-sprinklers, pepper-grinders, and garnish-layers.

It goes without saying that including children in the kitchen teaches them valuable life skills. When I lived on my own I barely knew how to fry an egg. Practical skills are severely depreciated in our society. I developed some tentative kitchen skills so Jeremy and I wouldn't starve to death, but then I had to learn how to cook all over again when we went vegan.

It can be frustrating to cook with children. Far from being a boring chore, cooking is a meditative act for me, a way to unwind, and sometimes I just don't want to work with anyone else. But I am making more of an effort to include the kids as they get older. I hope that they will be able to do more than pop open a can of spaghetti sauce or eat salad out of a bag when they're living on their own.

Our children are in a golden stage of their lives in which they're happy to participate in cleaning, cooking, doing laundry and other household activities. These activities are still play for them. So I feel that we should take advantage of this window of opportunity to teach them these skills in an accessible, memorable and fun way. This is easy with food. They love to learn about the food they eat. They love to pick things out, to help trim it and chop it and cook it, and to eat it. We are so blessed that our kids will eat almost anything we put in front of them. Certainly, at times they are inexplicably resistant to eating things - like yesterday when I made a soup with most of their favorite foods, and they wouldn't take a bite of it. But by and large they have a very diverse, adventurous diet, and I hope we're planting seeds for a lifelong appreciation of real food.

Bringing children into the kitchen completes the circle of food knowledge by allowing them to discover the flavors, textures, colors and nutrition of real food in its most natural state, right out of the ground, right off the tree. Our kids know if fruit has gone bad, if a potato is green, if a carrot was watered too much, causing it to split. Isaiah will pluck a lettuce leaf right off the plant and eat it. Someday, they might lose all of this knowledge, and the pleasure that accompanies it, but at least they have it now.

This was the first time that I'd let the kids use a real knife. They were ecstatic. I made sure the knife was sharp, and I explained some very basic knife skills to Isaiah. I guided their hands while they sliced. They handled it gracefully, and listened to me closely.

If you choose to cook with kids, try to allow a leisurely process. I don't let the kids in the kitchen if I'm in a hurry. Working in the kitchen is a great time to let the kids get silly, like using squash for walrus tusks or a funky potato as a phone.

If possible, I like to work with the kids individually, setting the other child up with some playdough or crayons so I don't get flustered or crowded.

Searing vegetables gives them a barbequed flavor without the effort. These squash were the perfect accompaniment to the soup.

5 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch of scallions, sliced thinly
1 red jalapeno, seeded and sliced

4 c. fresh corn, sliced from about 4 cobs (reserve the cobs to flavor the soup), or frozen corn
4 large fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise and sliced, or about 2 c. of another kind of potato
4 c. vegetable broth
2 T. fresh or 2 t. dry thyme
1 T. fresh or 1 t. dry oregano
1 bay leaf

1 c. unsweetened soy yogurt

2 long summer squash, sliced
chives, to garnish

1. Heat 1 T. oil in a soup pot and add the garlic, scallions and jalapeno. Cook until softened, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the corn, cobs, broth, potatoes and herbs. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.

3. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium-high heat. When the pan is very hot, add the sliced squash in a single layer. Sear for 3-5 minutes a side, until slightly blackened, then flip and sear the other side. Sprinkle with salt (use smoked salt, if you have it) and set aside. (I needed to do this in two batches.)

4. When the soup is done, turn off the heat. Remove the bay leaf and corn cobs. Add the yogurt to the pot and insert an immersion blender to process the larger chunks, blending the yogurt thoroughly. Alternatively, you could remove half of the soup to a blender, combine with the yogurt, and process it that way, returning the pureed soup to the pot. You can also puree the entire soup, if you wish, but I like it a little chunky. Season the soup to taste with salt and black pepper.

5. Serve the soup ladled into large bowls. Add a layer of seared squash and sprinkle with chives.
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