There is a not-to-be missed eating stop at Chicago O’Hare airport at Terminals 1 and 3 called Tortas Frontera by the renowned Mexican chef Rick Bayless. Our family loved every bite we ate there. My sons had the vegetarian mushroom torta and my husband had the smoked pork cubana (he is not vegetarian outside the home). My order was a bowl of the corn and poblano chowder–vegetarian and gluten-free. It was heavenly! I have thought about that chowder for a few years, longing for a bowl, but the recipes did not work.
Three weeks ago, looking at three ears of corn staring at me on the kitchen counter, I thought What the heck, let me get some poblanos and do what whatever the hands want to do. If it works, it works.
I am losing the fear of things not “working out” as planned, and it often is best that way. The unknown is being welcomed with open curiosity.
After the soup was blended, a tentative taste turned into a bowl. I put it in the fridge for lunch next day. It has been really hot. I thought I would check the soup for seasoning before serving to my sons. But a spoonful later, it was like forget heating this, just spoon it cold.
Since then I have made this chowder three more times, in big batches, to freeze in containers. After a couple of variations, the original (let the hands do what they want, do not think this), was the best.
It is work to coarsely grate the corn till the “milk” stops coming through the cob. But I do not mind. I find it best to do that first and get it over with. When the corn season is over, I will use frozen corn and chop it finely but maintaining some texture in the blender. Trying to cream it will make it a little slimy.
A word of caution regarding poblanos–they can turn out to be as fiery as serranos. So do taste before putting in the three of them. They did mellow a bit with cooking and with all the corn and potatoes. One time, they were too mild for me and I added half of a serrano minced.
This may not be like the one at Torta Frontera, and how do I replicate years-old memory of a taste?! But the yearning is happily satisfied with our own yummy bowl of Mexican style corn and poblano chowder. There is the added bonus that we can all enjoy it as it is vegan, creamy but no cholesterol, and really not much fat. And what a joy to have been exposed to this deliciousness at an airport, not known generally for good food.
I hope you love it as much as we do–or almost as much! Corn, lime, chili, cilantro–in our home one cannot go wrong with those flavors.
3 medium to large ears of corn (to yield about 2 cups of grated corn)
1 tablespoon olive or neutral oil
1/2 medium yellow or red onion medium diced about 1/2 inch (yield about 1/2 cup)
a pinch of black pepper (optional)
2-3 large poblano washed, cored and diced into 1/2 inch pieces (please taste a tiny bit of the poblano to assess the heat and then use more or less depending on taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt divided
1 Yukon Gold or starchy creamy potato peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes ((yield about 1 cup)
1/2 cup raw cashew pieces
3 cups cold tap water
1 1/2 teaspoons corn starch mixed with a couple of tablespoons of cold tap water
finely grated zest of one lime
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice or to taste
1 1/2 cups rinsed and coarsely chopped cilantro including stems
- Heat a large pot with a heavy bottom. Add oil, onion, black pepper, and a pinch of salt. Stir and saute onions on medium heat till they soften–about 3-5 minutes.
- Add the poblanos, another pinch of salt, and continue cooking now with pot covered till the peppers soften, another 5 minutes.
- Toss in the potatoes, grated corn with all the “corn milk”, cashew pieces, water, the remaining salt. Let it simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are extremely tender.
- Add the corn starch slurry along with the lime zest. Simmer one more minute.
- Switch off the heat. Throw in the cilantro and stir in the lime juice.
- When cool enough, puree in batches in a blender or food processor until it is just smooth. Do not over process, otherwise it gets a little too starchy. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.
In our home, we love the soup well chilled in the summer or hot in cold weather. Add diced avocado or a spoon of guacamole or just slurp up the bowl of soup with nothing else. That is what we do!
Preparation 30 minutes Cooking about 30 minutes Serves 6 in our home