Do you, like me, associate a special place with a specific colour? Take Taos, New Mexico. I’ve been there in three different seasons, yet for me, one colour signifies this sun-filled high-desert town—corn yellow.
Maybe it’s the crisp brilliance of the thin air at 2100 metres, a spot some call the birthplace of the sun. Or the pure yellow of aspen leaves in autumn. Or maybe it’s because of a soup.
Yes, a soup. A soup from a recipe in Gourmet in November 1993 called “Corn Chowder from The Historic Taos Inn.”
Many years ago on a ski trip (BTW, Taos ski instructors wear yellow), Magellan and I stayed at the Taos Inn. I remember a Sunday night in January, when we saw a bride in her wedding dress and cowboy boots and a groom in blue jeans, celebrating with their friends in the Inn’s Adobe Bar. Corn chowder wasn’t on the menu—though corn liquor surely was. As we listened to the country-and-western band and watched the bridal party dance, I ate the best bowl of beef and pork green chili I’d ever tasted.
Before I was a jubilado, my girlfriend Pat and I flew to Albuquerque one September, rented a convertible and spent a week in the sunshine. (From Pat’s diary—and another reason I associate yellow with Taos—“blazing chamiso shrubs dotted the hillsides.”) After our visit to Georgia O’Keefe’s home and ranch, we stopped at the Taos Inn for dinner, where my taste buds were treated to another bowl of green chili.
But I digress. Let’s get back to Taos Corn Chowder.
Every autumn for 23 years I’ve been making this soup, Magellan’s favourite, adapting it so much that the recipe has now become my own. I triple the amount of corn. (The high ratio of potatoes to corn in the original recipe defies the name corn chowder.) I use yams instead of sweet potatoes for colour and food value, and prefer green poblanos to red peppers because the former seems more authentic to New Mexico. For protein, I add chorizo, a mix of mild and spicy. Marjoram dances better with corn than basil so I’ve switched herbs. And so on…
A kernel of wisdom: this recipe makes 20 servings, so either make it for a large party or package it for your freezer like we do. Even if it doesn’t remind you of Taos, with every spoonful you’ll have a sweet memory of summer.
- 2 pounds potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 1 pound yams, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
- 5 chorizo sausages, sliced into ¼-inch rounds and then halved
- 1½ Tbsp olive oil
- 3 medium onions, finely chopped
- ¼ cup garlic, finely chopped
- 2 green peppers (poblanos are nice), finely chopped
- 5 ears of corn, the kernels removed and set aside, the cobs saved
- 1 small zucchini, cut into ½-inch rounds and then sliced in half
- ½ cup (canned or jarred) pickled jalapeno chilies, finely chopped
- 3 Tbsp freshly chopped oregano (or 1 Tbsp dried)
- ½ Tbsp dried marjoram
- 1 Tbsp cumin
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
- In a large saucepan combine the potatoes and yams and corn cobs (kernels removed) and add enough water to cover everything by an inch or so. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, toss out the corn cobs, but do NOT drain the cooking liquid—you will use it as a broth.
- Warm the oil over medium heat in a stock pot. Add the chorizo sausage and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon to a bowl so as much as possible of the flavoured oil stays in the saucepan.
- Add the onions, garlic and peppers to the chorizo-flavoured oil and heat for about 10 minutes. Add the corn, zucchini, jalapeño chilies, oregano, marjoram and cumin. Cook for another 10 minutes until the vegetables start to brown. Add the wine, scraping up the browned veggie bits until the wine has evaporated. Add the potatoes/yams and saved cooking liquid and, if necessary, enough water to cover the vegetables by an inch or so. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
- Stir in the chorizo and cilantro, adding more water if you prefer the soup to be a little more liquid. Salt to taste.
This soup makes a tasty dinner when accompanied by more corn. My friend Teresa and I agree that Craig Claiborne’s recipe for Jalapeño Corn Bread is one of the best. Newly in love with Grand-Staircase Escalante and Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah, I also like Blake and Jennifer’s recipe, Marry-Me Cornbread, which can be found in their cookbook A Measure of Grace. The winning ingredient in both recipes is (sacrilege!) a can of creamed corn.
We used to think Alberta’s Taber corn was the best until a few years ago when we tasted Pam and Ron Tamis’s (Vision is our favourite of their corn varieties) at Vancouver’s Farmers’ Market at Trout Lake. It may be partly because of the longer growing season in BC compared to Alberta and Saskatchewan. Rondriso Farms, which has been in the Tamis family since 1958, is in Surrey.
If you’re in Saskatoon, get your corn from the Cole’s Market Garden at 3521 Mount Royal Avenue south of the Saskatoon Golf & Country Club.
You can find our more about the painting, “Taos Inn” by Art West, a.k.a. Alan Heuer, here.