Chowder’s name is thought to come from the word chaudière, an antiquated French word for the cauldron or kettle fish stew was once cooked in. (There’s a more complete history of chowder written here.) After looking through a few dozen modern cookbooks for corn chowder recipes, it appears what they all have in common is a chunky texture with potatoes, onions, garlic, red bell pepper and of course corn. I’ve made sure to include these basic ingredients in my chunky corn soup so it can keep its chowder credentials.
Almost all corn chowder recipes seem to be cream based. Most include bacon and many add cans of creamed corn. In cookbooks from the last few decades, there’s an overabundance of Southwestern flavors including all kinds of chili peppers, cilantro, Mexican oregano, coriander, cumin, lime, Jack cheese and even chorizo.
Other interesting corn chowder variations and ingredients include pickled jalapenos, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and lima beans. Bourbon, one of the most inviting ingredients, is found in Barbara Kafka’s bourbon corn soup recipe from her award-winning cookbook Soup: A Way of Life, published in 1998.
I think of my vegetarian corn chowder as following more in the spirit of a Manhattan clam chowder. A lighter tomato broth replaces the more common white sauce base. For thickness, some of the finished soup can be removed and pureed before returning it to the soup. I’m adding this step if you want a soup more reminiscent of a New England clam chowder, but admit I usually omit it to keep my soup a bit more brothy.
My one trick pony for adding flavor back into my vegetarian soups is to make a soup specific stock. I’m grateful to Deborah Madison for including this soup hack decades ago in her Greens Cookbook published in 1988. To keep the pure flavor of corn as the focus in my vegetarian corn chowder, I’ve included a recipe for a corn and tomato vegetables stock. It’s worth the extra step and incorporates a root-to-fruit philosophy by extracting flavor from the 8 corn cobs you will have left after removing the corn kernels. As a general rule, each corn cob has about ½ cup of corn kernels on it.
The corn stock also helps the vegetables absorb corn flavor without the need to overcook the sweet fresh corn kernels which are added at the very end. It goes without saying (but I will) that using the freshest corn you can find will make the most flavorful and sweet vegetarian corn chowder.
Vegetarian Corn Chowder
4 Tbs unsalted butter
2 cups ¼“ diced onions (preferably Vidalia or other sweet onions)
2 cups ½“ diced Yukon gold potatoes
1 cup, ½“ diced red bell pepper
½ cup ¼“ diced celery
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp dried yellow mustard
1 cup peeled, seeded and ½“ diced tomato
½ cup dry white wine (preferably Sauvignon Blanc)
5 cups corn stock (recipe below)
¼ cup chopped parsley leaves
4 cups fresh corn kernels, including any corn “milk” you can extract from scraping the corn cob with the back of the knife after the kernels have been removed from about 8 ears of corn. (Each ear of corn averages ½ cup of corn kernels)
- In large 3 quart or larger heavy saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, potatoes, red bell pepper, celery, salt, and black pepper. Sauté until vegetables are softened and onion is translucent; about 7-8 minutes.
- Add dried mustard, diced tomato, white wine and corn stock. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes until vegetables are soft but not falling apart.
- Add parsley and corn and cook for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and cool. Puree 1 cup soup in blender until smooth and return to saucepan.
- Gently heat soup and serve.
Vegan Variation: The soup can easily be made vegan by omitting the butter and replacing it with olive oil and making sure the white wine is vegan friendly.
Quick Corn and Tomato Vegetable Stock
8 corn cobs (kernels removed for soup)
1 ¾ cup chopped tomato (fresh is best, but a 14.5 can of unsalted, diced tomatoes can be substituted)
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped Yukon gold potato
½ cup chopped celery
½ tsp yellow mustard seeds
3 sprigs parsley
10 cups cold water
- Add all ingredients to 3 quart or larger saucepan.
- Over medium heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes.
- Remove from heat and strain over a fine mesh strainer, pressing on solids with back of spoon to extract as much flavor as possible.