As some of you may know, I have a hard time saying no. The UCLA campus seems to be a lightening rod for my spinelessness, particularly the area surrounding the coffee shop by the research library. There was the guy who was stranded on campus with car trouble and needed cash, and I won’t even say what I did when I discovered I had none on hand (let’s just say there’s an ATM in the vicinity). Then there was the guy who sold me magazine subscriptions–two of them!–despite my lack of funds, not to mention my lack of interest in any of the magazines he was selling. I also will not say what I paid for the subscriptions. Wow, just typing this up is making me feel a little ill.

The upside of this story is that I have a subscription to Vegetarian Times. Despite the really embarrassing origin of my subscription, I find it to be an interesting if confused publication, and one that I’ve developed a fondness for. Veggie Times isn’t sure if you’re a honey-eschewing vegan or a dairy hound, a teetotaler or a wino, and so its recommendations run a pretty big gamut, which is entertaining to watch. And like most food magazines, it wants you to buy stuff other than food, which always bums me out a little. Whatever. Who am I to criticize a magazine that runs in print, let alone one that prints a number of great recipes per month.

I was drawn to this Farmers’ Market Chowder immediately because, maybe, I’m from Cape Cod, and maybe because I make a corn chowder that I’m pretty proud of, with chipotle chiles and cilantro. So I stole the base of this recipe (which infuses milk with corn and other aromatics), added my chiles, removed a few extra frypans, and ate soup for breakfast. As a dairy hound myself I’m pretty enamored of the result, which has a fine chile-infused butter slick on top of melty chunks of sweet potato and perfectly cooked green beans, not the least bit squeaky but with a little chew left in them. That said I can’t help wondering how you’d make this vegan…maybe whisk in some tofutti? Blend some of the broth with a block of silken tofu? As I type them, both these options sound wacky. Mom, are you there?

Smoked Corn Chowder
adapted from Vegetarian Times (Sept. 2011)
serves 6 (at least)

4-5 ears fresh corn
the stems from one bunch of cilantro, washed
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 1/2 C milk

2 T butter
1 T olive oil
4-5 medium leeks
2 chipotle peppers, chopped finely (or 1 if you’re wary)*
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into medium cubes
1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1/3 C dry cooking sherry
4 C water
salt and pepper to taste
2 T chopped cilantro, plus a few springs for garnish
lime wedges for serving (optional)

*I get these in a small can at the supermarket, packed in adobo sauce. Then again I live in Southern California.

First, get the corn kernels off the cob. The easiest way to do this is to get a giant bowl and a smaller bowl. Invert the small bowl and nestle it in the bottom of the big bowl. Balance the end of the corn cob on the small bowl and use your sharp knife to slice off the kernels, which get caught in the big bowl. Does this make sense? I learned it from Rachel Ray (who, say what you will, knows how to get that corn off the cob). Next, you want to get all the extra bits of corn off the cob. The Pioneer Woman will show you how, using the dull side of your knife (check out the 8th and 9th photos).

Now you have a big bowl with corn and another bowl in it, and 4-5 denuded corn cobs. Break these in half and toss them in a small saucepan with the milk, cilantro stems, and smashed garlic cloves. Maybe all your corn cobs won’t fit. That’s fine. Bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat, then remove from the heat and cover. Let the milk steep while you do the rest of the soup.

Heat the butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, clean your leeks. This woman cleans them the way I do–they are dirty critters and need loving attention (even better than running them under the tap is swishing them in a bowl of water). Slice them up and add them to the butter and oil along with two big pinches of kosher salt. I do this in stages–slice a couple leeks, add them to the pot, slice a couple more leeks, add them. Stir them up well. Next, chop up your chipotle peppers and add them to the leeks. Stir. Then the carrots. Stir.

Now, crank up the heat to medium-high and deal with your sweet potato. Once it’s peeled and chunked and the pot is hot, add it and stir well. Saute the mixture for 5 minutes or so, until you start seeing a little caramelization on the bottom of the pan and the potatoes are just starting to soften. Deglaze with the sherry, stir, and add the quart of water. Now’s a good time to add another two pinches of kosher salt and some pepper. Cover and bring to a simmer.

Simmer for 5 minutes or so while you prepare the green beans. Add them to the pot and simmer 6-8 minutes, until the green beans are a little squeakier than you like them (the sweet potatoes will be done by now). Add the corn kernels and simmer for one minute. Turn off the heat and strain the milk mixture into the pot, discarding the corn cobs, cilantro stems, and garlic cloves. Taste the broth and add more salt if you need it. Stir in the chopped cilantro and serve with extra springs of cilantro and a wedge of lime on the side, if you like.

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