Flavours of the southwest are captured in a hearty bowl of Sopa de Maiz ….fresh corn, roasted peppers, and cilantro … as well as some buried treasures at the bottom of the bowl. It is one of the staples of Mexican cuisine.
Our family has always been devoted fans of anything Mexican or Southwestern, and our stay in Colorado for a few years just confirmed how much this cuisine was with us for good. I still have the tattered clipping from a late ’70’s edition of Bon Appetit magazine that initially inspired me to make a soup like this. Because it was so easy to make, and because it was so impressive to eat, it was quickly adopted as regular fare. Over the years, it has been slightly adapted and embellished to suit our taste, but the overall structure remains typical of Sopa de Maiz.
This soup turned down opportunities to be hot and spicy, and chose rather to offer a comforting and satisfying mild heat … all the while flaunting subtlety and complexity in every spoonful. And because it is not too high on heat (thanks to the poblano pepper), it is perfect for pairing with a spicy side dish like tacos or enchiladas.
Tips for making great Mexican Corn Soup:
- The subtle smokey flavour infused by the freshly roasted peppers is impossible to replicate. However, in a pinch, there are some substitutions that would work. Instead of roasting the poblano and red pepper yourself, you can use canned or jarred alternatives. Jars of roasted red peppers are quite easily found on your grocer’s shelves; roasted poblanos can be substituted by using a small can (114 mL) of mild chopped green chilies (usually in the Mexican or International aisle at your grocery store). It is very handy to have some of these alternatives in the pantry.
- Use fresh corn if you can; however, frozen corn kernels are also perfect (and convenient) for making a great soup. If you choose to use fresh corn, you can embellish the broth by simmering the de-kerneled corn cobs in the broth for about 30 minutes before adding the broth to the corn mixture. Corn cobs can certainly add to the flavour factor.
- Queso Fresco, translated, means “fresh cheese”. Basically it is a Mexican cheese that is traditionally made from raw cow’s milk or a combination of cow and goat milk. It has the amazing ability to finish Southwestern dishes in exquisite style. If you are not able to find queso fresco at your market, you could substitute some feta, or just add some extra cheddar.
- This soup can be frozen, preferably before the cream is added. Therefore, this soup is a great addition to a menu that requires some advanced preparation.
Mexican Corn Soup (Sopa De Maiz)
Prep Time: 30 minutes Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Number of Servings: 6
60g ( ¼ cup) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups fresh* or frozen corn kernels
1 large red pepper, roasted** and peeled, finely chopped
1 large poblano pepper, roasted** and peeled, finely chopped
5 mL (1 teaspoon) dried oregano
625 mL (2 ½ cups) chicken or vegetable broth
60 mL (¼ cup) finely chopped fresh cilantro
5 mL (1 teaspoon) Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
185 mL (3/4 cup) heavy cream
1 chicken breast, cooked, chopped into small pieces
1 cup of diced cherry or grape tomatoes
1/2 cup cubed Monterey Jack cheese (jalapeno flavoured, if you can find it)
Garnish with crumbled Queso Fresco, chopped tomatoes, and chopped cilantro.
*Fresh corn kernels are easily cut from the cob. Hold a corn cob upright (peeled, with silk removed). Place your knife at a slight angle at the centre of the cob and easily glide it downward – It is easier and safer to cut off the kernels from the centre downward, than from the very top). Rotate the cob slightly and continue to cut the kernels downward off the cob. When the bottom half has been cut, turn the cob upside down, and complete the cutting in the same manner.
**Roasting peppers is very easy to do – you just need to be very vigilant so that the fire alarm is not tripped! Gas burners are perfect for this; but the broiler element is equally qualified to char the peppers. Adjust the oven rack as close as possible to the broiler element, and turn on the broiler element. Very lightly oil (vegetable oil) the peppers, and place them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Turn the peppers every few minutes until it they are evenly charred. Ensure a thorough charring, otherwise, they will not peel easily. After they are well-charred, immediately place them in a large bowl and cover with a lid, or tightly seal with plastic. Allow them to rest (at least 1/2 hour) until they are cool enough to handle. Pull on the stem so that the seed core is released. Cut the chile open and gently remove the seeds, and peel off the charred skin. Try not to resort to rinsing the pepper pieces as this dilutes the flavour somewhat.
- In a large soup pot, or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Add chopped onion and sauté until soft and fragrant – about 5 minutes. Add garlic and heat through.
- Add corn kernels and continue to sauté until corn is cooked – about 10 minutes.
- Add chopped roasted red pepper and poblano, oregano, broth, and cilantro. Bring to a gentle simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Remove about 300 mL (about 1 ½ cups) of soup and set aside.
- Let the remaining soup cool a bit and then transfer it into a blender or food processor. Process to your desired consistency. You may need to do this in small batches.
- Pour the pureed soup and the reserved soup back into the soup pot and reheat. Season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in cream and heat through.
- At serving time: Divide the chicken pieces, chopped tomatoes, and cheese cubes among 6 soup bowls.
9. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with Queso Fresco, extra tomatoes, and fresh cilantro.