Monday, May 4, 2009

Pacific Rim Corn Chowder

For nearly two decades, San Francisco's premier Buddhist vegetarian restaurant was the destination of choice for aficionados of this traditional sub-specialty of Asian cuisine. Although Veggie Food Restaurant is no more, the memory of countless flavorful healthy meals lives on. This corn chowder is my interpretation of one of the many stellar dishes which were humbly offered day after day in this unassuming peaceful restaurant in San Francisco's Richmond District, on the foggy edge of the Pacific Rim.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup leek, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons ginger root, chopped
1 rib celery, thinly sliced
1 carrot, sliced into 1/2 moons
3 or 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked, drained, & sliced
4 or 5 small Yukon Gold or other thin skinned potatoes, quartered
1 or 2 dried red chile peppers
1 whole bay leaf
4- 5 cups fresh water
2 cups sweet corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1+1/2 tablespoons white miso paste
1 cup plain unflavored soy milk
2 tablespoons cilantro or parsely, chopped

Place dried shiitakes in a bowl of fresh water and soak for about 20 minutes while preparing vegetables. In a heavy bottomed soup pot, heat olive oil and saute leek, garlic, ginger root, celery, and carrot until fragrant but not brown. Squeeze excess water out of shiitakes, slice into strips, and add to pot with chile pepper and bay leaf. Stir and continue to saute briefly, adding a little more olive oil if necessary. Add 4 cups of water and 1+1/2 cups corn to pot, cover, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes; soup is done when the potatoes are somewhat tender but not mushy.

Place miso paste, soy milk, and remainder of corn kernels in the blender and process until fairly smooth. Add blended mixture to soup, and heat through without boiling. Taste and correct seasoning. If the soup is thicker than you wish, add a little water or soy milk. The flavor of this soup improves if it is allowed to sit for a few minutes before serving.

I like to add a handful of green peas, or a small thinly sliced zucchini to the soup near the end of cooking. Serve in warm soup bowls, garnished with a little cilantro or parsley.

Note: Traditional Buddhist cuisine eschews the use of garlic, onion, and certain other aromatic vegetables which are deemed too stimulating for those dedicated to a life of meditation practice.
This soup is very flavorful even without the leek and garlic which I have chosen to add to the recipe.