“I’ve got to share this soup recipe!” was my first idea. After all, it’s been one of my favorites for (literally) several decades now.
Then, quick on the heels of that thought was this one: “Hmmn. No, maybe not. Can’t use that one; too bland. Too boring. Too commonplace. Too–I don’t know–too beige.”
And yet, I love that soup. It’s easy to make, the ingredients are staples you likely always have on hand, and it’s never let me down. It conjures warming memories of my childhood. In wintertime, it’s often the basis for a hearty, simple dinner in our house. And it’s delicious!
And that’s how I realized that yes, sometimes, beige is exactly what you want.
You know what I mean. Case in point: we recently moved into this relatively new house. The previous tenants had taken it upon themselves to paint every room according to their own eccentric tastes. Living room: mustard yellow, tomato red and rust. Kitchen: mint green and dusty rose. Bedroom (I kid you not): DEEP PURPLE and MUSTARD YELLOW. (Purple! And yellow!) Bathroom: baby blue. And so on, and so on. . .
Well, before we moved in, we had to have the whole thing freshly painted in a nice, neutral, beige-like color. And while part of our choice was really just consideration for the next tenants and what they might like, that wasn’t the only reason we picked beige. Beige is familiar. Beige is inobtrusive. Beige is unoffensive. And it goes with everything (unlike paisley, which, apparently, goes with nothing).
There are times in life when you could just use a little beige.
When, for example, you finally break it off with that philandering Rocker Guy (he of the black leather pants), and now you desire a nice, standard-issue, plaid-shirt-Levis-jeans kinda guy. Or when you’ve already contorted your mind watching Memento, Twelve Monkeys, Adaptation, or Dogville, and now you just want simple and easy, like On the Road to Morocco or Pretty Woman (yes, I realize that last one stars Julia Roberts, but she wasn’t quite so Julia Roberts back then, so I can live with it). Or when you’ve spent a romantic evening lingering over a seven course tasting menu of exotic, geometrically spectacular dishes and a magnum of Veuve Cliquot, and now you just crave a long, cool, soothing glass of plain vanilla.
Or this, perhaps most of all: when you’re feeling desolate because winter has just gone on far too long with its relentless snowstorms and hours of shoveling, and what you yearn for more than anything is to seek refuge inside, peel off those sodden mitts and pants, curl up with a hot bowl of potato soup, and slurp.
This is the soup my mother made regularly when we were kids. Unlike my dad’s soup (he was the Soup Master in the house), my mother’s potato and corn concoction was a conventional recipe without bells and whistles. I’d never tire of watching as she peeled the potatoes, their spiraling, freckled skins falling silently on a sheet of paper towel by the sink. After she chopped the flesh into small cubes, she’d ease them by handfuls into the pot of simmering broth. Prep time was usually fairly hasty, as my mother had other things to attend to (such as watching her soap opera) while the soup bubbled gently on the stove. She’d return to the kitchen once or twice during commericals to stir the contents of the pot, but for the most part, the soup took care of itself.
Even though it isn’t fancy or flashy, this soup was a favorite in our house. Though unadorned with dumplings, noodles, or even a dollop of cream, don’t let this soup’s unassuming appearance fool you; this still broth runs deep. Under the basic plaid shirt and Levis exterior you’ll find a sensitive stock that’s more alluring than you might expect. It offers a serious nutritional contribution of potassium and other minerals (potatoes), beta carotene (carrots), soluble fibre and anti-diabetes qualities (corn and other grain), all bathed in a reliable, stable, standup broth that would never break your heart.
Oh, and it’s unabashedly beige.
My Mother’s Potato-Corn Chowder
No dissembling here; this soup is just what it appears to be–hot, milky, nourishing, and quintessentially comforting. Potatoes and corn and carrots and celery cooperate beautifully to create a classically delicious chowder. This recipe was my mother’s specialty, and like her, exudes an understated charm.
1 large onion, finely chopped
1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 medium carrots, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 large handful (about 1/3 cup) pot barley (if you can eat gluten) OR oat groats (not steel-cut oats); you could also try quinoa
2-3 redskinned potatoes, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
4 cups (1 L) vegetable broth (I use Imagine)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) dried dill
1 Tbsp (15 ml) dried parsley
1 tsp (5 ml) garlic salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1-2 cups (240-480 ml) unsweetened almond or other unsweetened nondairy milk
About 1 cup (240 ml) fresh, frozen, or canned corn kernels
In a large pot or dutch oven, sauté the onion in the oil over medium heat until translucent. Add the carrots, celery and barley, and continue to saute for another 5 minutes or so, until the vegetables begin to soften.
Add the potatoes and vegetable broth, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to the boil. Once the mixture is boiling, lower heat to simmer and add the seasonings. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes and other vegetables are tender.
Add the soymilk and corn and simmer until heated throughout. At this point, you may scoop out about 1 cup of broth and 1/2 cup of potato chunks and puree them together, then return the mixture to the pot for a thicker and creamier soup base. (I like it the way it is, as the soup is quite chunky).
This soup is perfect on a winter’s afternoon, with a slice of hearty bread, or, if you must, with dumplings. Makes 6 servings.
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