Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Soupbowl of Comfort--Sweet Corn Soup

There are some days when I want to curl up with a good book and let the world walk on by. Right now it is Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.  The eastern light will give way to the setting sun and I am still immersed in the story. A luxury not afforded too often. So I take advantage, knowing that rumbling stomachs will eventually prevail and the dinner bell will toll for me. Something easy, something familiar, something comforting. A bowl of soup and a stir fry---Chinese fast food.

I chop and slice snow peas, red peppers and chicken. I make some stock. Noodles are defrosted. I usually buy the noodles fresh at the Asian supermarket and freeze them. They have a little more give and texture than dried ones. Though dried noodles work just fine. I prep everything for the stir fry and start on soup.

Sweet corn soup was a regular standby in all Chinese restaurants in India. It was usually a choice between wonton soup and sweet corn. My family loved both. So the soups took turns at our restaurant table. It started the meal, a promise of something different from the standard Indian fare. Eaten family style, soup arrived in huge bowl  ornamented with dancing dragons, steaming fragrantly. You either had the chicken or crab version, depending on your mood or wallet. The waiter expertly doled out perfect portions into smaller bowls. On the table sat a trio of condiments- soy sauce, a spicy chili sauce and tart green chilies in vinegar. We sprinkled our bowls liberally with the condiments of choice . As you dunked your soup spoon into the bowl, you inhaled the aroma of an eggy broth, redolent with chunks of meat, corn, sesame oil, chilies and sauces. If we had the wonton soup, you marveled at silky wontons swimming in a clear broth, flecked with bits of bok choy. The tricky part was getting that slippery triangle onto your spoon and into your mouth without letting it slip off and splash back into your bowl!

Both soups are hearty favorites, though sweet corn soup is a snap to make, compared to the intricacies of wonton making! On the rare occasions that we made the soup at home, mum would serve them in antique glass Chinese bowls acquired years ago from old friends in Hong Kong. We were warned to 'eat carefully' on those occasions. How much damage can you do slurping soup from that odd shaped soup spoon! The warning still bewilders me! The tablecloth did suffer though!

Sweet Corn Soup
Makes 6 to 8 small bowls

6 cups Chicken stock
1 can Sweet Corn cream style
2 tablespoons Cornstarch
I teaspoon Water ( you may need a little more)
1 Egg
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Sesame oil

Bring the chicken stock to boil in a large saucepan.

Add the can of cream style corn and give the liquid a good stir.

Mix the cornstarch with water to form a thick slurry. Do not thin it down as the stock will not thicken if the slurry is too dilute.

Gently pour in the slurry into the simmering stock, making sure to stir all the time. If you do not keep stirring the cornstarch mixture tends to become lumpy. Let the stock simmer for a few minutes.

Break the egg into a shallow dish and whisk well.

Add egg to simmering stock in a steady thin stream. As you add the egg, use a fork to whisk the egg as it hits the stock. This transforms the egg into thin strands. If you are doing it for the first time, try a little egg at a time. This is a two handed job, as you can see from the photo below. As you whisk and pour, the egg forms into thin strands that float in the soup.

Let the egg cook for 3 to 5 minutes.

Season the soup with salt, pepper and sesame oil.

Serve the soup hot, with soy sauce, Sriracha, or chilies in vinegar

Stir fry is done Soup steams. We ladle a bowlfuls of goodness, dotted with strings of egg and bits of corn. No chicken or crab for us tonight. The deep flavors of corn, soy sauce and Sriracha satisfies and satiates.