When the corn is way higher than “knee-high at the Fourth of July,”and is, in fact, “as high as an elephant’s eye” (that would be right now), it’s time to use every little bit of it without delay. The very best corn is cooked within a few hours of being picked or even sooner if you’re lucky enough to own a corn field, but if there’s an ear or two in the fridge cooked yesterday or even fresh corn that’s been refrigerated for longer than it should be (tsk, tsk), skip the corn-on-the cob side and and make my Fresh Corn and Bacon Salsa. (Of course really fresh corn is also totally acceptable!) Perfect with salty, crispy-crunchy tortilla chips, it’s even better as a black bean soup topping–or how about on chili?
I don’t know how other people make corn salsa. (Maybe I’ll look. Geez, Alyce.) I was just gazing at it while ordering a salad at Chipotle the other day.
Spicy-hot food isn’t for me; I’ve looked at that salsa in the stainless steel bin next to my favorite Salsa Mexicana (Pico de Gallo) and passed it by for years. This time, I turned to the young man behind me, who’d just ordered it on his burrito. “Is that corn spicy?” I asked him. “No,” he said, “It’s just sweet corn, after all; it’s sweet.” “Hm,” said Alyce, “Looks like it might have jalapeño in there.” “Well, maybe” the guy allowed, “but it’s good.” So the corn salsa settled way back in my brain after the man of few, but fine words settled my hash about it.
A day or two later when there was nothing obvious for dinner, I threw together a pot of black bean soup. If you’ve a few root vegetables lying about helplessly and some canned black bean sleeping sadly on the back shelf of that dusty shelf, you’re on your way. There’s not much more to a quick pantry version of Black Bean Soup, which is so simple, inexpensive, accessible, and universally liked, I teach it to kids:
Versatile and healthy, there are a dozen or more additions you can make if you like. Can of tomatoes or fresh tomatoes? Sure. Chicken? No chicken? Salmon? Diced ham or crumbled sausage? Chipotle chiles in adobo? Freshly roasted Pueblo or Hatch chiles? (Which is best is the subject of warm debate in the southwest this summer.) Hot sauce? Zucchini? Fennel? Cheese? Fritos?
It’s mostly up to you, but this pared down version will come together in under 45 minutes, including chopping. In a hurry? Throw all of the vegetables in the food processor and go to town. And even if you didn’t make this dinner totally from scratch (directions below from BON APPETIT if that’s your thing today), I think your belly will be completely satisfied, especially if you top it with the Fresh Corn and Bacon Salsa:
black bean soup with fresh corn and bacon salsa
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 pieces thick-cut bacon cut into ½-inch pieces (half will go back into soup later; half will go into the salsa)
- 1 medium onion diced
- 2 each: peeled medium carrots and stalks of celery cut into small dice
- ½ sweet red bell pepper, cut into small dice
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- Crushed red pepper optional
- 1 teaspoon each: dried oregano and chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ cup white whine
- 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup water
- 3 15-oz cans drained and rinsed black beans or 4 cups cooked black beans
- 1 small zucchini or yellow squash cut into small dice
- 1 Chicken breast, cooked and shredded or 3 oz salmon fillet, cooked, bones and skin removed, and chopped
- ½ cup Sour cream for garnish, optional
FRESH CORN AND BACON SALSA
- 2 ears cooked corn, kernels cut off (about a cup)
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced–both white and green parts
- 1/2 Jalapeno pepper, minced, membranes and seeds removed
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Medium ripe, but firm tomato, cut into small dice
- Juice of half lime
- You’ll add back ½ of the cooked bacon above, chopped finely
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a 5-6 quart heavy pot; add bacon and cook until just barely crispy. Remove bacon to a bowl and reserve, leaving the fat behind in the pot. Add onions, carrots, celery, and red pepper; season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, and a pinch of crushed red pepper, if using, and stir. Sprinkle with oregano, chili powder, and cumin. Cook, stirring regularly for about 10 minutes or until vegetables are softened, adding garlic for the last minute or two.
- Pour in wine and let simmer until wine is reduced by half. Add broth and water; bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Stir in beans and zucchini; season with another ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Let simmer 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove 2 cups of the soup and puree them in a food processor or mash them in a medium bowl with a potato masher. Return the pureed/mashed soup to pot and add half of the reserved bacon along with the cooked chicken or salmon. Heat through, then taste and adjust seasonings again as, needed.
- MAKE THE SALSA: Chop the other half of the reserved bacon into small pieces and stir that into the rest of the salsa ingredients.
- Ladle soup into bowls and garnish each with about two tablespoons of the Corn-Bacon Salsa. Serve hot, garnished with a small dollop of sour cream, if desired
COOK’S NOTE: I’m fond of this soup partially, but not completely, pureed so that you can still see the beans and experience the myriad textures. Like yours totally blended and smooth like silk pajamas? Go for it and whirrrrr away.
Bon Appetit’s Basically Black Bean Soup (made from scratch with dried beans)
WINE: Nah, pour a Mexican beer, please. If you really want wine, try a simple Syrah, which won’t fight the spice in the soup.
IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU MIGHT LIKE MY:
Podcasts: “Cooking with an Italian Accent” by one of my longtime favorite Italian bloggers and cooking teachers, Guilia Scarpaleggia of Juls’ Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Tuscany.
Make That Tomato Tart by fine food writer and teacher Kate Hill of The Kitchen at Camont (Stories, Recipes, Cooking Classes, Camp Charcuterie, and more–all in the stunning Gascony region of France.)
Still warm here, but there’s a nip in the air come morning time lately; enjoy each moment,