Summer Sunshine for the New Year

Chicken Corn Soup

One of my favorite rituals is hanging up new calendars. All the promise of a New Year, held in your hand and hung on the wall; the illusion that the way we order and divide time matters. Or maybe the allure lies in just being able to flip ahead from January to June and be reassured that summer is just a few page turns away.

It’s important to believe in that possibility on days when the sun sets at 4pm. And it can be vital to eat something restorative and colorful at this time of year – something like Chicken Corn Soup. Who can think of corn without thinking of sunshine?

K.M. introduced me to this soup – it’s served in every Chinese restaurant in Kolkata, where he grew up. I’d never even heard of it, till I found a book by the late Copeland Marks, Indian and Chinese Cooking from the Himalayan Rim. I made the soup, and K.M. said it was close, but not quite the thing. And we’ve been tinkering with the recipe ever since. It’s become a family standby – the soup I make if one of us has a cold, or an attack of grey-winter depression.

It’s not a soup I make during the summer – when corn is fresh, I want to eat it straight off the cob, or maybe, if I’ve bought too much, in corn chowder. But I always buy enough corn to freeze, so that I can make this soup throughout the winter months.

Here in Seattle, you can get Chicken Corn Soup at Shanghai Garden, a restaurant in the International District. (It you’re local, and you haven’t been, go. Have the soup and the barley-green shaven noodles. Then send me a thank-you email.) But I like it best made at home.

Most recipes you find for it online call for canned creamed corn. But if you want to take the soup to the next level – where it finally got the seal of approval from the man with the relevant taste memory, you need to start by making your own creamed corn. Which you wanted to do anyway, right? Why buy a can full of BPA, extra sodium, and things you can’t pronounce, when it takes a half an hour to cream the corn yourself?

This soup isn’t low in calories, or the kind of thing you’ll see on magazine covers this month. I’d much rather eat real food, all year long, in smaller quantities sometimes, than eat things that have been processed to become diet food. Been there, done that, not going to happen again.

Besides, knowing that there is a bowl of this soup waiting for me at home, is likely to inspire me to walk or run an extra mile along the beach with Max or Mishka and that’s a much better use of my time than counting calories.

Or so I tell myself.

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