Tara O’Brady is not a newcomer to the In the Kitchen With column. We featured her pakoras and green chutney a few years ago, which were a great hit with our readers. I am just as excited today as I was then to have her on the column, this time with a recipe for Esquites and Yellow Tomato Gazpacho from her new cookbook, Seven Spoons. As the recipe and images attest, Tara’s book is a print extension of the lovely cosmopolitan recipes from her blog of the same name. We have a very small window here in Rome to buy fresh corn on the cob (and at exorbitant prices!) and when that window opens, this soup will be on my menu! (For best flavor, start this recipe one day before.) —Kristina
Why Tara loves this recipe: This recipe is a favorite way to showcase corn at its peak. It turns the flavors of Mexican street corn into a soup that’s vividly bright and refreshing, yet lush. The corn, tomatoes, peppers, and onion create a layered sweetness, and then there is the vinegar that dives straight through it all. The whole of the production is low effort and unfussy, yet striking, and just what I want on a hot summer evening.
You’re most likely familiar with elote, slathered grilled corn on the cob in a mixture of mayonnaise, chile powder, lime, salt, and cheese that is popular in Mexico. One summer dinner when we had more than the expected number at the table and not enough cobs for one per person, I stripped the corn into one big bowl and served from there. That was the night I learned about esquites, the Mexican street snack of boiled or sautéed corn kernels, finished like elote. Esquites not only makes corn go further, but also makes the eating neater, if that’s a concern, and easier for those who have trouble with biting from the cob. (Parents with children of teeth-losing age, bookmark this page.)
Here, I take those flavors and whizz them into a cool gazpacho. The soup is vividly bright and refreshing, yet lush on the spoon. It suits the heat of high summer, on both the nights when you feel you can swim through the humidity and those that bake you dry. The corn, tomatoes, peppers, and onion create a layered sweetness, and then the vinegar dives straight through it all.
I prefer this soup without a burn; the poblano cream continues the vinegar’s twang, with the emphasis on the fruity qualities of the pepper rather than its heat. The production is low effort, and the result is as irresistible as its predecessors.
-4 ears yellow or bicolor corn, husked and snapped in two
-1¼ pounds (570 g) yellow tomatoes, stemmed
-1 small sweet onion, chopped
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
-2 slices hearty white bread, ideally stale, each 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick, crusts removed
-¼ cup (35 g) blanched almonds
-1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, plus more as needed
-Medium-grain salt and freshly ground black pepper
-2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
-1 poblano chile
-Small bunch of cilantro, leaves and tender stems chopped, plus a few sprigs left whole for garnish
-1 ounce (30 g) cotija or feta cheese, crumbled
-₁⁄₃ cup (80 ml) crema or sour cream
-Medium-grain kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
-1 shallot, minced
-Cayenne or smoked paprika (optional)
1. To make the soup, fill a biggish bowl with cold water and ice. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Salt the water liberally. Plunge the corn into the pot and cook for 2 minutes. When the time’s up, submerge the cobs in the ice water for 3 minutes, then transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. While the corn cools, keep the pot of water at a boil. With a paring knife, cut a small cross into the bottom of each tomato. Carefully drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and let them bob for 20 seconds. Lift the tomatoes from the pot and plunge into the ice water. Once cool, peel, core, and chop the tomatoes.
2. In a blender, process the onion, garlic, and bell pepper into a paste. Scrape down the sides of the carafe, then add the bread in chunks, followed by the almonds, and process again.
3. Slice the corn kernels from the cobs. Set aside approximately ¾ cup (180 g) kernels for garnish, then add the rest of the corn to the blender, along with the chopped tomatoes. Puree the vegetables until absolutely velvety, about 3 minutes. Pour in 1½ teaspoons of the vinegar, a generous pinch of salt, and some pepper. Process again. With the motor running, add most of the olive oil in a thin, steady stream through the hole in the blender’s lid. Pop the lid’s stopper back into place and let the machine run for a good while, maybe 2 minutes more, until the liquid is silky and emulsified. Stop the blender, taste, adding more of the remaining 1½ teaspoons vinegar, salt, or oil, as needed. The flavors will dull when chilled, so they should be more than convincing now. Flip the motor on for another 30 seconds, then pour the soup into a serving bowl or pitcher. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to overnight.
4. About an hour before you’re looking to eat, make the chile cream. Char the poblano over a gas flame or under a broiler, turning regularly until blackened on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave to steam for about 20 minutes. Stem, peel, seed, and chop the chile, and add to a blender or food processor with the cilantro and cheese. Blitz to a fine green and white confetti. Scrape down the sides, pour in the crema, add a few grinds of pepper, and blend again. Taste, then season as needed with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
5. To serve, in a small bowl, squeeze the juice from half the lime over the shallot. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper and leave at room temperature to marinate, stirring now and again.
6. Right before serving, peel, seed, and dice the avocado. Fold the avocado into the pickled shallot. Ladle the chilled soup into bowls, top with the reserved corn, avocado, chile cream, cilantro leaves, and cayenne powder. Cut the remaining lime half into wedges and place in a bowl on the table. Eat.
Note: A word on breaking the cobs of corn in half: doing so will allow a smaller pot for boiling, and will give a flat base for removing the kernels later.
For those who look for pep in their chiles, use 2 to 3 jalapeños instead of the poblano in the cream. And in regard to that cream, it can instead be made with a pestle and mortar or by cutting by hand, yielding a brawny variation on the theme.
About Tara: Tara O’Brady is the author of the award-winning blog Seven Spoons, which she started in 2005. She has a regular column in Uppercase Magazine and has contributed to Kinfolk, The Globe and Mail, Oprah.com, and more. She lives in Southern Ontario, Canada, with her husband and two sons.