A couple of years ago while in Paris my husband and I met good friends for lunch at Le St Joseph, a small, unpretentious restaurant just outside the city in the town of Garenne-Colombe. It took 45 minutes in a cab to get there, but the restaurant was (as they say in the Michelin Guide) worth a detour. Every dish we sampled on that June day was delicious and creative, but the one I remembered best was a creamy corn soup dotted with drops of sesame oil and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. The French don’t often cook with corn so I was even more intrigued by this first course.
Somehow I didn’t get around to trying the soup after returning home. However, when our first local corn appeared in groceries and farmers’ markets this summer, I thought of it, and bought a batch, determined to recreate the soup from my memory.
I simmered sautéed corn kernels and leeks in stock along with a distinctive bit of heat from cayenne pepper. Then, after puréeing the soup, I whisked in half and half and crème fraiche for creaminess. The secret to the soup’s delicious flavor, though, is the sesame oil. Its nutty accent pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the corn. A sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds, some sliced scallions, and chopped cilantro rounded out the garnishes for my American version.
Offer the soup as a main course along with a salad or sandwich for a light supper or lunch, or serve smaller portions as an opener for a summer dinner.
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Creamy Corn Soup with a Drizzle of Sesame Oil, Scallions, and Cilantro
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp canola oil
4 cups corn kernels (about 6 to 7 large ears of corn)
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (about 3 medium leeks)
1 tbsp chopped garlic
Scant 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 to 4 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup Half and Half
1/3 cup crème fraîche
4 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds (See cooking tip.)
3 scallions (with all but 2 inches of green stems cut off and discarded), cut on the diagonal into 1/2–inch pieces
4 tsp chopped cilantro
1. Heat the butter and oil until hot in a large, deep-sided pot (with a lid) set over medium heat. Add corn and leeks, and cook, stirring constantly, to soften the vegetables slightly, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and cayenne pepper, and cook and stir 1 minute more.
2. Add 4 cups of the stock and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat and cover pot. Cook at a gentle simmer until the corn and leeks are very tender, about 30 minutes.
3. Puree the soup in a food processor, blender or food mill, and return the soup to the pot. Or, use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot. When pureed, the texture will be slightly chunky, not completely smooth.
4. Whisk the Half and Half into the soup, then whisk in the crème fraîche. Taste and season with salt, as needed. If soup is too thick, thin it with up to 1/2 cup additional stock. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat.)
5. Ladle soup into 4 soup bowls. Drizzle each serving with a teaspoon of sesame oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds. Divide the sliced scallions evenly and scatter over the soup, then sprinkle with some cilantro.
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 with smaller servings.
Cooking tip. To toast sesame seeds, place in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook, shaking the pan until seeds are golden on all sides, about 5 minutes. Watch carefully as seeds can burn quickly.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2019