Southwest Corn and Sweet Potato Chowder

Autumn days are as good as it gets, with warmish daytime weather, leaves in their last gasp of green, soon crisping into oranges, yellows and reds set against impossibly blue skies. Chilly evenings follow the days with those brassy disc moons – so great for sleeping, and for warming up with soup, steaming hot, delivering a soothing antidote to the thought of the winter months ahead.

And then there’s the corn, oh the sweet Michigan corn, corn coming out of our ears, roadside stands groaning under the weight of it all. September finds us pulling back husks, inspecting the color and size of kernels – I’ll have mine plump, please, buttercup yellow. Spears of beauty, this corn, especially when we can feel the heat of the sun and early morning dew dampening the husk.

Grill corn or not, it's OK, but save some of the cobs for seasoning the soup.

Grill corn or not, it’s OK, but save some of the cobs for seasoning the soup.

Making corn soup at this time of the year is a no-brainer, and anyone can make a chowder with mass appeal. Whisk together a thick roux of butter and flour, stir in cream – then add a fistful of corn kernels as afterthought.

But tonight I want my soup to glorify the corn and be lighter on the palate. I want my chowder thickened, not with flour, but by puréeing a bit of the soup, and stirring it back in. I appreciate having an immersion blender for soups such as this – it saves the trouble of washing my food processor, heaven knows I appreciate any time saved to savor the skies.

Use the following recipe as a template to suit your mood and palate. How boring, a life without options. Diced pancetta could be substituted for the bacon, or leave the chowder meat-free. Leeks or scallions may be substituted for the onion, or poblanos for the jalapeno. Switch out Yukon Gold potatoes (skin left on) for the sweets, and substitute unsalted butter for olive oil.

Here’s an idea: Give your chowder an Italian flair by eliminating the the cumin, jalapeno and cilantro, substituting farro for the potatoes, and stirring freshly-made pesto in just before serving.

Pull out the rug from the expected tailgate chili. The following Southwest-styled recipe is perfect for casual entertaining. Leave the soup on the burner at a very low simmer, and place bowls on the counter beside the stove, ready for ladling. The garnishes can be placed in small bowls for your guests to individualize according to their palate. Cornbread won’t be a redundancy, Whole Foods makes a delicious one studded with peppers. And dessert? Why pie, surely pie, made from Michigan apples, of course.

Recipe Time Saver: I grilled my corn as I enjoy the chewy texture and smoky flavor from the charcoal brought to the chowder, but you can save a big hunk of time by using other favorite methods for cooking corn – boiling, microwaving or oven-roasting.

Recipe: Southwest Corn & Sweet Potato Chowder


  • 9 ears fresh corn
  • 6 slices bacon, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cups chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup diced jalapeno
  • 1 heaping teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 (28-ounce can) diced tomatoes with juices, fire-roasted preferred, with juice
  • 5-7 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 4 cups peeled & diced sweet potatoes
  • Garnishes such as chopped cilantro, shredded jack cheese, diced hot peppers, pepper flakes, hot sauce, lime wedges, sour cream, diced avocado


  1. To grill corn, pull back husks (but don’t remove) and remove as much of the silk as possible. Soak in a bucket of water 20-45 minutes. (See above notes regarding other corn preparations.)
  2. Prepare grill to medium heat (about 350 degrees). Cook soaked corn, covered, until some of the kernels are caramelized in patches, 45-60 minutes, rotating corn every 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and when cool enough to handle, with a sharp knife, husk corn, reserving 3 husks for adding flavor to chowder. You should have about 8 cups of corn kernels; reserve.
  3. While corn is cooking, fry bacon until crispy. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate; reserve. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of bacon fat, reserving the remainder for another recipe, if desired. Return the pan to medium heat and add olive oil. When heated, stir in onion, jalapeño and cumin with a pinch of kosher salt. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are softened, 3-5 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomatoes, reserved corn cobs, 5 cups of stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer, stir in reserved corn kernels and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender.

Number of servings (yield): 6-8 main course servings 

(14-15 cups; leftovers are a bonus)

Time to grill corn: apx. 1 hour
Active time (with cooked corn): 30 minutes
Simmer time: about 30 minutes

Copyright © Peggy Lampman’s dinnerFeed.

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