Tuesday, December 13, 2005

chowder (not chowdah)

Today was a day that required soup. I rummaged around in the refrigerator and the pantry and came up with this. It's reminiscent of my previous fantastic spinach, but in soup form. I'm calling it a chowder because it has both cheese and cream in it.

It's not "chowdah" because this combination of ingredients is as far from New England as you can imagine while still staying in the continental US [OK, maybe gumbo would be farther, but still.] This is a South West chowder, with nary a clam to be seen, lots of gorgeous color, and flavors that warm you up.

Chicken and Spinach Chowder
6 servings

2 T olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp ground cumin

1 lb package chopped frozen spinach, thawed
1 can chopped green chilies, drained
6 oz Monterey Jack cheese, roughly chopped
2 cups cooked chicken, cubed or shredded
3 C chicken stock
1 C heavy cream
1 C corn kernels
1 C diced red bell pepper

salt & fresh-ground black pepper to taste

Pour the olive oil into a heavy-bottom pot over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and the other spices. Cook the spice mixture, stirring so it doesn't stick, until the garlic is soft, about 3-5 minutes. If you like a toasted garlic flavor, you can cook it until the garlic turns a dark golden color, but be careful not to burn it or it will be bitter.

Meanwhile, squeeze all the water out of the thawed spinach. (I thaw mine in the microwave on high power for about 3 minutes). Do not skip this step, you really need to get all that excess moisture out of the spinach. Pick up a handful and squeeze, then set the dry spinach aside; repeat until done.

Stir the dry spinach and green chilies into the spice mixture, and let it cook over medium heat for a few minutes to heat up. Then add the chicken and the cheese, stirring as the cheese melts.

When the cheese is all melted, add the chicken stock and the heavy cream; add the corn and the diced red pepper. Stir everything together and let it come to serving temperature, but do not let it boil --keep the heat gentle and you will be OK.

Taste; adjust the seasonings. I used homemade chicken stock that had no salt at all, and so even with the chilies and the cheese, I needed to add just a little salt to brighten it up. I also added about a 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper.

This is one of those dishes where if you have everything on hand, it comes together very quickly. Tonight, with insufficient leftover chicken, I microwaved IQF chicken breasts. Since it's shredded before it goes into the pot, texture isn't an issue (microwaved IQF chicken breasts approach the consistency of rubber.) You can use canned or frozen corn, either will be fine. And you can leave out the sweet red pepper altogether if it's too much of a hassle; you'll still get a great-tasting chowder.

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