sumac corn chowder

sumac corn chowder

If you ask me, early fall is the best time for corn chowder. It’s just starting to cool down enough that a warm bowl of soup doesn’t sound like absolute torture, and summer veggies are still super fresh and in season. While you can absolutely make this soup in the cooler months ahead with frozen corn, it’s a little extra delicious this time of year because fresh ears make a huge difference if you know how to get every bit of flavor out of them.

One of the greatest (but also weirdest-sounding) tricks for getting the most out of an ear of corn is “milking the cob.” After you slice all of the kernels off, you use the side of your knife to scrape every last bit into the pot. At the end of the day, there’s nothing special about this stuff—it’s just a little extra corn. But it blends right in with the broth to give the soup a deeper corn flavor. You could always purée a quarter cup or so for a similar effect if you’re using frozen kernels instead (not that I’d ever ask you to go to the trouble—that sounds like a pain). But there’s something extra nice about eking out every last bit of an ingredient.

Oh and while we’re on the subject of cutting corn off the cob, don’t miss the video by the recipe below, which demonstrates the absolute easiest way to cut corn off the cob without making a big mess (no bunt pan or any special equipment required).

This particular corn chowder is special for a couple reasons: first, it’s drizzled with a little bit of sumac oil. Sumac goes perfectly with corn (try my corn and sumac salad if you have any doubt), and gives it that extra little bit of brightness. Also, I love to substitute sweet potatoes in place of regular potatoes in just about any corn chowder I make, including this one. I used to make another variation on this recipe all the time when I was in grad school: just drizzle on some sriracha instead of sumac oil, and sprinkle a little shredded sharp cheddar on top before serving. Either way, so good!

sumac corn chowder
sumac corn chowder

sumac corn chowder

serves 6
active time: 15 minutes
total time: 30 minutes
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  • 5 ears corn (can substitute 700g/1.5 lb frozen corn)

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (25g)

  • 2 cups chopped green onions (115g)

  • Salt to taste

  • 3 tablespoons flour (25g)

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper (2g)

  • 1 teaspoon turmeric (2g)

  • 2 quarts chicken stock (1800g), or 6 cups if you want it to be more of a stew

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed through a press (10g)

  • 2 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled and 1/2-inch diced (415g)

  • 1 cup half-and-half (240g)

  • Toppings: sumac oil (below) and cilantro

  1. Slice the corn off the cobs (see above video), and use the side of your knife to scrape the stripped cobs over the bowl of corn (safely scrape away from yourself). If you’re using frozen, don’t worry about this step.

  2. Heat a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the olive oil, followed immediately by the green onions, and a little salt to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon). Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, just until the whites soften a bit.

  3. Add the flour, black pepper, and turmeric, and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the stock and garlic, and stir together. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then add the sweet potatoes and corn. Give it a couple minutes to come back up to a simmer, and then drop the heat down to about medium low, just to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are tender. Taste as it simmers, and season if necessary (this will vary, depending on how salty your stock is).

  4. Add the half-and-half, give it a stir, taste it, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

  5. Top with some cilantro and sumac oil. If the sumac oil settles, give it a gentle stir to let some of it float back up to the surface (a good trick is to pour it over the back of a spoon close to the surface of the bowl, to keep it from sinking).

Sumac oil

  • 3 tablespoons sumac / 25g

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil / 35g

Combine these two ingredients, and give them a stir immediately before drizzling.

Making it ahead: The soup keeps really well in the refrigerator for a few days, and stores beautifully in the freezer for 3 months (the sweet potatoes will soften and dissolve a bit, but they add good body and flavor to the broth). Make the sumac oil just before serving.

sumac corn chowder
sumac corn chowder

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kubba hamuth

kubba hamuth

I recently had a great conversation with my friend Tony about community-centered cooking. He’s preparing for an exciting upcoming project on Syrian food and community traditions, and we also talked through a dolma project I’m working on. The two subjects aren’t entirely unrelated, or as Tony put it—“If you’re sitting down rolling dolmas with your neighbors and family, you’re bound to connect and share very intimate details, because you have all the time in the world. And that’s so beautiful.” We covered so much ground, and whenever the topic would shift, Tony would preface it by saying, “So, I don’t know if you want to fall down this rabbit hole, but…”

And here’s the thing about me (and I think probably also Tony, and a lot of food writers): I love falling down rabbit holes. I’m currently falling down a dolma rabbit hole right now, but I think the next one I want to fall down is kubba, because from where I stand, I have a lot to learn.

I mean, growing up Middle Eastern American, I know a bit about kibbeh/kubba. In case you’re not already familiar, kubba is a meat and grain dumpling—there are a ton of different varieties, some named after the towns they’re from, and some named after the style in which they’re made. While most are dumplings, some kibbeh are baked in a tray or eaten tartare/sashimi style.

My family is Assyrian from Iraq and Syria, and we have our family specialties. As you might expect, my Syrian family makes kbeibat and kibbeh bil sanieh, and my Iraqi family makes kubba Halab (from Aleppo, but also very popular in Iraqi cuisine) and sometimes also kubba hamuth. But I haven’t experienced all that much kubba outside of these.

kubba hamuth
kubba hamuth

So when I sat down to do a little research for this blog post, I realized that what I’ve been calling kubba hamuth is actually very different than most recipes out there. Most of them (e.g., Philip Juma’s and MidEast Chef’s) use rice or rice flour instead of wheat or bulgur. The only other recipe I found that uses bulgur is Julian’s from Assyrian Dishes (who also adds greens—in her case swiss chard, which I highly recommend trying). I spoke with Hilda Sterner, whose kubba are made with rice, and she said that she would personally call my stew kubba pirdah, but that she also knows of a version that is made partly with cream of wheat.

This is all just to say that I don’t actually know what to call this stew, except kubba hamuth for now. Kubba hamuth basically means “sour kubba,” referring to the lemony tomato stew it’s simmered in, so the most crucial thing is that it’s tangy. And while I’m tempted to spend all week obsessively researching kubba, I’m going to have to wait a while to fall down this particular rabbit hole. I’m looking forward to learning more about the nuances and regional variations of all the different kinds of kubba, whether fried, boiled, stewed, or baked in a pan. But for now, while I’m busy tilting at other windmills, I’ll just leave you guys with my recipe for kubba hamuth (…or something!). This is definitely the kind of recipe that’s fun to cook as a family, so I hope you enjoy it in good company.

kubba hamuth
kubba hamuth

kubba hamuth

yield: 9 servings (about 55 kubba)
active time: 1 hour 15 minutes
total time: 2 hours
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PDF to print

kubba shell

  • 1 cup extra fine bulgur #1 (200 grams)

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (454 grams)

  • 1 teaspoon baharat

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  1. Soak the bulgur in a few inches of cold water for 15 minutes, then strain it through a fine mesh sieve, wringing it out with the back of a spoon for a few seconds to get rid of excess water.

  2. Combine the strained bulgur, ground beef, baharat, and salt in a food processor, and blend together for 3 minutes, until it forms a dough. The bulgur will still be a bit grainy, but it will break down slightly.

kubba filling

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (454 grams)

  • 1/4 of 1 onion, finely minced (45 grams)

  • 1/2 cup finely minced parsley (30 grams)

  • 1 teaspoon baharat

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon softened butter (14 grams)*

  1. Hand-mix the ground beef, minced onion, parsley, baharat, salt, and butter, just until combined.

  2. Stuff the kubba: Wet your hands as you work to keep things from sticking. Take a level tablespoon of the kubba shell, roll it into a ball, and flatten the ball out in the palm of your hand. Take a shy tablespoon of filling, place it in the center of the flattened shell, and wrap the sides around it until it makes a sphere. Roll the sphere in your hands to smooth it. Repeat, and pace yourself as you work, so you don’t run out of the shell or filling.**

stew

  • 3 tablespoons clarified butter or olive oil (43 grams)

  • 3/4 of 1 onion (135 grams)

  • 2 jalapeños, pith removed and minced (50 grams)

  • 1/2 teaspoon baharat

  • 2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes (2 400-gram cans)

  • 3 1/2 cups stock

  • Salt to taste

  • 4 packed cups torn or coarsely chopped dark leafy greens, like kale or spinach (100 grams)

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice (to taste)

  1. In a stockpot or large dutch oven, place the butter or oil over medium heat for a couple minutes. Once the butter melts, add the onion and cook for about 6 minutes, stirring every minute or two, until they're a little golden.

  2. Add the jalapeños to the stockpot, and cook for 3 minutes to soften them a little.

  3. Add the baharat, give everything a stir, and then add the diced tomatoes and stock, and season to taste with salt. Bring it to a simmer over high heat, and then add the kubba one by one, slightly flattening each ball into a disc between your palms right before you add them. Allow about 30 seconds for everything to come back up to a simmer, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low.

  4. Cook covered for 10 minutes, then gently stir everything, cover and cook for 10 more minutes.

  5. After 20 minutes total, remove from heat, add the greens,*** give everything a gentle stir, and then add the lemon juice. The greens will take about 2 minutes to cook with the residual heat. Give it a final stir right before serving.

* You can make the filling with a fattier ground beef, but I developed the recipe this way so that you won’t have to buy 2 different kinds. But if you have 1 pound lean meat and 1 pound higher fat meat, feel free to skip the butter.
** This recipe has the right ratio of filling to shell, but no worries if you have some leftover at the end. Simply make a few small meatballs with the leftover filling (or the leftover shell), and throw them right in with everything else.
*** Letting the greens coast will help it stay green instead of turning gray, but if you’re making this ahead for guests, you might want to add the greens at the last second, because it will continue to cook as it cools down. Everything else can be made ahead of time, reheated later, and the greens added at the last minute. If you’re just making this for yourself and your family, it keeps great as is, and the leftovers will be delicious. Kale in particular isn’t traditional here, but it’s fairly traditional to add some greens or other veggies to the stew, and kale is just what I had handy when recipe developing, so feel free to add your favorite veggie instead.

kubba hamuth