“Waste not want not” is an old proverb, a drop of conventional wisdom that occurs to me frequently when I am dealing with food. I often see the catchy phrase used to promote recycling programs. While I’m an avid recycler, I more typically try to avoid the waste in the first place. As I’ve said in other posts, I had an epiphany a few years ago on a Monday morning in the fall when I was giving a driving tour of our town to a visitor. We were traversing a beautiful tree-lined neighborhood with interesting architecture, but our field of vision was completely distracted by a foreground of yellow and green recycling buckets, trash cans, and leaf bags continuously lining both sides of the street, breaking only at the driveways. I was so disgusted at the thought of all that trash that I immediately eliminated as much packaging as possible from our household, instead buying in bulk in re-used containers. My husband started a village of compost bins in the back yard for leaves, green trimmings and a few kitchen scraps, all of which decompose into food for our garden.
I take a similar approach to food going to the compost pile as I do the trash. I try to waste as little as possible and extract whatever nutritious or useful substance it may have before I toss it. On Friday, I made a corn salad for a picnic and ended up with 2 dozen corncobs. The husks went straight to be ground up for the compost pile, though if I were a purist, some would have been swell for tamales. There was too much good corn residue on the cobs to waste so I covered them with water in a large stock pot, added a little salt, a chopped onion and a handful of celery trimmings, cut to a useful dice. The corn broth reduced at a simmer for an hour or so and I removed the cobs. I brought the liquid back to a boil and cooked it down a little. The result was a sweet and flavorful broth, some of which I turned into a corn soup and the rest of which went into the freezer.
Summer Corn Soup
2 ears corn
4 -5 c corn broth or vegetable broth
¼ c each diced red and orange bell peppers
¼ c diced red onion
Salt and pepper
Herbs such as cilantro, basil and/or and parsley
Optional garnish: tiny cherry tomatoes
Holding the corncobs vertically, slice the kernels into a bowl. Run the back of the knife down the cobs to release any lingering corn milk. Reserve the kernels. Cut the cobs into a few pieces and place them in a saucepan with the corn or vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Remove the corncobs and discard (chop finely and add to compost).
Meanwhile, in a saucepan large enough to hold the finished soup, lightly sauté the peppers and onion in a little olive oil. Add the broth and reserved corn kernels and simmer until the corn is gently cooked, 5 minutes or so. Season to taste. If you are using the cherry tomato garnish, add them at the end of the simmering process, along with the herbs, so that they soften and lightly cook. Serves 4.