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Food + Cooking

The Home Cook: Kemp’s Creamy Creamless Corn Chowder

When the weather starts to shift, thoughts turn to a warming bowl of chowder—but this time, hold the dairy.
creamy creamless corn chowder

Marriage to a singer has its built-in perks: impromptu concerts around the apartment or in the car, for starters, and perfectly in-tune renditions of “Happy Birthday to You.” The care and feeding of a singer, however, involves dealing with the delicate topic of, ahem, phlegm. It’s an old saw in vocal circles to avoid dairy products because of their perceived increase—whether scientifically correct or not—of mucus in the throat. If there’s a possibility, my singer won’t risk clogging his cords, which is why, early on in our life together, I set to work figuring out ways to get to creamy without cream in the foods I love to cook. And eat.


Corn chowder is a favorite of mine on September days when the weather shifts toward autumn, and hot soup sounds better than salad. I’ve played around with the concept with for years. In lieu of milk or cream, I’ve puréed tofu into the liquid; it’s okay, but bean-y. I’ve puréed extra potato or corn into the broth, as well; it’s fine, but eventually I got bored.

When a bag of dried chiles slid out of my overstuffed cupboard recently, I had a real “duh” moment. Corn and chiles are Mexican soul sisters. They belong together. And since corn and potatoes, both from the New World, are standard ingredients in a conventional chowder, why not add another new-world component, chiles? I kicked myself for not thinking of the combo sooner.

The results are magical. Dried chiles, when soaked and then transformed into a smooth sauce in the blender, add silky body and that rich mouthfeel you get from dairy to the soup. And there’s an added advantage: Somehow they turn up the volume on the flavor of the corn. Who knew there would be three-part harmony?