Creamy without the cream. That's what I'm looking for in a first-quarter soup - something that might taste a little indulgent and filling for these cold April nights but will help me continue my post-holidays trim-down strategy.
Cashews, of course, are the answer. Aren't they always? Before you add them to this chowder, it's a perfectly respectable chunky potato and vegetable soup. But after you scoop out some of the soup, whir it in a blender with a mere half-cup of soaked cashews and return it? You might as well have stirred in a cup of cream and a stick of butter - that's how rich it tastes.
One more thing goes in - a dose of corn, which in the spirit of winter comes straight from the freezer, not the cob, though you're welcome to repeat this in the height of summer. A creamy chowder, especially one as good and guilt-free as this, should always be in season.
Creamy Potato Chowder
Yield: 6 servings (10 cups)
1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice 2 carrots, scrubbed well and cut into 1/2-inch dice 3 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice 2 medium cloves garlic, minced 2 pounds russet potatoes (about 2 large), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice 6 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth, store-bought or homemade 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce 1 teaspoon Spanish sweet or hot smoked paprika (pimenton) 1 teaspoon dried thyme 1 teaspoon dried oregano 1 teaspoon onion powder 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic (garlic powder) 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more as needed 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1½ cups fresh or frozen corn kernels 3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced, for garnish
Place the cashews in a small bowl; add enough cold water to cover. Let them soak while you prepare the recipe.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the yellow onion, carrots and celery; cook, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to turn translucent, 2 minutes. Add the fresh garlic and potatoes; cook, stirring, until the garlic is tender and the vegetables start to lightly brown, 5 minutes. Add the broth, soy sauce, smoked paprika, dried thyme and oregano, the onion and garlic powders, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, so the liquid is still actively bubbling but not boiling. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.
Use a liquid measuring cup to carefully transfer about 4 cups of the hot chowder mixture to a blender. Drain the cashews, discarding their soaking water, and add them to the blender. (If your blender is filled more than halfway, remove some of the mixture and work in batches.) Remove the center knob in the blender's lid to allow steam to escape, and place a paper towel or kitchen towel over the opening to avoid splash-ups. Start blending on low for about 30 seconds, then increase the speed to high and blend until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
Return the pureed mixture to the remaining chowder in the pot (over medium heat), then stir in the corn and cook for a minute or two, until the corn is tender. Taste, and add more salt as needed.
Divide among individual bowls. Garnish with the scallions and serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 290 calories, 6 g protein, 48 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 430 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 9 g sugar.
Source: Adapted from "A Couple Cooks' Pretty Simple Cooking: 100 Delicious Vegetarian Recipes to Make You Fall in Love With Real Food," by Sonja and Alex Overhiser