“We know people will buy the book for this recipe alone,” was noted on an entry for a green-chile chowder in Seasoned with Sun, the El Paso Junior League’s cookbook. Despite such high praise, this green chowder recipe—Maxon’s green chile chowder, to be exact—was not the reason why I had bought the book. Nope, I had purchased this cookbook to satisfy a burgeoning obsession with Junior League cookbooks, which began when I was home at Christmas.
My mom had put me on kitchen duty, but in between chopping onions and rolling out biscuits, I sat at her table and thumbed through her out-of-print copy of The Star of Texas Cookbook, put out by the Houston Junior League in the early 1980’s. After I finished that book, I moved on to her copy of a Colorado Junior League cookbook and one from Savannah as well. “I’ve never seen you read so much,” said Mom. And while that was probably her polite way of insisting I finish making dinner, I wasn’t deterred in my community-cookbook enthusiasm.
When I returned to New York, a trip to a Bonnie Slotnick’s magical used bookstore in the Village rewarded me with a copy of Fiesta, produced by the Junior League of Corpus Christi. Flavors, the Junior League cookbook of San Antonio came next. I was running out of money, so I had to temporarily pass on cookbooks from Dallas, Wichita Falls and Abilene, but a friend told me about Seasoned with Sun, the Junior League cookbook from El Paso, and so I ignored my impending poverty and groaning bookshelves and made the purchase.
Besides being fascinated with Junior League cookbooks, I’m also enthralled with El Paso. I admit that I don’t know that much about the town but I what I do know is fantastic. The food is outstanding, it has big sky and there are cowboy boot outlets. What more could you ask for?
I love community cookbooks because they tell the story of a place through recipes. Sure, most Junior League cookbooks are chock full of what my grandma calls ladies’ food. But you’ll also find local flavor and history as well. Seasoned With Sun did not disappoint as there were plenty of Tex-Mex favorites sprinkled amidst Junior League classics such as avocado cocktail, asparagus vinaigrette, chicken breasts piquant and tuna puffs.
So what about this renowned green chile chowder? It seemed to straddle both the border and the Junior League with its tame potato base livened up with jalapenos and green chiles. The first time I made the soup, it was good, but I felt a recipe coming out of that part of the state deserved a bit more punch. The next time I made it I increased the numbers of chiles, threw in some cumin, cilantro, garlic and lime juice, and lightened it up by omitting a butter and flour roux. And while my changes might upset the El Paso Junior League, I was pleased with the results.
March is a confusing month, as nasty winter insists on sticking around even though milder spring has announced its presence. I find, however, that this soup works well in both situations. Served warm with cheese melted on top, it staves off the cold. And served chilled with a squirt of lime and some tortilla chips, it’s light and refreshing.
While you’re enjoying this soup, perhaps you can help me. I’m looking to add to my collection—what are your favorite community or Junior League cookbooks?
4 poblano peppers
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of cilantro
2 pounds of potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 cups of milk
1 cup half and half
Juice from one lime
Cook the poblanos and jalapenos under the broiler for about five minutes on each side or until thoroughly blackened. (The jalapenos will probably cook faster so remove them first) Place poblanos in a paper bag, close it and let them steam for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, remove stems from jalapenos and dice.
After 15 minutes, take the poblanos out of the bag and rub off the skin. Remove seeds and stem and then dice the chiles.
In a large pot, heat on medium the butter until it’s melted. Add the onions and cook them for 10 minutes or just until they’re about to brown. Throw in the garlic and cook for another minute.
Add to the pot the chiles, the potatoes, the chicken broth, the cilantro, the cumin, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
Scoop out 2 cups of the soup and set aside. Puree the rest of the soup until smooth and then mix the smooth with the chunky. Add the milk and half and half to the soup and cook until warm. Squeeze in the lime juice and serve either warm or chilled, with cheese, tortilla chips and extra cilantro.
Adapte by Lisa Fain from Seasons With Sun