I always thought that white corn soup with squash blossoms was a Filipino dish. Now I wonder if it just might be an adaptation of a traditional Oaxacan soup.
The thought came via an episode of a show in Nat Geo People. We were watching TV last night and there was something about traditional cooking in Oaxaca. Because I so love Mexican food, I stopped pressing the buttons in the remote and put it down.Oaxaca, of course, is in Mexico. It is home to various indigenous people with diverse cultures. I remember saying that if there were only three cuisines that I could learn—truly learn—in my lifetime, they would be Chinese, Mexican and French. Not the kind of restaurant cooking that we know but the kind done by peasants in remote villages. Provincial food cooked the traditional way.
My choices might sound strange. But even a cursory glance at Philippine history should explain a lot. We think that what evolved as Filipino cuisine is an amalgamation of indigenous cooking with Chinese, Spanish and American influences… Well, it is, to some extent. But Spanish cuisine has been irrevocably influenced by Mexican cuisine too and that influence began even before Magellan set foot in the island of Homonhon marking the beginning of Spanish colonization. And I know wonder how much of we think is Spanish may in reality be Mexican.
All that, of course, follows the popular assumption that corn was indigenous to ancient Mexico and, from there, spread to the rest of the world via the Spanish galleons. It is noteworthy, however, that corn has a long history in China too although it was known by other names. And considering how little the world knew about ancient China because of the isolationist tone of its foreign policy, there might be some credence to the claim that corn was indigenous to both Asia and Mexico and that corn arrived in Europe from Asia before the time of Columbus.
Considering that pre-colonial Filipinos traded with the Chinese, I’m wondering if corn was already known in the islands before the Spaniards arrived. I tried to search for the history of corn in the Philippines but found nothing significant except for the well-known fact that it is one of the most important food crops in the country. Whether Filipinos had already been planting, harvesting and cooking corn before the Spanish introduced Mexican corn to the islands is not clear.
And that brings me back to the subject of my wonderment in the first paragraph of this post. Is white corn soup with squash blossoms a native Filipino dish or an adaptation of the Oaxacan soup?
They differ in appearance and preparation, of course. The corn in the Filipino soup is thinly sliced (or grated) and boiled until the soup is thickened with the starch from the corn kernels. The Oaxacan corn soup has whole corns (cut into three or four pieces) and broth thickened with corn kernels ground to a paste using the traditional stone grinder that looks very similar to an oversized mortar and pestle.
Still, the combination of corn and squash blossoms (including the leaves from the vine) is uncannily similar. Could both versions of the soup have developed independently of one another? Or did one influence the other? Which came first and which is the adaptation?
As curious as I am to have those questions answered, the answers are not necessary for cooking this delicious soup. I made it today per Speedy’s request. His father used to cook a huge pot of white corn soup with squash blossoms long ago. That Nat Geo People program made him feel nostalgic.
White corn is required for cooking this soup. Not sweet yellow corn but that pale and bland variety that takes much longer to cook. The long and slow cooking allows the kernels to release starch into the cooking liquid turning it thick.
To slice the kernels off the cob, I recommend a mandolin slicer. Slide the corn cob across the blade to get nice thin slices. What the blade can’t remove from the corn, you can scrape off with a knife.
This is an updated recipe. The older one published in 2013 has been retired.
- 6 to 7 cobs white corn
- scrap bones (chicken, pork, beef or a combination)
- 1 onion
- patis (fish sauce) to taste
- ground pepper to taste
- 10 okra trimmed and cut into thirds
- 2 cups cubed squash
- 2 to 3 bunches squash blossoms trimmed
- 1 handful squash vine leaves
- 1 handful spinach leaves
- chicharon to serve (optional)
Using a mandolin slicer, thinly slice the corn kernels off the cobs. Scrape off with a knife whatever portion of the kernels are left attached to the cobs.
Boil the scrap bones in plenty of water. Drain. Rinse well.
Place the bones in a clean pot. Add the sliced corn. Pour in enough water so that there is at least two inches of water above the corn and bones. Bring to the boil.
While waiting for the corn and bones and corn to come to a boil, peel the onion and roughly chop.
When the corn and bones are boiling, add the chopped onion. Season the soup generously with fish sauce and and two pinches of ground pepper.
Lower the heat, cover and simmer until the corn is soft and the broth is thickened. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Taste occasionally too and adjust the seasonings, if needed.
When the corn is soft, add the okra and cubed squash. Stir. Cover the pot and simmer for 10 minutes.
Taste the soup. Add more fish sauce and / or pepper, as needed.
Add the squash blossoms, squash vine leaves and spinach to the pot. Stir. Simmer for another 10 minutes.
Give the white corn soup with squash blossoms a final taste. Adjust the seasonings one last time, if needed. Serve the soup hot. Topped with chicharon, if you like.