While I was in northern New Mexico my meditation teacher gave me a bag of blue cornmeal from the local farmers’ market and the suggestion that I teach you to chew slowly. Two days into the retreat she recommended that we chew the first three bites of each meal thirty times.
Meditation retreats are full of odd suggestions to the uninitiated. The first time I went to one the teachers told us as we took each bite of food to think about all the things that produced the food: air, sun, rain, soil, bacteria, seeds, farmers, labor, plants, wind, bees, etc., etc. We were eating vegetarian food so we did not have to think about the animals who died, although they did mention bugs and mice killed in the fields during harvest. They instructed us to note while we ate biting, chewing and swallowing, if not the arising of the urge to bite, chew and swallow.
After three meals of thirty-chew first, second and third bites, we compared notes. One woman said she noticed that each kind of lettuce tasted different. A couple of women said they forgot about slow chewing until partway through each meal. One said she normally ate her meals in five minutes and that the slow chewing allowed her to look around and notice where she was. Some people said they ate less food. Others said they digested their food better. Two of us said that once we started counting chews we found it hard to stop. Lisa provided statistics: 43 chews per piece of bread, 32 per bite of salad, 51 per leaf of kale.
When I thought I would bring you something back from New Mexico I thought perhaps I would bring the recipe for butternut squash lasagna with bechamel or the potato and artichoke soup with chicken, or the intriguing brown soup of roasted parsnips and turnips. I did not imagine I would tell you to chew three bites of food thirty times during your next three meals. Try it if you want. You might notice the licorice taste of tarragon in the soup, the bite of the basil salad dressing, see the way a raw onion sends its sulfurous chemicals to the roof of your hard palate soon after you taste first the sweetness, then the sharpness.
Meanwhile spring has hit California with rain, blooming rhododendrons, pale daffodils, camellia buds, flowering fruit trees. The cold mornings and nights call for wintry soups. Here’s an easy one, a gluten-free, vegan corn soup, made from the kind of things that can get you through the winter and the bright flavors of lime and cilantro, which grows here long after the basil is gone. I copied this from a bowl of soup I once had at Radio Valencia in San Francisco, taught myself to notice the flavors and construct a similar soup. You can make it in the summer, too, when sweet corn comes in, but frozen corn is adequate for these frigid days and it’s a nice change from winter roots and greens.
Easy Mexican Corn Soup
Mise in place: you will need just four ingredients: a bag of frozen corn, a jar of red salsa, two limes, one bunch of washed cilantro (fresh coriander), including the roots. You may reserve a few cilantro sprigs for a garnish. Equipment: one stock pot, one chopping knife, one blender and two hands.
Get out your stockpot and put it on your largest burner.
Plunk your frozen corn into the stock pot and open your jar of salsa. Pour the salsa over the corn and turn on your burner to low heat. Cut your limes in half and squeeze their juice into the pot (I just use my hands for this). If the limes are hard, roll them around on your cutting board before cutting and squeezing them. Now chop your cilantro, roots, stems and all, and throw it into the pot. Rinse your salsa jar with plain water and add the water to the soup. Cook until the corn is soft and puree the soup in the blender. I do this in several batches, sometimes leaving some whole kernels of corn for texture and appearance.
Food notes: I have made this with one pound of corn and fourteen ounces of salsa and with three pounds of corn and 28 ounces of salsa. I have added roasted squash to it when I had some leftover and the corn seemed skimpy. You can adjust thickness and heat by adding more water or more salsa. I have made it with green salsa (salsa verde): the thing is, green salsa tends to make the soup too hot (this soup gains heat as it sits) and the color is not as pretty — I would recommend using red. If you don’t like cilantro, this is not a soup for you — I can’t think of another winter herb to substitute for it. If you can, go for it and report back to the rest of us. This soup has every virtue you could want: it is low in fat, gluten-free, dairy-free and makes use of seasonal herbs and citrus, plus common foods stored for the winter. The thing is, it does not taste like a virtuous soup, and you can always eat it with toasted cheese. Someone I know once suggested putting shrimp in it. Have at it. For more soups and salads featuring fresh herbs, check out the February entries at No Croutons Required on Tinned Tomatoes.
Chewing notes: This soup will not give you opportunity for chewing practice, but perhaps you could eat it with some bread, tortillas, or a green salad. I can attest to the fact that chewing See’s chocolates does not make you eat fewer of them, but it does allow you to enjoy them more — guess what we eat on Valentine’s Day?