A milpa is a Central American crop system that incorporates things like corn, squash, beans, peppers, potatoes and melons all together in one field, and generally cycles them on a 2-years-on, 8-years-off growing system. Milpas date back centuries, long before Columbus and his Spanish cronies came along. It's the most basic milpa--that of corn, squash and beans--that's the most impressive; not only do these three things perfectly complement one another nutritionally to create ideal sustenance, but when planted together they actually help retain soil nutrients for better cultivation.
I've been messing around with Mexican foods the last year and a half (in case you haven't noticed) and I consistently come back to the wonderful milpa. The more recipe research I do, the more excited I get to try and spin this ancient way of eating into dishes a little more modern and maybe just a little more exciting.
Enter my BFF, the chayote: a sweeter, juicier member of the squash family that looks like a fat, bright green pear. It tastes great boiled and buttered, stuffed and broiled, or included in a soup, as I have done below. This soup is bean-less, but some protein is added if you choose to use dairy. Make it as a first course, or heat a few soft corn tortillas and a pile of warm beans on the side and you've got a satisfying, nutritionally complete meal.
Creamy Corn & Chayote Soup
© 2008 by Alexis McKinnis
2 poblano peppers
2 ears fresh corn
2 Tablespoons butter or olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
3 cups liquid: milk, veggie stock, a combination of both, or just one or the other
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
Roast and peel the poblanos: Place them under the broiler and rotate under the flame until at least 80% of the skin is charred. Quickly transfer poblanos to a large zipper plastic bag and seal it, allowing the steam to help separate the skins. After 5 minutes, remove the peppers and peel off the skins. Remove stems and seeds and dice roasted poblanos.
In a large soup pot, boil 6-8 cups salted water (or approximate what would be enough to cover the chayotes and corn). When water is rapidly boiling, add whole chayotes and boil for 15 minutes. Add whole ears of corn and boil 5 additional minutes. Remove vegetables with tongs to a cutting board and discard water. When vegetables are cool enough to handle, slice chayotes lengthwise and remove the rough seed casing with a spoon. Dice chayotes. Slice kernels from corn, and set corn and chayotes aside. Heat butter or oil in soup pot over medium-high and saute onion and garlic, breaking up any large garlic chunks. When onion is translucent, remove from heat. Add liquid, corn and chayotes to the pot, and blend until smooth with immersion blender (or transfer in batches to stand blender, blend until smooth, and return to pot). Add thyme sprig and return to low heat. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Remove thyme spring, stir in optional cream, season with salt, ladle into bowls and garnish with diced poblano.
As you can see, this one can be made creamy, fatty, low-fat, vegan, etc., depending on what you're into. My preferred version does include the cream, and I use 2 cups milk and 1 cup veggie broth for the 3 cups total liquid.