The late summer’s abundance of fresh corn was always celebrated in my house, my parents quick to jump on a 10/$1 sale at the local Jewel and bringing home dozens at a time. Many times, we ate it boiled, steamed, or grilled, plain and simple. But my absolute favorite use for corn was in sabaw ng mais (literally, “soup of corn”). I loved how the soup was both sweet from the corn and savory from the pork or chicken laman…How the grated corn, white rice, meat, and spinach contribute different textures, sometimes made even more fun with a topping of chicharron (fried pork skin).
The last two summers, I have enjoyed this much loved dish of my childhood with sweet, succulent fresh corn from the farmer’s market. Every time I prepare it, I call up my mom and tell her how much I wish she would visit me in the summer so she could taste how amazingly sweet and flavorful the corn is in the soup. Another instance of “damn, those grocery chains are selling watered down produce!”
Sabaw ng Mais - *Vegetarian version
- 6 or more ears of fresh corn
- Canola or olive oil for sauteeing
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1 bunch of greens (spinach is more traditional, here I used dinosaur kale)
- 1 banana pepper
- salt, pepper
- Liquid (either water; chicken/veg broth; or water/bouillon)
*Usually, this is cooked with fried pork belly or chicken wings/legs/thighs. Originally, I had bought a slab of pork belly from the Asian grocery, but it had a sketchy odor which was still lingering after a boiling. So I reluctantly threw it out and used dino kale instead of spinach as a hearty substitute for meat. Still tastes good.
Step 1: Grate the corn.
After shucking the corn and removing the silky hairs, use a box grater to shred the corn off the cob. One of my mom’s best tips is to be sure to go over the cob with a knife (or the straight slicer blade of your box grater) in both directions. This will yield a lot of juice which would have been lost otherwise (see video below).
Step 2: Sauté onion, garlic, and corn.
First, sauté the garlic and onion until soft and translucent in oil. Then sauté the corn until it is cooked, turning a bright yellow color. Season with salt. My mom emphasized that sometimes people forget to do this, which makes the soup kind of raw tasting and not taking full advantage of the sweetness of the corn. Stir frequently, as the corn can burn on the bottom. See before and after:
Step 3: Add liquid.
I usually add chicken or veggie broth, but I didn’t have any. Sometimes if money’s tight, I do the water + boullion cheat. But I’m sensitive to MSG and generally try to avoid. This corn was so sweet that I thought I’d see if I could swing water only. How much liquid you add depends on how much corn you used. Sorry, I’m an eye-baller and not a stickler for measurements. Bring to a boil.
Step 4: Add greens and banana pepper.
Bring to boil and then simmer for at least 20 minutes or so, stirring periodically to avoid corn scorching in the bottom of the pot. You’ll want the greens to cook until tender and the banana pepper to get soft, but not fall apart. This makes the soup slightly spicy. If you want it more spicy, you can let it go softer.
Step 5: Eat!
Like I mentioned, we usually eat this with white rice in the soup, sometimes served with chicharron. Fresh cracked pepper before serving is great too. If you come across a good batch of corn in these final weeks, I recommend trying this out. As my mom told me over the phone, it’s a little bit of manual labor in the beginning, but not difficult at all and very tasty.