It’s March, which means it’s that time of year when we’ve turned the clocks forward and Spring is around the corner, but suddenly we’ve also had severe winter advisories and blizzard watches in New York City. It’s cold enough that I still crave hearty dishes like chowder, but want something light at the same time. This dish is perfect for this time of year. With a base that comes from butternut squash and onions, the chicken, roasted red peppers, and corn keep it light and the ground cumin gives it a warm and earthy flavor. You cook it down until the butternut squash melts into a silky sauce, thanks to gently mashing the pieces down with the back of a wooden spoon. Top each bowl of this chowder with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream, and dinner is on the table…storm or no storm.
Ground cumin is probably the #1 spice used in Indian cooking that almost everyone has in their cupboards. Routinely used in everything from spice rubs to salads in Tex-Mex, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and African cooking, to name but a few cuisines, I usually find cumin powder in everyone’s pantry — even those who swear they don’t know how to cook — I will find salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and cumin powder.
This recipe calls for a generous helping of cumin powder, which is a hallmark Indian spice. But it doesn’t taste like an Indian dish at all. The reason? The combination and ratio of spices is key in different cuisines. For more on this, see the Art of Indian Cooking.
If you buy a few key Indian spices, they’ll go a long way. Totally worth the investment if you ask me, because you can use Indian spices in many recipes that are not Indian at all, like this one. Ground spices will keep in your pantry for a couple of years, and whole spices like cinnamon stick have a shelf-life of 3-4 years. If you follow my 5-10-5 Rule, which is a cheat sheet I created for my husband Sean so he could make a few basic Indian dishes, you will spend at most $30-50 on good quality spices that will last you a long time.
Chicken & Butternut Squash Corn Chowder
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 – 1.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks (I buy pre-cut raw butternut squash)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2.5 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup corn
- 2 red bell peppers, roasted and cut into 1/2 pieces (I use roasted peppers from a jar)
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves (I only had dry oregano so added 1/2 teaspoon)
- 1 tablespoon fresh baby thyme (I threw in a small bunch)
- 1/2 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)
- Heat olive oil in large, wide non-stick skillet on medium-high flame. Brown chicken thighs, about 5-6 minutes. Remove chicken with a large slotted spoon to a medium bowl and set aside, keeping warm (just cover the bowl with something).
- To the remaining oil in the pan, add onion and butternut squash, sautéing for 5 minutes
- Reduce the heat to medium flame and add flour, cumin, salt, and pepper and sauté for 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, corn, roasted red peppers, reserved chicken, oregano and thyme.
- Bring the chowder to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for 30 minutes. When there is less than 10 minutes left on the timer, open the lid and with the back of your wooden spoon, gently mash the larger pieces of butternut squash so they melt into the chowder.
- Ladle into bowls and garnish with creme fraiche.