While searching for Mom’s recipe of Suam na Mais, I found an old photo of my mom’s kitchen. I remember taking pictures of every part of the house I grew up in. I did this just before we left for the States a lifetime ago.
Every room was captured in the photos. I relived memories staring at them: the driveway, front porch, living room, lanai, dining room, bedrooms and the kitchen. I stared at the pictures and pieces of memories floated through my mind, like tiles forming a giant mosaic.
The sight of mom’s kitchen tugged at my heartstrings. It was here where I first learned the basics. The days began and ended in this part of the house. The dishes she cooked for us, three times a day, every day were magical. They were simple, wholesome, healthy and perfect each time. I don’t ever remember a dish being burnt, or too salty, too sweet, or bland. Mom never made a mistake with her cooking. I wished I had asked her how she did it.
Once school started in June, so did the rainy season in the Philippines. Our meals always began with piping hot soup. One of the best was Suam na Mais (say “su-wam-nah-mah-iz”) which translates to corn soup in clear broth. The corn used for this type of soup was grown in the Philippines and called ‘malagkit’ (meaning ‘sticky’). It was a different variety, the kernels were large and colored very pale yellow, nearly white. Later I learned this type of corn gave the clear soup broth a rich, thick consistency. My dad grew this type of corn in our backyard. And like most of the produce on our table, this came from our garden and farm.
Now that we’re in the middle of summer here in the States and sweet corn is in abundance, I cooked this corn soup and made a huge potful that lasted several mealtimes. We don’t have the Philippine variety, but American sweet corn works just as well. Compared to mom, I don’t always have the time to be in the kitchen for hours. So I did a shortcut by boiling the ears of corn before cooking.
Pre-boiling the corn made it easy to scrape off the kernels for the soup. After mixing it all together and stirring the large cauldron of corn soup, the aroma of shrimps sautéed with the corn and spinach brought me back to days when I came home from school. I vividly remember mom, in her apron, bent over the stove, stirring the simmering potful of thick corn kernels and adding the ‘dahon ng sili’ (pepper leaves) into the mix.
Someone once said that in our youth we learn, and later, in age, we understand. I now fully grasp why mom cooked this corn soup for us often. The chunky corn kernels, swirling in the savory clear broth that was nearly golden colored, the silky spinach leaves and the succulent shrimps…all these poured on mounds of steaming white rice not just warmed our bellies, but filled our souls with scrumptious memories.
Suam na Mais:Corn Soup with Shrimps and Spinach
- 4 whole ears of corn husks peeled, silk tendrils removed
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 pound fresh shrimps shells peeled, tails and heads removed
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 whole white or yellow onion chopped
- 1 Tablespoon finely sliced fresh ginger sliced in thin strips
- 2 Tablespoons patis (fish sauce)
- 8 cups organic vegetable broth
- 3 cups kangkong (water spinach) or use regular baby spinach
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- for serving: boiled rice
- Prepare the corn. Peel down the husks and remove the silky tendrils. Place the corn cobs in a large stockpot filled with water. Bring the water to a boil over medium high heat. Lower the heat to a medium and simmer for 10 minutes to cook the corn. Turn off heat. Cover the stockpot and set aside.
- Prepare the shrimps. Wash and remove shells, tails and heads. Sprinkle lemon juice on shrimps and set aside.
- Remove the cooked corn from the stockpot. Place corn cobs on a colander for a few minutes to drain excess liquids. Using a sharp knife, strip the corn kernels off the cob. Set aside.
- Using the same large stockpot over medium high heat, add the cooking oil. Saute the garlic, onions and ginger for about 2 minutes till onions are translucent.
- Add the peeled shrimps and fish sauce (“patis ). Pour the vegetable broth or rice wash.
- Add the corn kernels. Bring liquid to a boil, then lower to a slow simmer. Continue till shrimps turn a pink-orange hue and the corn kernels are soft. This takes about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Lastly, add the spinach and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cook’s comments: in the Philippines, “dahon ng sili” (leaves from the chili plants) are added to the simmering broth. Here in the USA, I don’t have access to ‘dahon ng sili’ so I use water spinach or ‘kangkong’.
- Recipe tips: to obtain rice wash or "hugas bigas" -- when cooking boiled rice, pre-wash the rice grains in water and save the "second wash" for use as soup broth in this recipe. If not convenient, use soup stock in the same amount indicated.
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