Lightened-up Clam Chowder (for Morag’s Mike)


Any true New Englander is bound to have cozy clam chowder associations, even if they're tucked away far back in those dark recesses of the mind. In fact, clam chowder is such an east coast institution that "lightened" versions seem almost sacrilegious, and perhaps a little pointless when you go too far, kind of along the lines of dessert. On the other hand, I don't actually like creamy things (unless we're talking about ice cream, and even then, I'd rather go light), and so much goodness that goes into a hearty bowl you may as well skip some saturated fat and sodium and capitalize on the potential nutrition. So, when Morag expressed concern about the impact cream and classic salt pork or bacon grease could have on her fiancee's appreciative appetite but not-so-appreciative arteries (just projecting into the future, here!), the opportunity to explore different ways of lightening up this coastal favorite was irresistible.

I suppose this challenge wasn't really all that challenging, as there are plenty of good variations on clam chowder out there. Tomato-based Manhattan chowder seems the obvious place to start, but if you're a New England chowder fan, it's just no substitute. My favorite Manhattan Clam Chowder may be the simple and straightforward recipe from the original Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, but I also love this one, from Cooking Light:

Another option is a light broth-based clam and seafood soup, from the ever amazing WHFoods site:

For a more traditional version, simple tricks include swapping in fat free or evaporated fat free milk and eliminating pork. I wanted to be a little bit more creative for most-deserving Morag, however, and while working on Kristen's daunting mac-no-cheese challenge, found using a cauliflower and potato puree as a base to be a smooth and tasty way of sneaking in extra nutrients while losing some excess fat and calories. I also included some flaked smoked salmon I had on hand, and threw in shredded spinach at the end, so it became more of a seafood chowder. A wonderful bonus was, the addition of spinach proved that this chowder is flexibly accepting of all sorts of nutritious addends, including various fishes and vegetables.

Potato and cauliflower seafood chowder

1 medium cauliflower, chopped (about 3 cups florets) 2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock 4 medium red potatoes, 2 peeled and cubed, 2 cubed but not peeled 2 cups water 1 medium red onion, diced 1 1/2 cups skim or evaporated fat free milk 1 6 1/2 oz jar chopped clams in juice 1 15 oz can cream-style corn 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1 4 oz smoked salmon fillet, flaked 2 cups fresh spinach, shredded with a knife

1. Combine broth, cauliflower, and 2 peeled, cubed potatoes in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Place in turns in a food processor and puree until smooth. When all potatoes and cauliflower has been pureed, return to pan. 2. Stir in chopped onion and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add the next 6 ingredients (through salmon) and heat on medium high, stirring frequently, 5 more minutes, or until heated through. 3. Stir in shredded spinach. Cook a further 2-3 minutes and serve.

Photo credit: Flikr user jpellgen