Vegan Fish Chowder

When I was a kid, we eliminated eating meat over the course of a year.  First, it was no red meat.  Then, it was no chicken.  And in the final phase, it was no fish.  My parents told us that we were always welcome to eat meat outside of the home, like if we went to a restaurant, but they wouldn’t be serving or cooking it at home.  And for a few months after my family had eliminated all meat, I took them up on it, because I loved fish.  If we were out to dinner, I would get fish.  As I get older, I wonder if this was part of some kind of rebellion, but I was a very small child, and frankly, I think I just liked fish.  After a few months, I stopped ordering fish, and have been meat-free ever since.

Since that time, there have been few vegan seafood products available in the mass market.  Some are okay, but lack the fresh fish flavor that I used to love.  The taste that went so well with lemon, butter or capers.  The taste that didn’t want to be covered in cocktail sauce, because it didn’t need it.  Subtle, fresh, delicious fish.

As I have gotten to know sea vegetables a little better, it seems like the perfect time to introduce it to my favorite fish substitute, hearts of palm.  While hearts of palm are not loaded with protein, they do have a good texture, and can take on a marinade well.  I think a good fish taste is not overwhelming, but it’s there, just not “too there”.  If you want more of a fish taste, simply add more sea vegetable to the main soup, and you’ll be on your way!

This recipe takes time–at least 12 hours of marinading time for the hearts of palm.  It infuses the hearts of palm with the flavor of the sea, and that’s the heart of this soup.  It’s worth it to give it the time to come together.

As my sea vegetable, I picked dulse, because it has a slight bacon flavor.  I thought it worked well in a tomato-based chowder, because it usually has bacon in it.  It should break down as it simmers, so no need to chop it up or tear it apart.  I also added some smoked paprika to reinforce the notes of bacon.  While I didn’t add capers, I did add a bit of the brine.  It adds some of the salt and a bit of the “from the sea” flavor.  I did not add potatoes, but as a variation, feel free to do so.  

Obviously, this is more of a Manhattan Chowder than a New England Chowder.  I wanted to make a soup that lent itself more to spring and summer, and picked a base and vegetables that would follow suit.  I cut sweet corn off the cob for this recipe, but feel free to use frozen sweet corn, if it is not in season where you are.  

Vegan Fish Chowder

2 ½ cups + 2 cups water, divided

½ cup + 2-3 Tbsp dulse, divided

14 ounce can of hearts of palm, drained

3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 medium zucchini, diced into small cubes

2 carrots, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

¾ cup sweet corn

½ tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp thyme

2 bay leaves

1 ½ tsp caper brine

14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes

1 tsp red miso

¼ cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

½ tsp hot sauce

1 Tbsp lemon juice

Salt, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

1. In a medium sauce pan, bring 2 ½ cups of water to a boil.  Once it is boiling, add ½ cup dulse to the sauce pan and cover for 15 minutes.  Strain most of the sea vegetable out, but leave a bit behind (maybe a Tbsp or two).  Place hearts of palm in a sealable container.  Pour sea vegetable liquid over hearts of palm, and seal with a lid.  Refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight.

2.  Once hearts of palm are done marinading, heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or dutch oven.  Add onion, garlic, and a dash of salt.  Stirring occasionally, sauté until onions translucent or about 3 minutes.

3.  Add carrots, celery, zucchini, sweet corn, smoked paprika, thyme, bay leaves, caper brine and black pepper.  Sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

4. Drain hearts of palm.  Chop and set aside.

5. Add tomatoes, 2 cups of water, 2-3 Tbsp dulse (and more if you like a very strong “sea flavor”).  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, check vegetables to make sure they are cooked through.  If not, cover for a few more minutes and check again.

6. Once vegetables are cooked through, stir in miso, hot sauce, lemon juice and parsley.  Taste and adjust (more dulse, more miso, more lemon, etc).  Once the taste is right, gently stir in hearts of palm.  Serve immediately.

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