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Saluting the kernel: 4 recipes for corn

August 28, 2017

Mexican Street Corn.

I was going to begin this story in a different way, but I scrapped that idea because I really want to tell you something useful.

You love corn, right? Everybody loves corn. But removing the husk, and especially the silk, can kind of be a hassle.

Don’t worry. I have a solution.

Just cook your corn — still in the husk — in the microwave for four minutes. When it’s done, cut off the stem and an inch or two of the ear from the stem side. Then grab the stem-end of the ear with a towel (it will be hot) and pull the husk off the other end.

All of the silk will come off with the husk. The rest of the corn will be perfectly cooked and ready for butter.

Now that I have that out of the way, I should confess that I made corn four different ways this week and not one of them benefited from that method. But still, it’s a good technique to know when making corn on the cob.

The ways I made corn this week highlight its versatility and flavor. It’s a vegetable that stands on its own but also plays well with others.

First, I used it to make soup, one of the best soups I know how to make and, to be frank, the reason I chose to cook with corn this week. The recipe comes from the famous Rancho La Puerta, just across the Mexican border from San Diego.

It has been described as the first destination fitness resort and spa — it opened in 1940 — and one reason for its enduring fame is its food. Actually, if the only thing they made there was Grilled White Corn Soup with Leeks and Roasted Peppers, that would be reason enough to go.

Though it is fairly hearty, this soup is just as good served chilled as it is hot. The flavor comes mostly from lightly seared kernels of corn, plus leeks and a roasted red pepper. An assortment of aromatics — celery, garlic, thyme, bay leaf — provides a sturdy backbone for the wholesome and satisfying flavor of the corn.

I may love my next dish even more than I do the soup. Corn Pudding Soufflé brings you the best of two worlds. It’s corn pudding, but it’s also a soufflé.

It’s a savory dish, so there is nothing sweet about it except the corn, which is sweet enough. A hint of sharpness comes from minced shallot, but a luscious creaminess is provided by crumbled cheese. I used feta, with its saltiness providing an extra dimension, but goat cheese or cheddar would work as well.

The rest of the magic comes from eggs. The yolks combine with a roux to beef up the richness, while the whites make the soufflé magic happen. It rises up, golden and proud, but because it is also corn pudding it is sturdier than other soufflés.

I stumbled on my next dish in a vegetarian cookbook, and was so intrigued I had to try it. To be honest, I wasn’t sure it would be good. To be extra-honest, I kind of thought it wouldn’t be.

But then I made it. And I am man enough to admit that I was very, very wrong.

You begin with corn cut off the cob. You add it to a sautéed combination of sweet onion, lemon zest, orange zest and thyme, and cook until tender.

Sounds weird, right? But it’s weirdly delicious. The citrus zest blends surprisingly well with the assertive thyme, and it all meshes with the familiar comfort of corn. As a side dish, it is well balanced and wholly unexpected.

I couldn’t end my survey of corn without delving into elotes, the dish popularly known in this country as Mexican Street Corn. It is said to be typically sold in Mexico by street vendors, but it is gaining popularity in this country as well.

It’s easy to see why. You begin with corn cooked on a grill or a grill pan; it creates a deeper, richer flavor of corn. You brush it with butter while it cooks and slather it with either mayonnaise or crema (a Mexican sour cream) mixed with lime juice.

Add cotija cheese or feta and sprinkle it with powdered hot chile pepper. It’s an unforgettable way to bring out the best in corn.

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GRILLED WHITE CORN SOUP WITH LEEKS AND ROASTED PEPPERS

Yield: 6 servings

4 ears sweet corn, white or yellow, shucked and silk removed

2 leeks, white part only, washed and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 1/2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for the pan, divided

1/2 rib celery, minced

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced

5 cups vegetable stock or water

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon minced chives

1. Over a medium bowl, cut off the corn kernels with a sharp knife. You should have about 2 1/2 cups.

2. In a lightly oiled, heavy-bottomed sauté pan, sear the corn in batches over medium heat until it has a few black spots.

3. Set aside 1/2 cup of the corn and 1/4 cup each of the diced leeks and pepper. In a 4-quart pot, heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the remaining corn, leeks, peppers, celery and garlic. Cook slowly, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the stock, thyme, bay leaf and salt.

4. Cook until the vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaf. In a blender or food processor, puree soup until smooth. Add the black pepper and taste for seasoning, adding more salt if desired.

5. Just before serving, sauté the reserved corn, leeks and peppers in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil and add them to the hot soup. Garnish with a pinch of chives. This soup is also excellent served chilled.

Per serving: 105 calories; 3 g fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 4 g protein; 19 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 1,025 mg sodium; 34 mg calcium

Recipe from "Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho la Puerta," by Deborah Szekely and Deborah M. Schneider, with Jesús González

CORN PUDDING SOUFFLÉ

Yield: 4 servings

2 cups corn kernels (from 2 or 3 ears), divided

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons minced shallots or scallions

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, goat cheese or cheddar

Salt and white pepper

3 eggs, separated

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 6-cup soufflé dish. Put a kettle of water on to boil. Puree 1 1/2 cups of the corn with the milk for a full 3 minutes, then pour it into a fine sieve and press out the liquid with a soft rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook 1 minute. Stir in the flour, then slowly whisk in the corn-milk mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 1/2 cup corn, cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of white pepper. Slowly stir 1/2 cup of this mixture into the yolks to warm them, then pour back into the pan, stirring briskly.

3. Beat the egg whites until they hold firm peaks, then fold them into the base. Pour the batter into the prepared dish, set in a baking pan and pour the boiling water into the pan (but not into the dish with the mixture in it) until it comes halfway up the side. Bake until a golden, puffy crown has emerged and the pudding is sturdy, about 1 hour.

Per serving: 228 calories; 11 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 162 mg cholesterol; 12 g protein; 23 g carbohydrate; 9 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 263 mg sodium; 185 mg calcium

Nutrition analysis used feta cheese, whole milk, and large eggs.

Recipe from "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone," by Deborah Madison

CORN WITH LEMON, ORANGE AND THYME

Yield: 6 servings

5 ears of corn

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 small sweet onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme

Salt and pepper

1. Cut off the kernels from the ears of corn.

2. In a large skillet, heat the peanut oil. Add the onion, lemon and orange zest, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the corn. Cover and cook for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until corn is tender. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Per serving: 124 calories; 6 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 3 g protein; 18 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 27 mg sodium; 5 mg calcium

Recipe from "Claire’s Classic American Vegetarian Cooking," by Claire Criscuolo

MEXICAN STREET CORN (ELOTES)

Yield: 6 servings

6 ears of corn

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup mayonnaise

3 wedges lime

1/3 cup feta cheese or cotija

1 tablespoon powdered hot pepper, such as cayenne pepper or chile de arbol

1. If grilling corn in the husk: Soak corn in cold water for at least 15 minutes; use a weight such as a plate to keep them fully submerged. Place corn on grate over a medium-hot fire (or grill pan) and cook, turning frequently, until the husks are blackened. When cool enough to touch, remove the husks and silk, and place the corn back on the grate. Turn frequently until browned on all sides, basting occasionally with the melted butter.

2. If grilling corn out of the husk: Microwave corn for 2 minutes. Place on grate over a medium-hot fire (or grill pan) and cook, turning frequently, until browned on all sides, basting occasionally with the melted butter.

3. While the corn is cooking, mix together the mayonnaise and the juice of the limes. Slather this mixture over the cooked corn, and sprinkle with cheese and powdered hot pepper to taste.

Per serving: 280 calories; 23 g fat; 7 g saturated fat; 29 mg cholesterol; 5 g protein; 18 g carbohydrate; 6 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 218 mg sodium; 57 mg calcium

Nutrition analysis used unsalted butter and cotija cheese.

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