Four Cooking Together celebrates a birthday this week. Two years of adventures in and around the kitchen with local food. We took a nostalgic peek at what we were cooking up back then—lemonade, roasted tomatoes, and, no surprise in the midst of summer, corn. Crunchy and sweet, boiled up Indiana-style and slathered with butter and salt. Something to unapologetically eat with our hands. What embodies the no-worries philosophy of summer better?
As much as I lean toward the plain and simple ears of my Midwestern youth, here in California we embrace a more worldly approach that includes corn of a different sort as well, grilled by my India-born, Iowa-raised husband, and sprinkled with zippy lime juice and fiery spices. Plain, this corn is not. And when we’ve tired of gnawing kernels on the cob—we cut them off. And fold them into an Italian-inspired salad with torn basil leaves, soft mozzarella and fresh-from-our-garden cherry tomatoes (photo at right). On another day we’re cruising back to our favorite subcontinent, stirring up a sauté with tangy tamarind paste and ground cumin (photo below). I’m also salivating over a fresh take on fried pakoras from David Tanis in the New York Times, plus an unusual Chinese stir-fry with cashews and sunchokes. Perhaps I’ll wander the easy route and toss kernels into a loose pasta mix with roasted bell peppers, garlic, basil and a small pinch of red pepper flakes (you might fry some bacon in the pan first, if so inclined), or get fancy and churn some into a surprising homemade ice cream with raspberries, à la Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.
Clearly there’s no shortage of possibilities, worldly or otherwise. Crunchy, sweet and mildly-flavored, corn is the ingenue poised for experimentation. Its crisp kernels eagerly dance to all manner of music—hot or cold, spicy or mild. Slow waltz or frenzied breakdance. Try it boiled and coated in butter, or grilled and doused with lime and spice. There’s no need to decide which is better. Just relish it all. And without hesitation—if there’s one rule with corn, it’s that it should be eaten within a day of harvest. Past that point you’ll miss out on true sweetness. The sugars begin breaking down the moment each ear is plucked from the stalk.
To grill corn, husk it, then place ears directly on the grilling rack of an outdoor grill or inside, on the grate over a gas burner on the stove (on medium-low). Carefully turn ears when kernels begin to brown, and continue turning periodically until ears darken in color to a deep, saturated hue and are marked on all sides with black spots. Many cultures enjoy grilled corn—in Mexico ears are finished with lime juice, chili powder and Cotija cheese. Indians rub lime wedges across freshly grilled ears and sprinkle with nose-tickling chaat masala (a pungent blend of spices that includes ground cumin, dried mango powder, asafetida, black pepper, dried ginger, black salt and more).
Recipes for this Week:
And if you still have zucchini left from last week, consider mixing up these double chocolate muffins.