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Friday, April 12

Gapers Block

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Sadly, summer is officially over. Sure the equinox doesn't happen for a few more weeks, but the beaches are closed (unless you're a dog), the schools have reopened, and the harvests are happening. And one of my favorite vegetables is being cut off the stalk and shucked right and left. Corn.

Specifically, sweet corn. Sure there are about six different types of corn, but we only commonly eat three. Sweet corn, popcorn and blue corn are the three varieties you're likely to find in the US, but sweet corn is the only variety you're likely to find in the fresh produce section of your store. When sweet corn is slightly under-ripe, it contains about 10 percent sucrose. Field corn (what is commonly fed to farm animals) is only 4 percent.

Archaeologists can trace the consumption of corn among different groups and cultures and in the Western Hemisphere by looking at their teeth. There is a marked increase in cavities among people who ate extensive amounts of corn — so be sure to floss if you go whole hog during sweet corn season. It will also help remove any leftover bits of silk. As a friend discovered the hard way, if you get a bit of corn (or anything) stuck between your teeth, tie a knot in a piece of floss and use it to remove the foreign object.

If you're going to eat corn, the best way is to just eat it straight off the cob with a little butter and salt — or maybe some mayonnaise, a squeeze of lime, and a sprinkling of chili powder, or even sour cream, or cheese. But after eating fresh corn off the cob for a few nights in a row, I start to crave other ways to eat corn.

To make these recipes, you'll need to remove the corn from the cob. Place about three inches of water in a pan that is large enough to fit the ears of corn over high heat. Cover it and let it come to a boil while you shuck the corn and remove the silk. Once it boils add the corn to the pot and cover. They don't need to be fully covered by water. They'll be finished cooking in about 5-6 minutes. Remove the corn and run them under cool water until you're able to handle the cobs safely. Place them in a bowl or in a pie plate and, using a sharp knife, cut close to the cob in long strokes with a slight sawing motion. Once you have all the corn off the cob, run the back of the knife against the cob to remove more of the milk, which is where the sweetness lies.

I never find leftover ears of corn appetizing. But maybe that's just me. If you have leftover corn that is already cooked, these recipes will be a great way to use it up: Corn and Tomato Salad, Indian Corn with Mustard Seeds, Corn and Zucchini Casserole, and Mexican Corn Pudding.

Corn and Tomato Salad
4 ears of sweet corn
2 medium tomatoes
3 green onions
1 large handful of cilantro (about 1/4 cup chopped)
1 lime
salt and pepper to taste

Set the ears of corn on to boil as described above. While they cook, chop the tomato, cilantro and green onion. Cut the corn from the cob and add it to the chopped vegetables. Squeeze the lime juice over the ingredients and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss and taste. Let this sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving to allow the flavors to blend. This can be refrigerated for about 4-5 days in a covered bowl.
Makes 4-6 servings as a side dish.

Indian Corn with Mustard Seeds
5 ears of fresh corn
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of mustard seeds
1 small jalapeño or serrano chile
1 clove of garlic, cut in half
1/4 teaspoon of ground turmeric
1 teaspoon of ground cardamom
large pinch of fresh cilantro leaves
(You'll want a splatter screen for this dish.)

Boil the corn as instructed above. While it cooks, place a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil. Just before the oil starts to smoke, add the mustard seeds and cover with a splatter screen. (Without a splatter screen the seeds will end up jumping out of the skillet.) Let them cook for 2-3 minutes until the skins stop popping. Remove the seeds from the jalapeño and slice it very thinly. Add it and the garlic to the oil. Stir it constantly for a few minutes and remove the garlic from the oil. Lower the heat to medium and add the turmeric, cardamom and corn cut from the cob. Sprinkle the cilantro over top and serve immediately.
Makes 4-6 servings.

Corn and Zucchini Skillet Casserole
3 ears of corn
1 poblano pepper
1 small onion
2 zucchini
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 cup of shredded Monterey cheese
2 large eggs
3 corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 425° F. Boil the corn and remove it from the cob. Turn a gas burner to medium-high and either place the pepper over the flame on a grate or hold it with tongs. Turn it frequently until the outside is burnt. Place it into a paper or plastic bag and close it tightly. Let it sit for 2 minutes and then remove it from the bag and place it on a paper or tea towel. Rub the pepper vigorously to remove the skin. Cut off the stem and remove the seeds. Chop it finely. Chop the onion and the zucchini into a fine dice. Place a skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the corn, pepper, onion and zucchini and stir frequently for about 6-7 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir most of the cheese and the eggs into the skillet. Once combined, pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish. Cut the corn tortillas in half and then cut each half into thin strips. Sprinkle the tortillas over the top of the casserole. Sprinkle the cheese over the top. Cook the casserole for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the tortillas have browned. Let it rest for a few minutes before scooping to serve.
Serves 4.

Mexican Corn Pudding
1 tablespoon of butter (or other oil for greasing the pan)
3 tablespoons of finely ground bread crumbs
3 ears of sweet corn that are several days old
1/2 cup of milk
5 tablespoons of unsalted butter
3 eggs
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of sea or kosher salt

Preheat your oven to 300° F and place a rack on the bottom. Grease a 1-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the bottom of the dish. Cook the corn and remove it from the cobs as listed above. Place it into a food processor or blender with the milk. Puree until it is runny but textured. In a separate bowl, beat the butter until it is creamy, then gradually stir in the corn a half cup at a time and beat the mixture before adding more corn. Then add the eggs one at a time, beating between additions. Stir in the sugar and salt. Pour the mixture into the dish and bake until the pudding is firmly set and beginning to brown. This should take 35-40 minutes.
Makes 6-8 servings.

The sweetness of corn goes well with many different ingredients and many different cuisines. With just a little experimentation, those ears of corn can become the main ingredient for a variety of dishes. And since it does take a while to cut the corn off the cob, if you want to cheat and buy a bag of frozen corn, you can. It won't be quite as sweet as what you'll find fresh right now, but it will be far better than anything you can purchase in a can. With just a little bit of work, you'll be able to keep the flavors of summer hanging around for just a few more weeks.

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About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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