Issue #15 has arrived. Thank you to all who have signed up and/or subscribed. And thank you for sharing this newsletter with anyone you know who likes to cook and eat. Wishing everyone a great Labor Day weekend and, to those who celebrate Rosh Hashana, a Happy New Year!
Despite the obviously earlier sunset and the coincidence of Labor Day and Rosh Hashana this year, I’m in denial about the end of summer. Nate, too. It’s been a great summer on Cayuga Lake—just ask Milo—not only because of the lake, but also because of the seasonal bounty of the Finger Lakes region we’ve been able to enjoy.
A good way to prolong the feeling of summer is to continue to eat like it’s not going to end. And lately we’ve been eating so much corn that I’m worried my liver might become foie gras. When it comes to corn on the cob, I’m a plain guy. Yes, that’s right, I don’t use butter or salt. I like my corny sweetness pure and unadulterated. But off the cob, I go town.
With regular access to a grill for the first time in decades this summer, I’ve been grilling a lot of cobs. I like the street-corn flavor of charred kernels, especially in a salad. My friend Bonnie just divulged her favorite, new, easy way to grill corn in its husk on Instagram, which I have yet to try. (I’ll report back next week.) But when I’m making a salad from kernels off the cob, I like the taste of a little char in each bite.
Here’s a quick, summery salad you can make with grilled corn. If you don’t have a grill, you can char the cobs under the broiler or directly over a gas flame. If you don’t have either of those, you can remove the kernels from the cob and char them in a hot, dry cast-iron skillet. And if all of that is just too much of a bother, you can use the kernels raw, which is something my mind was first opened to by Emily Nunn in her Department of Salad newsletter. Turns out raw, sweet corn is pretty great, too.
RECIPE: End-of-Summer Grilled Corn Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Feta, and Herbs
4 cobs sweet corn on the cob, shucked, silk removed
1 to 2 small Japanese, Persian, or Kirby cucumbers, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes of assorted colors, quartered
1 small red, green, yellow, or orange pepper, sweet or hot, seeded and finely chopped
3 ounces feta, crumbled
¼ medium red onion, finely chopped, or 3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh cilantro, basil, mint, or parsley leaves, or a combination
Juice of 1 or 2 limes, to taste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat a gas or charcoal grill to high. (You can also do this under a broiler or directly over the heat of a gas flame.) Place the corn cobs on the grill over the flame. Close the lid of the grill and cook the cobs, rotating regularly, until some but not all of the kernels are blackened and the rest have cooked through (you can tell by the darkened yellow color). Depending on the heat of your grill and how close the flame is, this may take longer than you think, as much as 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, pepper, feta, onion or scallion and fresh herbs. When the corn is cool enough to handle, use a small, sharp knife to slice the kernels off the cob into the bowl. I start at the narrow end and move steadily to the other end, turning the cob to repeat. Keep your fingers out of the way of the blade. When all of the corn is in the bowl (including the kernels that flew all over the counter), add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss and adjust the seasoning, to taste.
To this salad you can add just about any vegetable, such as green beans, avocado, tomatillos, roasted red peppers, grilled zucchini. Roasted cauliflower or broccoli are nice, too. You can add some cooked grains. I recently threw in some ground cherries (aka cape gooseberries or physalis), which was also yummy.
Though many think of American and Mexican culinary traditions when they think of summer corn, I like to look to China whenever I’m thinking about what to make. And, no surprise, there you can also find corn. Here is my version of a dish that I’ve had a couple of times in Chinese restaurants. I think the subtle, sweet combination of flavors of corn and pine nuts are particularly well suited to each other. Use however many pine nuts you feel you can part with given how dear they can be. (Trader Joe’s is my source for affordable Chinese pine nuts, which are perfect for this dish.) Don’t overdue it with the other aromatics or you’ll lose the balance that makes this dish special.
RECIPE: Stir-Fried Corn with Pine Nuts
4 cobs sweet corn on the cob, shucked, silk removed
2 teaspoons corn starch
1 tablespoon peanut or other vegetable oil
½ cup or more pine nuts
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon Shiao Xing or other Chinese cooking wine (a light sherry or even gin will work here, too)
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
¼ cup chicken or vegetable stock, or water
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
3 scallions, thinly sliced, optional
Using a small, sharp knife, remove the corn kernels from the cobs. I like to work over a large plate or wide bowl, starting at the narrow end of the cob and moving slowly and steadily toward the opposite end. Keeping your fingers out of the way of the blade, slicing a line of kernels off the cob, rotate, and repeat. Kernels will fly around the counter, but don’t worry. Gather them, too. In a small bowl combine the corn starch with a tablespoon or two of water to make a slurry and set aside.
In a wok or large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pine nuts and toss continuously until they begin to toast, about 3 or 4 minutes. You should be able to smell their resinous aroma. Add the ginger and garlic and continue sautéing for a minute or so. Add the corn kernels and sauté, stirring, until they heat up, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the wine and soy sauce, and toss. Add the chicken stock and bring to a rapid boil. Season with salt and white pepper. Mix the slurry again and dribble a teaspoon or two into the pan, tossing the corn to coat with the liquid as it thickens. Add another dribble of the slurry, and toss again. Adjust the seasoning, garnish with scallions, if using, and serve.
Why stop at these? At this time of year you can put fresh corn into just about anything and I would encourage you to do so. It’s still summer if you don’t stop. I promise. Here’s a photo of a red velvet hash (with beets) to which I added corn (see how I poach eggs in Issue #12). Keep going. Enjoy.