When Corin Tucker, one of the vocalists of the musical group Sleater Kinney, released her first solo album after the band’s separation in 2006, she described in song how losing the band in some respects meant losing her vision of music and composition as well – she “stood frozen for so long,” and the silence felt like 1,000 years. To me, the song resonates with all kinds of creativity blocks. Every once in a while, when I think about writing here, I feel frozen – not just cold feet, but cold hands and stiff fingers and icicles in my brain – a sensation of writer’s block that extends to my enthusiasm for cooking itself. Broken off from my usual schedule, and with all but one stack of final papers graded and recorded and filed* in hopes students will return in the fall to pick up their work, you would think I would be panting for the kitchen and the refreshing feeling of absolutely zero comma splices or missing thesis statements to worry about.
Instead I feel immobilized by a combination of exhaustion, puritan work ethic, and plain old laziness: if I’m not doing schoolwork, I should feel guilty, but I’m too tired to grade anything else. The kitchen, then, becomes a strange zone of misdirected productivity, and the couch and TV are just so friendly…
But I should enjoy the sliver of summer I’m allotted (I’m teaching a session of summer school this year), so if I have to force myself, the gateway drug is corn on the cob. Corn speaks summer in ways few other vegetables do. Tomatoes, of course, but they typically show up a little later in the season, at least the massive spurting heirlooms I’m most interested in. Zucchini is a late summer crop – an overload that reminds you the last few weeks are approaching. Corn is sweet and juicy and plays so well with others. Raw, it has a kind of grassy starchiness, and of course the classic boiled or steamed cob works so well with butter and plenty of salt. For the past few years, though, my favorite way to eat corn is from the grill. Rubbed with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted all huskless, it blisters and crusts, and the sweetness we’ve bred into those kernels deepens into a toasty richness that reminds me vaguely of popcorn.
For this dish, I was after a kind of warm salad, and thought the cold, peppery bite of radishes would work amazingly well with corn, especially doused with assertive lime vinaigrette. Both Food and Wine and Martha Stewart make a jalapeno dressing for this combination. I didn’t want spicy, but I did want to amp flavor, which I did with a bumper crop of added herbs: parsley, dill, chives, even some basil, to play with the flavors of the vegetables and contribute a different kind of sharpness to the dressing. For color and for fun, I added a handful of cherry tomatoes. You could also toss in some baby arugula or chunks of avocado.
We ate this with fish tacos, but it would be equally good with grilled meat of any variety, really, as well as a nice, lighter side salad option at a picnic or barbecue. A crisp white wine, especially with a touch of effervescence, would pair well.
Bring on the summer, then. I’m ready to thaw.
Grilled Corn and Radish Herb Salad
4 ears corn on the cob
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper, to taste
juice of 1-2 limes
1-2 teaspoons honey
½ cup mixed chopped soft-stemmed herbs, such as parsley, dill, basil, chives, or cilantro
6-8 large red radishes, tops and tails removed, thinly sliced
4 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
(1-2 ounces baby arugula, optional)
(1 avocado, cut in cubes, optional)
- Preheat a gas grill or grill pan over medium high heat. While you wait, shuck the corn, removing the husk and as much silk as possible, but leave on the stem, as this will make for easier kernel removal. Rub the ears with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place on the preheated grill and cook for about 8 minutes total, turning every two minutes or so, until the corn is fully cooked and has a healthy golden brown char.
- Set the corn aside until it is cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the lime juice with the honey and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add in the mixed chopped herbs and whisk well to incorporate.
- When the corn has cooled enough that it won’t toast your fingers, cut off the kernels by standing up the cob on your cutting board (you can use the stem to hold onto, if you’ve left it attached) and carefully cutting straight down the ear with a sharp knife, sawing the blade back and forth a bit to help loosen the kernels. When you get to the bottom of the ear, rotate the cob a half turn or so and cut again, repeating until you have removed all kernels. Some will be individual and some will come off in big chunks; that’s okay. The variety is nice.
- Add the corn, the sliced radishes, and the halved cherry tomatoes to the bowl with the dressing and herbs, and toss well to combine and distribute. The herbs will sometimes clump together; be sure to mix well so they – and the dressing – coat the other vegetables evenly. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper if desired.
- If you are using arugula and/or avocado, add these as well and toss gently to avoid breaking up these delicate ingredients too much.
- Serve warm or at room temperature with a grilled main.