Corn and Onion Crispy Rice

My Food Network obsession remains, as it was a few weeks ago when I offered you these fridge pickles sweetened with melon liqueur, Beat Bobby Flay (or, as I like to call it, Beat Up Bobby Flay). There are many reasons for this, though I think it ultimately comes down to our penchant for rooting for the underdog: Flay is accomplished and talented and usually wins (plus he presents as somewhat arrogant, which makes unseating him that much more satisfying), so we want the challenger chefs who strut into the arena to throw him off.

Anyway, when the challenger presents a dish that involves rice, BFlay’s typical move is to cook the rice just to, or even a little under, chill it, then pop it into hot cast iron for a minute or two right at the end to achieve crispy bits. Achieving a crispy bottom layer on rice, far from the universal disaster we might conceive of when addressing the burnt lacquer bottom of what was supposed to be a fluffy potful, is a sought-after result in a number of cultures. Tahdig, socarrat, xoon: when the phenomenon has its own name, you know it’s something worth emulating.

Hot off the crunchy corners of a baked pasta dish, I started eyeing the rice in my pantry for all its crispy potential. This is a loose remaking of my “‘stuck pot’ red rice” from a few years ago, but faster, with fewer ingredients, and easier to throw together: the rice gets parboiled – just ten minutes in the water so it’s still chalky in the center – while corn and onions sauté until toast-brown in a mixture of butter and olive oil. The rice, along with a few spices and some lime zest, gets stirred in with the corn and onions, we splash on a little tomato and lime juice, and then the whole mess gets pressed and cooked until a crusty bottom layer forms. Then, we scrape, flip, and cook again. By the time there’s sufficient crispiness, the rice is fully cooked and flavored with the acidic liquids we added.

This works best in cast iron, but if you don’t have a cast iron skillet, regular non-stick would probably be fine too. If you do have a cast iron skillet and never use it, for fear of improper “seasoning” or sticking or cleaning procedures, don’t look to the internet to make you feel better. There are pages and pages of complex instructions for prepping, cooking in, and maintaining your cast iron cookware, enough to whiz you right around the wheel from encouragement to intimidation. Instead, I have found what works best is my friend M’s casual, summer morning advice: “just cook eggs in it all the time with lots of butter. Or meat.” I laughed, but then I tried it, and my skillet is now no longer patchy and sticky with attempts to bake on an oil layer, but smooth and barely shiny, and when I went to flip this rice, not a single grain stuck to the pan surface, but lifted smoothly away with only a wooden spatula.

We had our crispy rice piled high next to bean and cheese tacos, but it would be equally good with grilled or roasted chicken, well-seasoned white fish, a tangled pile of charred vegetables or, as my sister declared when I described it, “I want to eat that with some salsa verde carnitas.” So do I, sister-friend. So do I.

Corn and Onion Crispy Rice
Serves 4-6 as a side
20-25 minutes
1 cup long grain white rice
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen and defrosted
1 cup frozen and defrosted pearl onions
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
zest of one lime
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
juice of half a lime, or to taste
¼ cup tomato juice or v8
1 tablespoon each fresh oregano, fresh chives, and fresh cilantro, finely chopped
additional lime wedges to serve

 

  • Bring a large, lidded pot of salted water to a full boil, then add the rice. Boil 10 minutes, then drain and set aside. The rice will be underdone; this is what we want.
  • While the water is warming and the rice is cooking, heat the butter and olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet, preferably cast iron. When the fat mixture shimmers, add the fully defrosted corn and onions, sprinkle on a little salt and pepper to taste, and toast until caramelized, stirring and tossing frequently, 10-15 minutes. As the vegetables start to brown, add the whole cumin seeds and stir well to distribute.
  • When the cumin starts to smell toasty and the vegetables are nicely browned, add in the rice, the paprika, and the lime zest and stir well to distribute the spices and veg evenly. Stir in the tomato juice and the lime juice, then press the rice down into a compact layer.
  • Continue to cook over medium high heat until crusty bits begin to form on the bottom, 4-5 minutes. In sections, turn the rice and expose the top layer to the skillet surface for another 3-4 minutes until this, too, gets a little crunchy.
  • When the rice has crisped to your liking, remove from heat, scatter the finely chopped herbs over the top, and serve with additional lime wedges for squeezing.

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Corn and Green Onion Waffles

I have, I promise you, a beautiful recipe for today that churns out beautiful waffles. But this weekend being what it was, I had to make a choice between editing photos and grading papers. I chose the responsible option. (At least, between those two choices. Other choices this weekend were less responsible. Related: holy god, do you guys remember how GOOD frappucinos with whipped cream are?!)

At any rate, I’ll get right to the meat – as it were – here, and promise weakly that images will follow. These are my standard beer batter waffles, except that half the flour is replaced by cornmeal, resulting in a crisp finish on the ridges and squares that even stands up to melted cheddar cheese (more on that in a tic). Before letting them sit to rise, you stir in a heap of corn kernels and green onions, and you end up with something that, depending on your currently location’s definition of “autumn,” could be a lovely alternative to cornbread to balance against your steaming bowl of chili, or a substantial side for a crisp salad like this one.

Because waffles cook one at a time, if you want to eat with your dining partners, instead of taking turns, it’s handy to have a system for keeping them warm. My favorite is to preheat the oven to 250F with a wire rack resting over a cookie sheet inside. As each waffle is done, I sprinkle on a few tablespoons of grated cheddar cheese and stow the laden circle in the oven. While the remaining waffles bake, the cheese melts into a perfect gooey layer, and the waffle, with its cornmeal armor, stays crisp and light underneath.

Corn and green onion waffles
Makes about 8 5-6-inch waffles
Approximately 2½ hours, including rising time
1½ cups (12 ounces) beer, the darker the better
1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons maple syrup
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) melted butter, cooled
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or defrosted
6 large green onions, pale and dark green parts only, thinly sliced
Optional: grated cheddar cheese

 

  • In a 2 cup glass measuring cup, or a small microwave safe bowl, heat the beer until just warm to the touch, about 40 seconds. Add yeast and the maple syrup and let them mingle for 5-10 minutes. The yeast will foam up considerably, thanks to the extra sugars and yeast already in the beer.
  • While the yeast proofs, whisk together the cooled melted butter, the salt, and the eggs in a large bowl. Be sure there’s room for the batter to expand.
  • Add the beer and yeast mixture and whisk to combine, then add the flour and cornmeal a little at a time, whisking to combine thoroughly. Add the corn kernels and green onions and whisk again until only vegetable lumps – not flour lumps – remain.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it on the counter for 1-2 hours.  The mixture will slowly develop lethargic bubbles and begin to smell quite bready.
  • Once it has had a chance to rise for an hour or two, either stow in the refrigerator overnight, or preheat your waffle iron!
  • Drop the batter in generous batches (mine can take about ⅔ cup at a time) onto a preheated, greased waffle iron. Close the lid and cook for the recommended amount of time, or until the waffle is crisp on the outside and deeply golden. Mine take about 6 minutes.
  • As you finish each waffle, you can either drop it directly onto some lucky person’s plate, or stow it on a wire rack in a preheated 250F oven. If desired, sprinkle each waffle with 1-2 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese before placing them in the oven, so the cheese can melt before serving.

 

 

Corn and crab chowder

I realize, now that summer has fully reared its head and you probably have a fan pointed at you while you read this, that soup is likely not high on your “most wanted” list, particularly not a thick soup – verging into chowder territory – intended to be served hot, possibly with fresh, warm bread on the side. But I owed you a soup for June (yeah, moving. What can I say?), and corn was fresh and sweet and on sale, and this batch of soup was really. really. good. Maybe file it away for a cool weekend on the coast, or a last harvest end-of-summer reminder. Or maybe just sweat.

I think it’s easier for me than for other sorts of writers to answer that perennial “where do you get your ideas?” question, since my answer is “from everything I eat!” and “from most of the television I watch!” This soup has its foundations in two other steaming bowls: the corn chowder in a bread bowl from the French Market at Disneyland, and a now-unfortunately-defunct grocery store treasure: the “Cravin’ Crab and Corn Chowder” from the little soup kiosk at Safeway, a delightfully sinus clearing spicy bowl my mom used to stock in multiples. This one combines an old Dorie Greenspan recipe from Bon Appetit magazine and one of Kenji Lopez-Alt’s from Serious Eats, then hangs around my brain long enough to pick up some ideas gleaned from various food television shows, resulting in a substantial soup rich with corn flavor, studded with sweet, starchy kernels and plenty of crab meat, topped with a fresh salad of more corn – raw this time – more crab, mixed with enough herbs and lime juice to give it kick, that can either sit atop the soup for occasional sampling, or be stirred in last minute. It could easily take wafers of jalapeño or fresno chili, in both the soup and the topping, and it is as completely at home in a hollowed out boule of sourdough as it is in a gleaming white soup bowl.

The attraction of Greenspan’s recipe was the extra step of cooking the corncobs – devoid of their plump, shiny kernels – in the milk that becomes the “broth” of the soup as a method of injecting extra corn flavor. Lopez-Alt does this too, but uses broth instead of milk and steeps rather than boils. When you strip kernels off of a cob, there is usually a good bit left behind – both the bases of the kernels and the corn “milk” that they release when cut into. Extracting that flavor along with some spices in the same way you might, for example, steep shrimp shells or even tea, ensures a more flavorful liquid base.

I wanted mine really packed with corn, and determined that despite earlier considerations about swirls of heavy cream, or miniscule cubes of potato, all this really needed besides the seasoned base was onion, celery, a bit of butter, and some water to thin it without masking the flavor of the corn. This meant that the soup itself might be on the thin side, so I followed my Lopez-Alt’s idea of pureeing a quarter of the finished product to add thickness. This, along with a little bit of flour cooked down with the vegetables, led to a perfect consistency: not so thin that it would seep into our bread bowls, but not so thick that it was more like spoonfuls of sauce than of soup.

The coup de grace of the cold corn and crab salad on top was a surprise to N., but we both really liked it. You can leave it just atop the bowl, so your spoon can dig out bits of it and control the quantities in each bite, or you can stir it in, so you end up with different textures of corn and a little additional herby kick that remains fresh, since it is only warmed by the residual heat of your bowlful, rather than being actually cooked for any length of time. You could use jumbo lump crab if you’re fancy, but I went with claw meat because I was being cheap economical, and we were both satisfied with the flavor.*

If you are doing bread bowls as serving vessels, may I make the following suggestion? Before serving, spray the hollowed insides of the bowls with a little olive oil spray and brown them under the broiler for a few minutes. I know, more heat in your already-too-hot-summer-kitchen, but it helps them hold up against the onslaught of liquid and contributes a lovely toasty flavor. If you really want to treat yourself, once you’ve sliced off the “lids” of each bowl (reserving the interiors for bread crumbs! Maybe for this!), slather them with soft butter and sprinkle on a little salt and some finely chopped mixed herbs, and settle them under the broiler for a minute or two as well. The butter sizzles and browns and the herbs char just a little bit, and you have a kind of giant soup crouton, far more interesting and certainly more indulgent than oyster crackers, with only a little bit of extra effort.

I know this puts me behind in our soup calendar, but next month I am going to try to catch up, and finally give you what the season requires: cold summer soups. Like last week’s salmon, these will cook early in the day, if at all, then slowly deepen and meld in flavor as they hang out in the fridge, waiting to cool you down at dinnertime. But next week, as we careen frantically into August, I vote we pause just a moment for dessert.

*another idea that would, perhaps, give you the most bang for your buck in terms of price and impression, would be to use 4 ounces of claw meat to stir into the soup, and 4 ounces of jumbo lump for the salad on top.

 

Corn and Crab Chowder
Serves 4-6
35-45 minutes
4 ears corn, husks and stems removed
3 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped white onion (about 1 small onion)
scant ¼ cup chopped celery (about 2 ribs)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup water
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
1 teaspoon lime zest
1-2 teaspoons lime juice
Optional: wafer-thin slices of jalapeño or fresno chili
8 ounces crab pieces, picked through for shell or cartilage fragments. I used claw meat, but you could use jumbo lump instead, or even a combination of the two as noted above: claw meat to stir into the soup, jumbo lump to serve on top
salt and pepper to taste
Bread bowls to serve, if desired

 

  • In a pot, bring the milk to a bare simmer. While you wait for it to heat, remove the corn kernels from the cobs by standing each ear on end, holding the remains of the stem tightly, and cutting straight down close to the cob with a sharp knife, rotating the cob between each cut. When the milk just reaches a simmer, add the stripped cobs, the coriander, the bay leaf, and the thyme sprigs. Turn off the heat and cover the pot, leaving it to steep while you prep and cook the vegetables, or for at least 20 minutes.
  • In a large skillet, heat the 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat, then add the onion and celery with a pinch of salt and sweat them until translucent and tender. Add all but ½ cup of the corn kernels (reserve that final ½ cup for the corn and crab salad on top), stir to combine, and cook another 5-7 minutes until the corn is just tender. Once the vegetables are all tender and sweet, sprinkle on the 2 tablespoons of flour and stir or whisk to distribute it evenly.
  • Strain the cobs and whole spices out of the milk they’ve been steeping in. Add the milk to the vegetable mixture a little at a time, stirring or whisking as you do so. (I found I wanted to cook the soup in the pot, not the skillet, so I poured the milk into the same 4-cup measuring cup I’d used to add it in the first place, scraped all the vegetables into the pot, then slowly poured the milk back in. Adding liquid to solids rather than vice versa minimizes the chances of flour clumps.) Stir in the 1 cup water as well and bring the whole thing to a simmer. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes with the lid off, stirring occasionally to prevent a heavy skin from forming on the top.
  • While the soup cooks, make the corn and crab salad. In a small bowl, combine the reserved ½ cup of kernels with the chopped chives, dill, lime zest, lime juice, and slices of chili, if using. Add about 4 ounces of the crab meat and gently stir to combine the salad. I didn’t think it needed salt or pepper, but you might, so season according to your palate.
  • Once the soup has simmered for 10 minutes, remove about ¼ of it and puree it until fairly smooth using a handheld or standard blender (be very, very careful when blending hot liquid, as it can “explode” out the top of your machine). Add the puree back into the soup along with the remaining 4 ounces of crab meat and stir to combine and distribute. Heat through, if needed. Taste for seasoning; we found we wanted a little salt and plenty of black pepper.
  • To serve, ladle the soup into your desired serving vessel – either a standard bowl or a hollowed out and lightly toasted bread bowl (see suggestions for toasting in the post above the recipe) – then mound up a few tablespoons of the crab and corn salad right on top. Garnish with a final sprig of dill or length of chive, if desired.

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Roasted Brussels and Mushrooms with Goat Cheese Polenta and Red Wine Sauce

food-blog-february-2017-0351It’s funny, isn’t it, how when we have more time, we usually wind up with less time? I went into this weekend knowing, between my schedule this semester and Monday’s holiday, that I had four days before I had to go back to campus. Four days is a lot following the first week of the term, when there aren’t any papers to grade yet and the readings are short. I planned to clean the house, I planned to bake, I planned to get ahead editing photos for this little space, and I definitely wanted to work on a project working with web sources that I’ll introduce to my students a few months from now. Guess how many of those things I’ve done, and how many linger until today, the very last day it’s possible to accomplish any of them?

food-blog-february-2017-0326Sticking to a plan is hard, especially when you have time. That’s the challenge. It’s a challenge whether you’re thinking about cleaning out the garage, registering voters, writing a paper, or making a multi-component dinner. Here I wanted a play of textures and flavors that all come together perfectly in the finished dish – the soft mellow creaminess of polenta topped with nutty roasted vegetables, just frizzled on the edges, topped with a tangy sauce of red wine, well-reduced, sharp with onion and deep with herbs.

food-blog-february-2017-0338I had this all planned out so I could start early and have plenty of time to play with photography, make the polenta extra creamy, and do some multi-tasking while the cooking took place, so of course I ended up rushing, and dinner was a good half hour later than I’d intended. But you, I’m sure, will stick to your plan, and have it all ready to ladle together within an hour.

food-blog-february-2017-0343Though I’ll admit I’m not thrilled with the photos in this entry (I was rushing and didn’t take enough time to get the lighting I wanted), the dish itself was delicious, and turned out almost exactly how I’d hoped. In future iterations I would strain the onions out of the wine sauce before serving, but in the moment I found I just couldn’t be bothered: bellies needed to be fed, after all.

food-blog-february-2017-0342A bowl of polenta is such a comforting prospect when it is damp out, especially when it is enriched with milk and finished with creamy chevre, as I’ve done here. The meaty roasted mushrooms and toasty sprouts, some soft, some with crisp, almost burnt outer leaves, made perfect sense, and stood up to the pleasant acidity of the sauce. Here’s to making sense, then, and planning, and standing up when needed. Here’s to doing what we can with our time.

Roasted Brussels and Mushrooms with Goat Cheese Polenta and Red Wine Sauce
Serves 4
45-55 minutes
For polenta:
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup milk
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta
2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces goat cheese
For wine sauce:
4 tablespoons butter, divided
½ cup finely diced red onion
2 cups dry red wine
3 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
2 2-3 inch sprigs fresh thyme
2 teaspoons honey
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste
For vegetables:
2 lbs untrimmed, or 1- 1½ lbs trimmed brussels sprouts
1 lb crimini mushrooms
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper

 

  • Though I’ve divided up the ingredient lists by parts of the dish, in the procedure that follows I go back and forth, showing you where to switch between components, so it can all be ready at the same time.
  • Preheat oven to 425F and line two baking sheets with aluminum foil. Start 4 cups broth and 1 cup milk + ¾ tsp salt in a medium saucepan. While you wait for the milk and broth to boil, prep the vegetables. First, finely dice the onion. Crush the garlic, but don’t worry about the papery skins. Stem, wipe, and quarter the mushrooms. Trim the brussels (stem off, outer manky leaves off), halve (or quarter if quite large).
  • When broth/milk barely reaches a boil, add the polenta slowly, whisking the whole time. Continue whisking slowly, intermittently, until the mixture noticeably thickens. Then pop the lid on, lower the heat, and let it simmer, whisking every 3-4 minutes or so (be careful: it will bubble and spit!), until it is very thick and soft; 30-40 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, as soon as you’ve added the polenta to the pot, start the wine sauce. Put two tablespoons of the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. When it has melted, add the onions and turn down to medium low. Add a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender but not browned, about 10 minutes. While you’re waiting, finish up your vegetable prep if needed.
  • With the onions tender and slightly translucent, add the red wine, the crushed garlic cloves, the bay leaf, the thyme sprigs, and the 2 teaspoons honey. Stir briefly to distribute, then turn the heat up to medium high and let it boil until it is reduced to about ⅔ cup.
  • While the wine works, drop all of the prepped mushrooms into a large bowl and toss them with ¼ cup olive oil, ½ teaspoon pepper, and ¾ teaspoon salt. When well combined, scrape them onto one of the prepared baking sheets. Now do the same with the brussels sprouts, dumping them into the bowl and tossing with the remaining ¼ cup olive oil, ½ teaspoon pepper, and ¾ teaspoon salt before spreading them out on the other baking sheet. Load both sheet pans into a middle rack of the preheated oven and roast for 20 minutes. Toss with a spatula, assess, and if you want them browner (I frequently do), pop them back into the oven for another 10 minutes.
  • When the wine mixture has reduced, add 2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth, return to a boil, and reduce to about 1 cup. Remove the thyme, the bay leaf, and the garlic cloves, strain out the onions if you want a smooth sauce, then stir or whisk in the final 2 tablespoons butter just before serving.
  • When the polenta is thick, tender, and pulling away a bit from the sides of the pot when you stir it, whisk in a final 2 tablespoons butter, crumble in the goat cheese, and taste and adjust for seasoning. Hold it over very low heat if you need time for the other components to finish cooking.
  • To serve, ladle a thick puddle of polenta in the middle of a plate or shallow bowl. Top with a mixture of brussels sprouts and mushrooms, and then spoon some of the sauce directly over the vegetables, and some around the outer edge of the polenta. Serve hot.

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Grilled Zucchini and Corn Salad

2016 Food Blog June-0899As you can no doubt discern from the dead giveaway of two grilled corn dishes in three weeks, I’m itching for summer. Southern California has dipped into its customary “June gloom,” a period of several weeks that I adore, because the marine layer keeps my morning cool enough for a comfortable dog walk, for a bit of gardening, sometimes even for a (gasp) sweater while I sip a cup of tea. And this would, under normal circumstances, be a satisfying start to summer.

2016 Food Blog June-0877But for the first time in a few years, I’m teaching a summer course. It only lasts six weeks, and so far they are engaged and have made me think new things about some of the stories we’ve read – always a wonderful thing for an English professor. Yet still, upon arriving home this past Thursday afternoon, the end of my initial week with the class, I realized I had to go back on Monday, when all I wanted was grilled food and maybe a beer on the back porch, and certainly not to craft a lecture on Frankenstein.

2016 Food Blog June-0884Since only two of these desires can be realized (Frankenstein must be attended to, whether I want to or not), I decided the grilled food should be as summery as possible. Some weeks ago I attempted a warm vegetable salad like this: corn and zucchini sautéed at high temperature and then doused with a sharp shower of lime, but the vegetables were disappointingly wilted. What they needed for the dish I’d envisioned was the grill.

2016 Food Blog June-08892016 Food Blog June-0890If you haven’t already investigated the trio that is corn, zucchini, and lime, I suggest you do so immediately. Zucchini is such a mild, grassy, vegetal taste, so a hit of acid wakes it up and makes it interesting again. It plays well with corn, which carries its own grassiness along with the starchy sweetness that we so prize. Both benefit tremendously from the savory char of a grill – that taste of fire we seem to cling to particularly as the weather warms outside. Michael Pollan has speculated that there’s something about the process of cooking – of submitting food to heat and to flame – that truly awakens our humanness. Grilling – that barely tamed version of fire as a cooking medium – is perfect for summer dishes, then, because it echoes the looser, easier, perhaps even more primal feel of the season. Besides, aside from, I don’t know, cheesecake or ice cream, I can think of few foods that don’t become better when cooked on an oiled grate over a bright flame.

2016 Food Blog June-0887But in case you aren’t in love already with the summery ease and boost of flavor the grill imparts, dousing the still-warm veg in a dressing of lime, honey, and cilantro makes a sprightly side dish that needs only the crunch of toasted pumpkin seeds and the squeaky saltiness of crumbled cotija to complete it.

2016 Food Blog June-0892Because he’s nursing the same summer bug I am, N. wanted steak, so in addition to the vegetables he grilled a piece of sirloin flap.* As I played with presentation ideas, I realized the now-flexible planks of zucchini with their glorious char marks could be artfully arranged on a long platter, and the steak could be sliced thinly across the grain and draped over top, and I could have something that looked, well, like it came from somewhere a bit fancier than my backyard.

2016 Food Blog June-0903By the same token, though, the salad could simply be piled high on a plate, dusted with cheese and pumpkin seeds, and served alongside anything grilled, or perhaps spiced potatoes, or even wedged inside a tortilla as a quite respectable base for a vegetable taco.

2016 Food Blog June-0910* You should make this, too. I didn’t document it with any kind of precision, but I marinated the steak overnight in some dark beer, crushed garlic and coriander, and a bit of red pepper flake, then N grilled it for something like 3 minutes per side over the cooler side of the grill (ours has some hot spots), and rested it wrapped in aluminum foil for about five minutes to produce an incredibly tender, flavorful main course.

 

 

Grilled Zucchini and Corn Salad with Lime Vinaigrette
Serves 2-4 as a side dish
3 ears corn on the cob, husk and silk removed
4 medium zucchini, stem and flower ends removed
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon pepper, divided
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup lime juice from 1-2 limes
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup crumbled cotija cheese

 

  • Preheat a gas grill or a grill pan to high heat. While it warms, rub the corn with 2 tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Grill the ears of corn over direct high heat for about 8 minutes, turning every minute or two, until the kernels are cooked and all sides are lightly charred. Remove and set aside until cool enough to handle.
  • While the corn cooks, prepare the zucchini: slice from stem to flower end into ¼ inch planks. In a large bowl, toss with remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Lay out on grates or pan, being careful to keep them in a single layer, reserving any leftover oil in the bowl. Grill until cooked through and nicely marked, 2-3 minutes per side. Remove and set aside.
  • While vegetables are grilling, toast pumpkin seeds and mix dressing. Scatter pumpkin seeds in a small baking tray and cook in a 300F oven for 10-15 minutes. Seeds will take about 10 minutes if the oven is preheated, and more like 15 minutes if you forgot that whole preheating part. When they are browned and starting to crackle, take them out and set them aside.
  • To make the dressing, combine the lime juice, honey, and chopped cilantro in the bowl with the reserved olive oil from tossing the zucchini. Whisk well to combine.
  • When the corn is cool enough to handle, 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 kernels and the grilled zucchini planks to the bowl with the dressing and toss to combine. To serve, either keep the vegetables in the bowl and offer the pumpkin seeds and cotija cheese for individual diners to add to their own portions, or arrange the vegetables on a square or long rectangular platter and sprinkle the seeds and cheese over the top.

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Grilled Corn and Radish Herb Salad

2016 Food Blog May-0711When 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.

2016 Food Blog May-06782016 Food Blog May-0679Instead 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…

2016 Food Blog May-06892016 Food Blog May-0696But 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.

2016 Food Blog May-07012016 Food Blog May-0702For 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.

2016 Food Blog May-0704We 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.

2016 Food Blog May-0721* well, in a carefully shoved stack on the back corner of my desk

2016 Food Blog May-0720

Grilled Corn and Radish Herb Salad
Serves 4-6
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.