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Bumper Crop: Corn

The fourth in a series on ways in which we like to celebrate summer's bounty.

Chowing down on corn at the Loudoun County Fair this summer. (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

Corn reminds me of tomatoes, and not just because both are so much better fresh and local and in season, and not just because that season is now. Corn and tomatoes are also alike because many of their most ardent fans would say that the best way to eat them is just the way you see above: To do very little to them and just chomp away.

That's all well and good, except for one thing: Cooking with corn can be so much fun, and the results really speak for themselves. Because of its high sugar content, corn takes well to a wide variety of treatments. And this time of year, when it's overflowing in the farmers markets, farm stands and supermarkets, even the biggest corn lovers among us (and I include myself in that group) appreciate a little variety.

Steven Raichlen's Cambodian Grilled Corn. (Michael Temchine for The Washington Post)

I've always been a fan of grilling corn, and I don't mean that technique where you almost strip off the husks, clean off the silks, butter and salt the corn and then rewrap in the husks. That's fine, I guess, but I have long preferred putting the cobs directly on the grill, where the kernels caramelize and pick up a bit of smoke. That's how I usually grilled them -- until last summer, that is, when barbecue guru Steven Raichlen came to town and cooked up a fantastic menu on David Hagedorn's back deck. He painted the cobs with a combination of coconut milk and brown sugar for Cambodian Grilled Corn that has been my go-to whole-cob method ever since. Talk about a keeper: Every time I've made this for dinner parties, the recipe has been not just requested. It's been demanded.

More recently, when deputy Food editor Bonnie Benwick put a cooking-for-one question to me -- why don't solo cooks do more with fresh corn? -- I took another look at more creative ways to take advantage of this summer staple without the need for a dinner party. The results: a vibrant broth made from cobs, husks, silks and water that provides the basis of a poblano-spiked, chunky soup; and a simple omelet from Deborah Madison that pairs corn with eggs, basil and smoked mozzarella.

But there are so many more ways to get your fix. Herewith, a course-by-course list of possibilities:

Appetizers: From the fantastic Patricia Jinich, there's esquites, the great Mexican antojito of corn combined with mayo or cream, cheese, lime and chili pepper. On the more elegant side, you could use it to make blini and top them with creme fraiche (or caviar, or crab, or lobster); or you could pretend you're Michel Richard and make this playful vegetarian first course that looks like corn on the cob but is really carrot rolled in corn kernels. For something decidedly more countrified, you could fry them up like hush puppies and serve them either as a side dish to barbecue or as a starter, dipped in salsa.

Soup: Corn takes well to spice, as in the poblano soup above, and it pairs perfectly with potatoes for a chowder, so one soup approach is to do both in a sweet potato, corn and jalapeƱo bisque.

Stephanie Sedgwick's Grilled Corn, Peach and Poblano Salad. (Dayna Smith for The Washington Post)

Salads: Possibilities abound, because corn is so good cold, adding a nice bit of crunch to concoctions that pair it with peaches and poblanos; shrimp and orzo; and green beans.

Main courses: If stir-frying is your thing, corn combines with shrimp (again -- it's a winning marriage), zucchini and garlic for a healthful yet hearty summer supper to spoon over rice. An even simpler approach is to roast tomatoes and toss them with corn and pasta. And in another nod to corn's Mexican heritage, this recipe takes pumpkin puree and uses it with corn kernels to roll up inside unusual enchiladas.

Desserts: Corn isn't a slouch come dessert time. Of course you've had many a dessert made from cornmeal, but what about fresh corn? The San Francisco Chronicle had a recent piece about using corn in sweets that included several delectable-looking recipes. I can vouch for one of them (almost) personally: Foodie friends raved about the sweet corn cream pie with blueberries; scroll to the bottom of the Chronicle story to find it.

-- Joe Yonan

By Joe Yonan  |  August 28, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Bumper Crop , Recipes  | Tags: Bumper Crop, Joe Yonan, corn  
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Next: Groundwork: Tomatoes


I'd suggest a sweet corn relish, a delicious side to accompany grilled fish.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | August 28, 2009 9:10 PM | Report abuse

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