When I was a kid, you knew it was summer when one of my parents dug into the back of the utensil drawer to pull out the corncob-shaped corn holders.
Those bright yellow plastic handles and long metal prongs were the sharpest tools my sister and I were allowed to handle. One could argue that we didn’t really need corn-on-the-cob holders, but this was the ritual, so every time we picked up corn from the grocery store or the Amish-run farmers market, we pulled out those holders.
My grandmother, who lived about a mile away from us in my small Missouri town, also had a set of dachshund corn-on-the-cob holders, but she saved those for special occasions.
Gaga was often present for these summer dinners, when the sound of cicadas was as thick as the humidity, and I can remember sitting on the back porch shucking corn with her or my sister while my parents worked on the rest of the meal in the kitchen. My dad might come outside with a baking dish full of chicken marinating in Italian dressing or pork chops sprinkled with lemon pepper for the grill.
Although grilled corn became part of the rotation later on, I mostly remember us taking the freshly husked corn inside, where my mom would snap them in half with her hands and carefully drop them into the water. No one paid any attention to how long they boiled; she usually drained them just before dinner, which meant the corn was still steaming hot when it was time to eat.
That’s when those corn holders came in handy. Each person was responsible for jabbing their own corn with their own holder — a precarious task for small hands — and then buttering and salting to taste. Sometimes, we’d have an open stick of butter on the table so you could sit the corn on top and twist the cob with the round handles, coating every kernel.
My dad had his own technique of using a fork to twist off the kernels, but the rest of us held a yellow plastic holder in each hand and, once the corn was just cool enough to eat, gnawed right off the cob, butter dripping off our chins.
It was one of the messiest foods we regularly ate, one we didn’t even bother with when the weather turned cold.
We still eat corn like this in my house now, but I like finding new ways to use this starchy sweet vegetable that’s not really a vegetable. These recipes offer four places to start, from an old-school breakfast treat to a new twist on a Chinese favorite.
You can preserve corn into the fall and winter by blanching the corn on the cob for 2 or 3 minutes, cooling and then cutting the kernels off before freezing in baggies. I’ve heard that some folks just blanch the corn and leave the kernels on the cob before freezing, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
Corn Cakes à la Irma Rombauer
Of the thousands of cookbooks I have at home, my copy of an early edition of "Joy of Cooking," signed by Mrs. Rombauer, is one of my most beloved. Every cuisine should have a kitchen bible like this — an encyclopedic guide to making all of its most important dishes. No photos, no flash, no tricks, just page after page of no-nonsense recipes. One summer many years ago I pulled over at one of those great roadside stands and bought some amazing silver corn. When I got home, I opened "Joy of Cooking," found this recipe, and 15 minutes later, my family was devouring these incredible little cakes. They make an equally great snack or side dish, or a full meal if you serve them with eggs, which I recommend — try it for breakfast. You could serve these cakes with a dozen different condiments, from fresh mango salsa to guacamole to a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce. I’m a purist, so I eat them as is, but feel free to experiment.
— José Andrés
1 cup fine stone-ground cornmeal
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup whole milk
1 large egg
2 medium ears corn, shucked, silks removed and kernels cut off (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Butter or oil for greasing the pan
Cooked corn nuts or corn kernels
Combine the cornmeal, butter and salt in a medium heatproof bowl. Add the boiling water and stir until smooth. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
Whisk the milk with the egg in another bowl, until frothy. Fold into the cornmeal mixture, along with the corn kernels. Mix the flour with the baking powder in a small bowl, then fold into the batter just until incorporated.
Lightly grease a griddle or a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. For each corn cake, pour 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle to form a thin cake about 3 inches in diameter; do not crowd the pan. Cook the cakes until bubbles appear on the surface, 2 to 3 minutes, then flip the cakes and cook until golden on the bottom, 30 seconds to 1 minute longer. Remove from the griddle and continue to make more cakes.
To serve, garnish each corn cake with a drizzle of honey (if using), a few corn nuts or fresh kernels and a pinch of Maldon salt. Makes about 16 corn cakes.
— From "Vegetables Unleashed: A Cookbook" by José Andrés and Matt Goulding (Ecco, $39.99)
This colorful corn chowder is enlivened ever so lightly with a trio of Mexican flavors — cumin, chili and epazote. It’s one of the first dishes "The Chew" host Carla Hall made in her first restaurant job at the Henley Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., she writes in her cookbook, "Carla’s Comfort Foods."
The chowder adjusted her perception of what a corn soup should look like. Up to that point, she hadn’t worked with Mexican flavors, and so she thought that corn chowder should be yellow in color. But because the recipe includes tomatoes and chilies, it’s tinted red. The soup comes together beautifully. I had some leftover barbecued chicken, so I chopped it up and threw it in the chowder after it was blended. For a light summer meal, serve it with a leafy green salad and a loaf of really great bread.
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 large yellow onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried epazote or oregano
1 teaspoon ground Mexican chili, such as ancho
1 small yuca or Idaho potato, peeled and finely diced
4 cups unsalted vegetable broth
4 cups diced tomatoes
5 ears corn, husks and silks removed, kernels cut off and reserved, cobs reserved
Mexican crema or sour cream, for serving (optional if you want to keep it vegan)
Lime wedges, for serving
Avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced, for serving
Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, for serving
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the cumin, epazote or oregano and chili and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add the yuca or potato, broth, tomatoes with their juices, and corn cobs. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the yuca is tender, about 30 minutes. Add the corn kernels and cook just until heated through and still crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Discard the corn cobs.
Using an immersion blender or stand blender (working in batches if necessary), puree about half of the soup until thickened. It should be creamy but still have bits of vegetables throughout. Stir the puree into the remaining soup.
Serve with the crema, lime, avocado and cilantro. Serves 6.
— From "Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes From Around the World" by Carla Hall (Atria Books; April 2014)
Sweetcorn Mapo Tofu
Spicy mapo tofu was invented by Mrs. Chen, a Sichuan street hawker who put the dish and Chengdu on the culinary map. The classic version includes some ground pork and Sichuan preserved vegetables, for that sour, briny taste, which I like, but I have substituted tofu for the pork and added some corn kernels for a sweet, modern vegan take. Serve with jasmine rice.
— Ching-He Huang
1 to 2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 garlic cloves crushed, peeled and minced
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and grated
1 red chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon fermented salted black beans, rinsed, crushed
1 tablespoon chili bean paste
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 3 medium ears)
9 ounces firm fresh tofu, drained, sliced into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon Shaohsing rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon tamari or low-sodium light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinkiang black rice vinegar or balsamic vinegar
7 ounces hot vegetable stock
1 tablespoon Sichuan preserved vegetables in chili oil, finely chopped
1 tablespoon cornstarch, blended with 2 tablespoons cold water
For the garnish
2 tablespoons chili oil
2 pinches of toasted ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 scallion, finely sliced
Small handful of chopped cilantro stems, and hand-picked leaves
Heat a wok over high heat, and add the peanut oil. Give it a swirl, and add the garlic, ginger and chile. Cook, stirring, for a few seconds, then add the fermented salted black beans and the chili bean paste, followed by the corn kernels and tofu, and toss, cooking for 10 seconds.
Add the rice wine or dry sherry, tamari or soy sauce, vinegar and stock, and bring to a boil. Stir in the Sichuan preserved vegetables and blended cornstarch.
Serve immediately with jasmine rice, garnished with the chili oil, ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns, scallion, and cilantro stems and leaves.
— From "Wok On: Deliciously Balanced Meals in 30 Minutes or Less" by Ching-He Huang (Kyle Books, $24.99)
Corn, Edamame and Quinoa Salad with Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette
"Tastes like summer," was one comment when my dinner date, now my husband (it’s a salad recipe dressed to impress!), tried it for the first time. Not only that, but this healthy salad adapted from the twohealthykitchens.com blog works well for a make-ahead salad. I like to mix all of the salad ingredients besides the dressing, which I add just before serving to keep the dish from getting soggy. I make this often. In fact, I made it just last week while my husband was grilling up some chicken. It was a perfect pairing.
— Nancy Ngo
For the quinoa:
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup quinoa
For the salad:
1 can (16 ounces) black beans
1 1/2 cups frozen, shelled edamame
3 cups corn kernels
1 cup red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
6 green onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
To prepare quinoa: Rinse the quinoa in a sieve, using fingers to swish it until water runs clear. In small saucepan, combine water and quinoa. Cook according to package directions.
To assemble salad: Meanwhile, in colander, rinse and drain the black beans and edamame. (Note: This washes away liquid from beans and thaws edamame.) Transfer mixture to large mixing bowl. Add corn, red pepper, cilantro, green onions, garlic and prepared quinoa.
To make vinaigrette: In medium bowl, combine lemon juice, soy sauce, mustard and olive oil. Whisk well to combine.
To serve: Pour vinaigrette over salad. Chill for 1 or 2 hours to allow flavors to combine. Toss before serving. Serves 8.
— From Nancy Ngo, Pioneer Press