Ingredient of the Month: The Seasonal Sweetness of Corn
By Lisa Golden Schroeder
Corn has to be one of the most reliable and versatile foods we grow. Corn was among the first really important crops domesticated by ancient Mesoamerican societies—and its harmonious, and nutritious, relationship with beans and squash made it a cornerstone of traditional Native American farming and cooking. Field corn is an important part of feed grain for chickens and other livestock, too. It’s almost ubiquitous in the American diet now, for better or worse. High-fructose corn syrup is the current bad boy of processed foods, even though it’s nothing more than sugar. And that natural sweetness is front and center when you take your first tender bite of an ear of corn at the peak of the season, so sweet and almost buttery tasting without that generous schmear of butter most of use like to garnish with. I’ve had a love affair with corn in all its guises since I was a kid (and not just the Halloween candy corn that I still covet every year). My Gammee’s cornbread and my mom’s sourdough cornmeal pancakes are still a staple at my house, dripping with either honey or blackberry syrup.
Conventional cooking wisdom says that corn needs to be cooked. Steamed or grilled corn-on-the-cob, sautéed as a member of veggie medleys, stirred into chowder or chili, or scalloped for Thanksgiving, corn does play well with others. But as I hang out with my young gardening friends, we find ourselves abandoning the conventional pathways to tasting. We opt to eat just about everything as it’s picked, brushing off the dirt and nibbling away. We didn’t grow corn this year, but we live in a place that’s surrounded by small farms that are harvesting their corn now. So buying a large bag of just-picked ears invites me to think of all sorts of new ways to savor corn, before the season peters out and the corner farm stands (usually out of the back of a truck) disappear. It’s been a tough year in many places that grow corn, plagued by drought. So it’s all the sweeter knowing how lucky we are to have it close by. This summer I’m barely getting the ears shucked before slicing off the crisp kernels to make salads and salsas—no cooking involved.
I’m celebrating corn this week with a raw corn salad, tossed with a handful of quick-cooking freekah. Freekah (sometimes spelled ’freekeh’) is basically soft green (rather than mature) wheat, that’s toasted and dried. I’ve eaten it as a whole grain, like wheat berries, and cracked like bulgur (which is made from mature wheat). Traditionally harvested in the Eastern Mediterranean, the freekah I’ve found is imported from Australia. It’s high in fiber and nutrients like other whole grains and really pairs nicely with the sweetness of the corn. I crushed up and seasoned corn tortilla chips to make a crunchy coating for rich chicken drumsticks—corn in yet another popular, and irresistible, form!
|CRISPY DRUMSTICKS with FRESH CORN SALAD||
- 1 cup (about 2-1/2 ounces) finely crushed corn tortilla chips
- 1 teaspoon mesquite grill seasoning
- 2 eggs
- 5 to 6 (20 ounces) Just BARE® Chicken Drumsticks
- ½ cup uncooked freekah or bulgur wheat
- 2 cups fresh corn kernels (sliced off of 2 to 3 small ears corn)
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
- ¼ cup chopped red onion
- 2 cups mixed baby arugula and torn butter lettuce
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh dillweed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Heat oven to 400˚F. Mix tortilla chip crumbs and seasoning in shallow dish. Place egg in a second dish. Dip chicken in egg; roll in crumb mixture until well coated. Place on baking sheet.
- Bake chicken 25 to 30 minutes or until no longer pink near bone.
- Meanwhile, place freekah or bulgur in small saucepan with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover, and cook about 15 minutes or until tender. Rinse with cool water and drain well.
- Toss cooked freekah, corn, tomatoes, onion, lettuces, and dill in large bowl. Dress salad with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve with hot cooked drumsticks.