Summertime corn salads

A flavorful way to add taste and color

Corn salad (photo credit: Yakir Levy)
Corn salad
(photo credit: Yakir Levy)
When I was growing up, corn on the cob was a favorite summertime treat in my family. Like other Americans, we ate it boiled in water, spread with butter and sprinkled with salt.
I never had corn in a salad until I moved to Israel and tasted corn salad with mayonnaise. It was made with canned corn and flavored with chopped pickles. The combination sounded odd to me, and I was surprised that I liked it.
Later, when we lived in Paris, we occasionally purchased the corn salads with red and green peppers and vinaigrette dressing that were popular at our neighborhood charcuteries. They were sometimes called salade mexicaine, alluding to the origin of the salad’s main ingredients (see recipe).
Naturally, fresh corn in season makes better salads than canned or frozen, and there are other ways to prepare it besides boiling it. When we have corn that is very fresh and sweet, we like it uncooked; we often add raw corn kernels to our Israeli tomato-cucumber-onion-parsley salad.
Grilling has become a popular way to cook corn. Some people wrap ears of corn in foil and grill it, or soak the corn in its husks to moisten it well before grilling it. We simply husk the corn and grill it briefly until the kernels start to brown.
Betty Fussell, author of Crazy for Corn, grills corn in the husks on the barbecue without soaking them, “so that the husks char a bit on the outside and transmit some of the flavor to the kernels.” She notes that there’s no need to remove the silks first because they’ll come off with the husks.
When Fussell wants to cook corn indoors but still have the caramelized taste of grilled corn, she roasts it directly over the flame of a gas stove. To do this, she holds the ear with a pair of tongs and turns it so that it scorches slightly on all sides; this takes about 3 or 4 minutes.
“The corn is so flavorful that you need no seasoning and no oil or butter,” she writes.
Grilled sweet corn is delicious in salads. That’s how Sharon Hernandez and chef Ida Rodriguez, authors of Melissa’s Hatch Chile Cookbook, prepare it for their colorful salad of baby tomatoes, corn and roasted diced hot or semi-hot peppers.
The peppers they use, called Hatch chilies, are long, medium-green peppers from Hatch, New Mexico, an area that is famous for its chilies. They dress the salad with olive oil and rice vinegar and flavor it with ribbons of fresh basil (see recipe).
Small oval tomatoes and a chili-seasoned citrus-cumin dressing flavor the roasted corn and black bean salad made by Betsy DiJulio, author of The Blooming Platter Cookbook. She serves this main-course salad on a bed of baby spinach and tops it with spiced toasted pecans. In another summertime salad, she combines corn with diced tomatoes, blackberries, onion and fresh basil, and dresses the salad with lime juice mixed with pomegranate molasses.
To cook the corn for her salads, DiJulio rubs the husked ears with olive oil, sprinkles them with sea salt and roasts them in a 200°C (400°F) oven until just a few brown spots appear; it takes about 15 minutes.
Grilled or oven-roasted corn is also the preferred method for the Mexican corn and cabbage slaw that Tamasin Noyes, author of Grills Gone Vegan, prepares.
She flavors the salad with sweet red peppers, green onions and a dressing of mayonnaise, vinegar, lime juice and smoked chilies.
If you want to substitute frozen corn in a salad that calls for grilled corn, Noyes recommends this technique: “Put the corn in a dry, cast-iron skillet over medium- high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned.”
Although microwaving doesn’t give corn the caramelized flavor of grilling, it is the fastest, easiest way to cook one or two ears of corn, and when the corn is fresh and sweet, it can be delicious. We prefer to leave the corn in the husks because the kernels stay moist and the silk comes off easily once the corn has been microwaved. To microwave corn, put the whole ears on a plate and cook them on high power. One ear takes two or three minutes; two ears take about five.
In Paris, this corn salad had sweet peppers only, but we like to add semi-hot ones as well.
Instead of parsley, you can flavor the salad with chopped fresh coriander. If you like, add diced Swiss-type cheese or tuna in olive oil to make this a main-course salad. You can make this salad one or two days ahead and keep it in a covered container in the refrigerator. At serving time, spoon it over the lettuce.
Makes 6 servings
❖ 2½ to 3 cups corn kernels, either cut from fresh cobs or frozen ❖ 2 Tbsp. strained fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar ❖ Salt and freshly ground pepper ❖ 6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil ❖ 1 medium or large sweet red pepper, finely diced ❖ 1 medium or large sweet green pepper, finely diced ❖ 1 or 2 semi-hot green peppers, roasted (see next recipe), peeled and diced ❖ 2 celery stalks (optional), peeled, finely diced ❖ ¼ cup quartered pitted black olives ❖ 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley ❖ Romaine lettuce leaves in bite-size pieces or baby spinach, for serving (optional)
Add corn kernels to a large saucepan of boiling water and simmer uncovered about 5 minutes or until just tender. Drain well.
For the dressing, whisk lemon juice with salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk in oil.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Combine corn, fresh peppers, roasted peppers, celery and olives in a bowl and add enough vinaigrette to moisten the mixture.
Toss well, taste and adjust seasoning. Serve the salad on a bed of lettuce.BABY HEIRLOOM TOMATO AND GRILLED CORN SALAD
This recipe is from Melissa’s Hatch Chile Cookbook. Authors Sharon Hernandez and chef Ida Rodriguez flavor the dressing with seasoned rice vinegar. If your vinegar is unseasoned, add a pinch of sugar to the dressing, in addition to the salt and pepper.
You can roast the semi-hot peppers on a barbecue, on top of the stove or in the broiler.
Makes 8 servings
❖ 4 ears corn, husks and silk removed ❖ 2 long, green semi-hot peppers ❖ 900 gr. (2 lbs.) baby tomatoes, halved ❖ 3 cloves garlic, minced ❖ ½ cup fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons ❖ 2 Tbsp. olive oil ❖ 4 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar ❖ Salt and black pepper
Preheat a grill to high. Grill the corn until lightly charred. Let cool. Cut the kernels from the cobs.
To roast the peppers, put them over a medium flame on the stove, over direct heat on a barbecue or in a single layer on a baking sheet in the broiler heated to high. Roast until the peppers are blackened and blistered all over, turning occasionally using long-handled tongs. Transfer peppers to a bowl and cover with a damp towel or with plastic wrap.
When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them, wearing gloves if your hands are sensitive. Remove and discard the stem and seeds. Dice the peppers.
In a large bowl, combine the corn kernels with the tomatoes. Add the garlic, peppers, basil, olive oil and vinegar. Toss, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.