Sunday, October 18, 2009

Corn Salad ala Heather

My friend Heather is a wonderful cook, but even more than her cooking skills, I love the way she writes recipes. They are an adventure, because she is a very intuitive chef. If she doesn't have one thing, she'll substitute something else. Exact measurements...optional. Of course, every time she cooks for me, I want the recipe so I can recreate the amazing meal. I've found so far that it's never quite as good when I make it alone, probably because half of the fun of cooking and eating with Heather is that she's so fun and funny that I am already so happy from just being around her that everything tastes better. I'll call that "the Heather effect".

For example, here's her corn salad recipe. I tried to get fancy and high-brow by buying the end-of-the-season corn at the farmer's market and cutting it off the cob myself. The problem was that I let it sit in the fridge for 6 days first. Big mistake. Fresh corn should be eaten as soon as you get it home from the farmer's market. I should have known that, because, as a little kid, my grandmother used to take me to Mr. Laurino's farm in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, and she'd want my grandpa to have the water boiling when we got home so that we could immediately boil the corn to stop the sugars from being converted to starch. It was like candy! I couldn't get enough. I always miss my grandma just a little bit when I'm eating fresh corn (my grandma was a great cook, but I'll share more about her in another post).

So, here is Heather's recipe for corn salad from a recent e-mail. I've edited it very little, because, well, I like hearing her voice in the recipe.

Corn Salad

1 tablespoon olive oil
Corn scraped from 4 ears (about 3 cups - ?)
1-2 seeded jalapenos
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
4 teaspoons lime juice
pinch cayenne pepper
1 scallion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Heat olive oil in skillet. Add corn, jalapenos, 1/4 tsp. salt. Saute over medium heat 7-8 minutes until corn is tender.

In a large bowl, toss champagne vinegar, lime juice, 1/4 tsp. salt and cayenne pepper. Add cooked corn/jalapeno mixture. Wait until it cools. Then add scallion, cilantro, and cherry tomatoes, toss, and serve.

"Okay, so that's it. Here is all the stuff I do differently:

1) I use frozen corn, like you saw. No time in my life to scrape actual fresh corn from ears. I use a 16 oz bag of frozen corn. Don't worry about thawing it; just take it out of the freezer when you start chopping everything. Oh, and - if you do use fresh corn scraped from ears, I find that I cook it longer than that 7-8 minutes. One time, almost 20. Just keep tasting it and make sure it's tender.

2) In addition to the jalapenos, I put in some red onion, probably about a 1/4 cup or a little less. Cut it and the jalapenos very small, and let it sit in the oilive oil as the oil warms up, so they lose some of their bite and give a nice flavor to the oil.

3) Add the corn out of the bag. If some of it is still frozen, that's no problem. Just don't pour in any of the water if there is any. The corn will thaw very quick in the hot pan, and since it already is going to be "tender" like the recipe calls for, just cook it for as long as you think is right. Add the salt, taste it a bunch, and don't let it get mushy. Oh, and - add some black pepper too. I hardly ever use salt without pepper. But, I love black pepper, and I especially love coarsely ground black pepper. If you don't, skip it. If things don't taste right, add more salt.

4) The champagne vinegar is extremely hard to find, and in my opinion, white wine vinegar tastes exactly the same. I've been making this salad for a few years now, and the first time I had it with champagne vinegar was when I ate it with you. It's just as good with white wine vinegar, I promise.

5) I use lime juice out of the bottle usually; I have other better things to do with my fresh limes. Do what you want.

6) Instead of a "pinch" of cayenne, I definitely usually do more of a "shake." Just one, though. Oh, and again - I never put in salt without pepper. But that's just me.

7) Add all the vinegar, lime juice, cayenne, and salt according to the recipe, stir it up, and then stick the mixture in the fridge for like 30 minutes (if you can wait that long - this salad is also perfectly acceptable if you eat it warm, in my opinion). When you take it out of the fridge, taste it. You want it to be basically 'to-die-for' good. Usually I add more of everything, except cayenne - another splash of vinegar, another splash or two of lime juice (be liberal with the lime juice), and definitely more salt. Salt goes way too well with corn and lime to skimp on it.

8) At the end, I usually put in more than one scallion, because I love them. I also cut basically all the way up the green part until it gets not crunchy. Also, I love cilantro, so I probably put in almost a 1/4 cup. Also, I usually use grape tomatoes, because they're more plentiful at the grocery store. I actually kind of like grape ones more, too, because they tend to be sweeter than the cherry, and it helps to match against the acid of the vinegar and the lime juice.

So, that's it. As you know by now, I am incapable of sending a short, to the point recipe. Mostly because I often drive people crazy, because I usually don't follow recipes to the letter - I just use them for inspiration, sort of. ;) I hope you make it again and again, and enjoy - figure out what you think tastes the best to you!"

That, for the uninitiated, is a Heather recipe. How can you not love this woman? And let me just say, when she made it for me a few weeks ago, it was, in fact, "to-die-for good".

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