By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
One of my all-time favorite summer crops is corn. Who doesn’t love corn? It’s one of the few vegetables that most kids will eat. What a blessing. Corn makes me think of late summer and early fall. It conjures up thoughts of barbecues with hot dogs, hamburgers, and corn on the cob. I’ve gotten used to eating it plain but there is something very indulgent about slathering it with good butter and letting it drip down your arms, right?
It’s no wonder that corn has become such a popular vegetable across the Americas. Maize, also known as corn, is one of the indigenous crops that was here long before first contact with Europeans in the 1600s. Maize was first domesticated in southern Mexico some 9,000 years ago. It took many years of developing it from “teosinte,” an ancient wild grass, to the modern sweet yellow variety that we eat today. Teosinte had a short cob with few kernels that were encased in a hard coating. It can still be found in the wild today in South and Central America.
Corn is widely consumed throughout the world. Globally, corn is consumed as 6% of human consumption. Not only do Americans eat it on or off the cob, but it is also ground into flour, made into sweet corn syrup, used as oil and fuel. In modern times, it is sometimes transformed into plastic. (Do not try this at home! It is not meant to be eaten.) Lesser varieties are fed to livestock.
Corn needs a lot of space to grow, because unfortunately, one large stalk only yields two ears. We never grow it for this reason--one needs too much land to harvest a sizable crop, in my opinion. The good news is that you can plant it along with other vegetables. One of my favorite corn trivia tidbits: for each kernel of corn per cob, there is one silk fiber (the tassel of silky fibers that protrudes from the tip of the ear of corn). Trust me on this, you don’t want to start counting silks! Or kernels for that matter!
To me, miles of cornfields as far as the eye can see are true Americana. I have had the pleasure (and maybe the curse–it’s pretty boring after an hour!) of driving through Iowa and Nebraska on my way crossing the country. The expanse of waving grain is a beautiful sight. Think of the iconic movie from 1989, Field of Dreams, with Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones. The gorgeous cornfield was an integral part of the story line. Who hasn’t quoted the film’s most famous line, “If you build it, they will come,” referring to the baseball field carved out of the cornfield.
I also enjoy fall, when corn stalks are used as festive decorations for porches, store fronts, schools, and Halloween. If one is lucky enough to live near a cornfield where a “maize maze” is created, take your children or grandchildren. It’s very exciting for them to try to find their way out. A brief anecdote: when my daughter and niece were about three years old (they are three days apart in age), my sister Cindy and I took them to a friend’s farm and cornfield. We adults went to pick corn for dinner. The girls wandered into the seemingly infinite rows of stalks. After a short while, we heard screams from the field. They were lost! My farm friend, Betty, dove in and grab a kid with each arm. We still chuckle with the girls about this experience.
Today’s recipe is classic Mexican street food. This elevates corn on the cob to new heights. In Spanish, it is called elote, literally corn on the cob. It is usually grilled but I have been known to boil it if I’m too lazy to set up my grill. Also, I often use grated Parmesan cheese instead of dried cotjia cheese, which is harder to find. Lastly, most recipes call for sour cream. I use mayonnaise instead. Minor changes can be made with the seasonings depending upon your taste and spice level. It reheats fairly nicely in a microwave if you have leftovers for another day.
Enjoy one of America’s most celebrated vegetables as summer wanes, and tell us here at The Insider what variations you use to create your own Mexican Street Corn. Also, have some fun and go get lost in a maize maze!
Mexican Street Corn
Yield: 6 servings
1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. plain Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. Tajin seasoning
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne, or more to taste
6 fresh ears of corn, shucked
3/4 c. grated cojita cheese or Parmesan cheese
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and remaining ingredients. Reserve.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Put in corn. Cover; boil for 3 minutes. Drain well. OR Grill corn on moderately high heat for about 3 minutes a side or until it is slightly charred.
While the corn is hot, brush the mayonnaise all over the cobs. Then, roll cobs in grated cheese.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.