This Southwestern-style corn salad is a testament to how susceptible I am to suggestions about food. If a description or photo of a dish catches my eye, chances are that it will stay on my mind until I exorcise the image by cooking it out of my brain.
In my rather trashy summer read for the moment, Seating Arrangements, the father in the family made a corn and tomato salad for a summer dinner. Bingo – within a few hours I was craving that combination. Before I made his rather plain version of that salad, grilled corn on the cob came across my Pinterest feed. As I salivated over corn kernels with that slightly singed, deliciously cooked-but-crunchy taste, this Southwestern-style grilled corn and tomato salad took shape in my dream.
True grilling wasn’t an option on the day I made this salad, but cooking the kernels over high heat on the stovetop worked well. The resulting salad does not have quite the wonderful charcoal grilled taste my grillmaster would have achieved, but it is certainly as good as corn cooked on a gas grill. The salad has a hint of a deep, smoky flavor too – thanks to a bit of ancho chili powder, making it a great side dish or component for any Tex-Mex meal.
Ancho is the name for dried poblano, a mild-medium heat pepper used in Mexican cooking. It is not the same as what US groceries sell as “chili powder.” That latter designation is used for a mix of various ground chilies and other spices, and its ingredients can vary considerably among different brands. You may not have noticed ancho chili powder before, but I’ve seen it in mainstream groceries, sometimes alphabetically under ancho, and of course in ethnic groceries that carry Mexican ingredients. It is also available through speciality food stores and spice merchants.
Southwestern-Style Corn Salad
Servings – 2-3 Cost $4
- 2 ears of corn (approximately 1¼ – 1½ cups of kernels)
- 2 scallions, chopped
- ½ red pepper and ½ yellow pepper (or 1 pepper of either color), chopped
- 1 medium-sized tomato, chopped
- ⅛ teaspoon jalapeno, minced
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (not to be confused with Italian parsley), minced
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Remove the seeds and pith (inside) of the pepper and the seeds and juicy part of the tomato. Dice the pepper, tomato and scallions – chopping them into pieces not too much bigger than a corn kernel. No need to get obsessive – the aim is a salad in which no single ingredient looks vastly different in size from the others.
- Mince the cilantro and the jalapeno. (The minced jalapeno is in the photo on the far right above, next to the scallion.) Take it from the voice of experience – avoid touching your face when you cut the jalapeno; if the pepper juice on your hands gets into your eyes, it will burn like no tomorrow. Much of the jalapeno’s heat is in its seeds. I recommend removing them before mincing the pepper. Jalapeno peppers do vary in heat. If you like food spicy, add more after tasting the salad. The same goes for the amount of ancho chili powder. You can add heat and spiciness, but you can’t really tone them down easily once you’ve put in more than you want.
- Pour the diced vegetables and the minced jalapeno and cilantro in the bowl. Mix them.
- Microwave the corn in the husk for 1½ minutes, turning about halfway through. Then let the corn sit for 4-5 minutes to continue cooking before removing the husk and corn “silk” (strings). This microwave cooking method is simple and quick. If you prefer the old-fashioned way, boil enough water in a deep pot to cover the corn. After removing the husks and silk, cook the corn in boiling water for about 5 minutes.
- Carefully slice the kernels off the husks. Pre-heat a pan then add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Wait about 20-30 seconds for the oil to heat, then add the corn kernels and cook them over high heat for about 3 minutes, turning them frequently as they crackle and brown. When the corn is done, add the kernels to the bowl.
- Mix the lime juice, remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper. Shaking them in a tightly closed jar or container is an easy way to do that. Spread the dressing over the salad and let it refrigerate for at least an hour so the flavors meld. This combination is a basic vinaigrette, with lime juice instead of lemon or vinegar.
Serve with avocado and tortillas, or any other way that suits you. I ate the leftovers of this batch for lunch with cold rice – delicious.