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Go beyond the cob


Call me corn brain if you must. Just don’t call me late for dinner, if corn’s on the menu. And believe me, if I had my druthers, it would be on the menu every gol’darn night until there was no more fresh, local corn to be had.

That, my friends, is how goofy I am about corn.

If you ask any of those enjoying the bounty what his or her favorite way of eating this gift of summer is, chances are the response will be “on the cob.” The fact is, when it comes to corn cookery, many of us don’t consider anything BUT on the cob. Night after night after night. However, there has to be some alternate approach to enjoying the glut.

One of my favorite alternatives to on-the-cob is a simple corn salad. Just carve the kernels off the cob and toss with any number of salad fixings. The advantages of enjoying corn off the cob — a more intense combination of flavors, a wider range of seasoning options, and no immediate need for dental floss — far outweigh the minor inconvenience of slicing the kernels from the cob.

Summer Salad of Tomatoes and Marinated Veggies, with Corn Raft Garnish

Serves 8 to 10.

The first time I threw this lovely platter of veggies together for a pot luck it disappeared in minutes. So fresh and tantalizing. So simple to make. It’s now considered one of my house salads.

1 medium-sized cucumber, peeled and sliced

1 sweet yellow pepper, cored and chopped

1 sweet green pepper, cored and chopped

1 Walla Walla Sweet onion, chopped

Dilled Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

3 ears of corn, cooked and cooled

4 large tomatoes, cored and thinly sliced (or an equivalent amount of all sizes and varieties of tomatoes)

4 to 6 ounces of crumbled blue cheese

Combine the cucumber, yellow pepper, green pepper and Walla Walla Sweet onion in a bowl. Add enough of the Dilled Vinaigrette to cover the vegetables and refrigerate for at least 3 hours so the vegetables can absorb the flavor from the vinaigrette.

Meanwhile, prepare the “corn rafts.”

To make corn rafts, hold a cob of cooked-and-cooled corn vertically on a cutting board (stalk-side down) and slice down between the kernels and the cob in a precise and steady motion, letting the chunks fall onto the cutting board. Rotate and repeat the cutting. When you’ve removed the corn rafts from a cob, use a spatula to gently lift the chunks of corn from the cutting board and place them on a plate until ready to use.

When ready to serve the salad, arrange a layer of tomatoes on a large platter. Using a slotted spoon, layer the cucumber mixture on top of the tomatoes. Then arrange the corn rafts on top of the cucumber mixture. Drizzle a bit of the Dilled Vinaigrette over the corn, then crumble the blue cheese over everything and serve immediately.

DILLED VINAIGRETTE: In a bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup white wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and about 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Whisk in 1 teaspoon chopped or snipped fresh dill weed and 1 teaspoon pesto (homemade or commercially prepared). Whisk in 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Vinaigrette may be prepared several days ahead and refrigerated until ready to use. (Makes a little more than 1 cup.)

Fresh Corn Salad

Sometimes I like to serve this salad in its most basic form. When corn is fresh and local, this is a most delightful way to enjoy it. When the spirit moves me, I enjoy the variations that I describe below.

5 ears corn steamed or boiled for 4 minutes and kernels removed from the cobb

1/2 cup chopped sweet onion

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the corn until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the hot water and then fill with cold water to chill the corn. When cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob.

To make the salad, toss the corn with the onion, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in an appropriate-sized bowl. Just before serving, toss in the basil. Adjust the seasonings and serve cold or at room temperature.

VARIATIONS:

Add sliced olives, sweet bell peppers, chopped fresh cucumbers, diced vine-ripened tomatoes and chunks of grilled chicken or shrimp or beef.

Turn it Southwest with the addition of cumin powder, oregano and some (chopped) pickled jalapeno. Consider adding black beans.

Mexican Street Corn Salad

Patterned after Elotes, the decadent Mexican street fare for corn on the cob, this salad brings much of the flavor with very little mess.

1/3 cup good quality mayonnaise

1/3 cup sour cream (or Mexican crema)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt

4 ears of corn steamed or boiled for 4 minutes and kernels removed from the cob

1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed

1 red sweet bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 cup cotija cheese, crumbled (substitute feta if not available)

Whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, olive oil, lime juice, cumin, paprika and salt; chill well.

When ready to serve, combine the corn, black beans, bell pepper, onion and cilantro in a bowl. Drizzle on most of the dressing and toss well to evenly coat the salad ingredients. Add additional dressing if desired. Top with the cotija cheese and gently toss again. Refrigerate or serve immediately.

Corn and Couscous Salad

Makes about 4 servings.

2 cups prepared couscous

2 to 3 ears of corn steamed or boiled for 4 minutes and kernels removed from the cob

1/2 cup diced tomatoes

1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

Heaping 1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, combine the couscous, corn, tomatoes and cucumber. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the couscous/corn mixture and toss to evenly coat the ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

BEYOND THE BASICS: You can augment the basic salad with plenty of extra ingredients, such as fresh sweet bell pepper, chopped green or yellow onion, sliced black olives, pepperoncinis, shredded Parmesan or crumbled feta, rice or bulgur instead of couscous.

Summer Salad of Corn, Bacon and Potatoes

Makes about 8 to 10 servings

1 pound Yukon gold potatoes

8 ears of fresh corn, steamed or boiled for 4 minutes and kernels removed from the cob

2 sweet bell peppers (red, green or yellow), cored, seeded and diced

1 cup finely chopped red onion

6 thick slices of bacon (about 6 ounces), fried and crumbled

Dilled Vinaigrette (recipe above)

Simmer the potatoes in a large pot of water until tender. Remove from heat and drain. Peel when cool enough to handle and chill well. Cut into slices or chunks.

To assemble the salad, combine the prepared potatoes with the corn, bell pepper, onion and bacon. Drizzle on enough of the Dilled Vinaigrette to evenly coat the ingredients. Refrigerate until chilled or serve immediately.

Corn, Avocado, Jicama and Radish Salad

This salad has all the bright flavors of Mexico. The secret is to choose perfectly ripe, but not overripe, avocados. Make sure to have tortilla chips on hand.

1 small jicama, or 1 small daikon radish

1 bunch small red radishes

3 large ears corn steamed or boiled for 4 minutes and kernels removed from the cob

1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions

2 large ripe but firm avocados

About a dozen cherry tomatoes, halved

2 teaspoons paprika

1/4 to 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro

Cumin Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Peel the jicama and slice 1/4-inch thick. Stack the slices into neat piles and cut the slices crosswise into 1/4-inch sticks. Slice the radishes into thin coin-shaped slices.

In a large bowl, combine the corn, jicama, radishes and green onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss well; set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle.

Meanwhile, cut the avocados in half and remove the pits. Peel off the skin and cut the halves into thin slices. Divide the avocado slices among 4 chilled salad plates, then distribute the cherry tomatoes among the plates also. Toss the corn mixture again and spoon over and around the avocados and tomatoes. Sprinkle each salad with a large pinch of paprika, then scatter the cilantro leaves over the salads and serve immediately. Yields 4 servings.

Cumin Vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together the juice and zest of 2 large limes, the juice and zest of 1 orange, 1 clove finely chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon paprika, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Whisk in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, then adjust seasonings.

Adapted from “Corn - A Country Garden Cookbook,” by David Tanis.

Warm Mushroom and Baby Greens Salad with Fresh Corn, Hazelnuts and Extra-Aged Gouda

Makes servings for 6

Mushrooms, hazelnuts and corn. Three flavors and textures that go great together. I’m also bringing in the earthy-spicy quality of arugula and other young greens, and topping it off with a smokey, extra-aged Gouda.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Salt

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

6 cups of mixed baby greens (including baby arugula)

3 ears of corn steamed or boiled for 4 minutes and kernels removed from the cob in rafts (as described above)

1 sweet onion, sliced thin

Dijon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

About 3/4 cup of coarsely chopped roasted and skinned hazelnuts

4 to 6 ounces extra-aged Gouda (shredded in wide, slender sheets using a vegetable peeler or the wide side of a box grater)

Heat the oil and butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until they begin to release their juices. Add the thyme leaves and continue cooking until the mushrooms become soft and golden. Season the mushrooms to taste with salt and white pepper, then remove the mushrooms to a platter.

To serve: Arrange the greens on 6 salad plates. Divide the mushroom mixture among the plates. Divide the corn rafts among the plates. Layer on a portion of the sweet onion slices on each of the servings. Deglaze the skillet with the vinaigrette, then drizzle it over the mushrooms, corn, onions and salad greens. Sprinkle each salad with a portion of the hazelnuts and then generous sprinklings of the cheese. Serve immediately.

DIJON VINAIGRETTE: Whisk together 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons Dijon style mustard, 1 tablespoon finely minced red onion, 2 cloves finely minced fresh garlic, and 2 teaspoons granulated sugar. Whisk in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil. (Makes about 1 cup)

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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