For as long as I can remember, corn has been one of my favorite summertime foods. As a kid, I loved to sit on the picnic table in our backyard shucking ear after ear of the patchwork white-and-pale-yellow Olathe sweet corn my mom would bring home by the bushel. Later I’d slather it with butter and salt and sink my teeth in the way my dog attacks a meaty beef bone.
When I got my braces in fifth grade, I learned to eat corn on the cob one row at a time to minimize the hardware-cleaning process (corn was officially forbidden by the orthodontist, but I really think I outsmarted him on this one; don’t ask about my Milk Dud incident). I always thought eating something as nutritious as a fresh vegetable — especially since I loved it so much — was worth it.
Corn has gotten a bit of a bad rap lately, and I admit to shunning it somewhat in recent years. It all started when I learned that corn is very high in sugar and starch, and that it’s actually — gasp — not a vegetable. Corn is really a grain (albeit a whole grain), and, to a young carb-counting woman, finding that out was a deep betrayal. Then I read Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which explained how, thanks to farm subsidies making corn one of the cheapest crops to grow, the American diet is undergoing a process of “cornification.” By extension, Pollan says, if we are what we eat, we are essentially corn. Corn derivatives are in almost all processed foods, corn syrup sweetens most soda and even ketchup, and industrially raised cows are fed a diet of corn even though they can’t digest it properly.
Thus, my eyes were opened, and I got mad. At corn. Which, I finally realized after several years of deprivation from the ears I love, is stupid. Corn itself is not the culprit. (That, I would argue, is the farm policies, which are the result of pressure from the food industry, but that’s the subject for another post.) Corn — whole, delicious, organic, locally grown corn — is still a viable and nutritious food. I like that it’s got decent amounts of vitamin C and folate, plus it’s a good source of dietary fiber. And while corn is a bit high in carbs and sugars, it’s comparable to whole wheat (and, to be honest, I got really sick of counting carbs). It might not be Brussels sprouts, but it ain’t Wonder Bread, either.
And my kids love it. As a mom, of course I love to see my kids flip out over a real, whole food; and I always feel a little smug when it happens (Would ya look at them! I’ve modeled such great eating habits! And I’m such a fantastic cook!) — okay, I admit that’s pretty rare. But in the summer when the corn is sweet, they devour it right off the cob — and they don’t even ask for salt or butter (one eating habit I’ve managed to shield them from). My daughter is in the process of losing her two front teeth, so now I cut the kernels off the cob, and I’ve found that corn might even be more addictive eaten that way. Of course, it’s also a terrific addition to salads, summer pasta dishes, and my favorite summertime peach salsa (recipe below).
So, now it’s my daughter who’s sitting on the back porch shucking the corn, which I buy by the bushel. And, whether it’s truly a vegetable or not, I’m happy to fill our family with real, delicious corn.
Recipe: Summertime Salsa (after all, what signals summer more than peaches, corn, and tomatoes?)
- 3-4 lbs. fresh peaches (organic)
- 1-2 ears of corn
- 2-3 Roma tomatoes
- 1 Anaheim or other green chili pepper
- 1/4 onion
- small bunch of cilantro
- lime juice
- pinch of salt
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Blanch the peaches in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain, then give the peaches a quick ice bath so they stop cooking. Peel the peaches with your fingers and dice them.
Shuck the corn and put it in a large pot of cold water (I usually cook several extra ears while I’m doing this) with a few drops of milk. When the water comes to a boil, the corn is done. Drain it and set aside.
Quarter the tomatoes and place in a small roasting pan, skin side down. Place green chili in the pan, too. Drizzle with a little olive oil and salt. Roast about 15 minutes. While it’s still hot, put the roasted chili pepper in a plastic bag to “sweat.” While the tomatoes are roasting, dice the onion and cut the corn from the cob with a serrated knife.
Chop the cilantro leaves a bit but don’t worry too much about how big they are. When the tomatoes are cool enough to touch, chop them, too. Remove the pepper from the plastic bag and peel it (again, with your fingers), and finely dice it. Dump everything into a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and a few drops of lime juice, and gently combine with a spoon. If you want more heat, I suggest a few drops of your favorite hot sauce. Serve with, ahem, corn chips of course.
This is an original recipe from my blog, The Food Evangelista.