Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Iowa Sweet Corn Gets Some Latin Lovin'

Photo from Iowa On A Plate
Here in Iowa we know a thing or two about sweet corn. How to grow it, cook it, sell it. We celebrate sweet corn with annual festivals devoted to this tasty summer treat. At the State Fair roasted ears of corn are gobbled up by hungry fairgoers by the ton. Growing up in Iowa it wasn't unusual to have a dinner of just a huge pot of freshly cooked sweet corn, dressed up with only butter and salt. Oh my yum. Much loved by people all over, sweet corn is often used in non-traditional foods such as sweet corn sodas and ice cream, even candy. 

Driving around Iowa you will see acre after acre of corn. This corn is used for all sorts of things- animal feed, food, fuel production, but it's not sweet corn. Iowa produces thousands of acres of sweet corn annually. There are hundreds of different cultivars, some heirloom and some hybrids. Some of the heirlooms are hundreds of years olds, as sweet corn was first identified in the late 1700s. Peaches and Cream is a very popular variety around Iowa, as is Silver Queen, and this year I have even seen pink sweet corn in the stores. 

Here is a fun fact: Did you know there is one strand of silk for every kernel on the ear of corn? 

Laura Duffield Beigger makes
a spicy corn stock with jalapeno
So sweet corn. While so many of us love our corn drenched in butter and salt, corn is getting some gourmet treatment these days. Far far away from Iowa, different cultures and different cuisines use our beloved sweet corn in many interesting and delicious dishes. Many Latin dishes, for example, use corn, ground, as flour and kernels. Mexican street corn is often roasted in the husks, and then peeled back and sprinkled with seasonings and queso fresco or cojita before serving. Corn is roasted and charred and cut off the cobs to toss in salads and salsas. Corn cobs get recycled into corn cob jelly and corn stock for delicious soups and sauces. My friend Laura Biegger recently made corn stock with some jalapeno for kick- I think this would be a fantastic base to build an awesome seafood chowder. Let's take a look at a couple unique ways to use Iowa sweet corn in recipes, this time with a Latin twist.

Up first is a fantastic recipe from local restaurateur George Formaro. His Malo restaurant in Des Moines is an upscale Latin spot in the heart of downtown and brings a fresh and unique perspective to Mexican and South American dishes. We have visited Malo a couple times, you might remember. Their Corn Queso is a very special twist on a classic Mexican snack and brings the much loved fresh Iowa sweet corn into the spotlight. While Malo uses a locally sourced frozen corn, you could easily substitute freshly cut sweet corn as a replacement. They graciously shared this recipe on their Facebook page a while back.

Malo's Corn Queso

1 lb easy melting cheese such as Queso Seguro or Velveeta
4 cups Iowa Choice Harvest frozen sweet corn
1 cup water
1 lime, juice and zest
1 tbs salt
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 tbs crumbled Cojita cheese, queso fresco is a suitable alternative

Using a food processor, puree the corn with the water until completely smooth. Heat the olive oil in saucepot and add pureed corn. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Allow mixture to simmer and reduce to a creamy consistency. 

Once a light pudding texture is reached, combine with salt, lime juice and zest and puree/process to eliminate any possible lumps. 

Melt the cheese over low heat until smooth. Fold in the corn mixture. Pour into a heat resistant serving bowl and top with crumbled Cojita cheese. Broil until the Cojita is browned and golden. Serve with tortilla chips. 

At Malo they use the corn pudding mixture in other dishes, and as a sauce for crab cakes.

Another popular use for fresh corn is salsa. The old days of nothing but tomato-based salsa are long over. Veggies and fruits of all kinds end up in salsa, sweet and savory alike. While I do love a good traditional salsa I'm a huge fan of corn salsa and black bean salsa. Combine the two and I'm in heaven! This salsa is easy to whip up for a party and if you had a lot of leftovers, you could pop it in the freezer for longer storage. I love it with chips and as a condiment for other foods, like enchilada, tacos and so on.

Deb Campbell's beautiful Iowa sweet corn, ready for the pot
Roasted Fresh Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salsa

2 ears fresh corn
olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped sweet bell pepper (I use a combo of colors)
1-2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
fresh Jalapeno pepper to taste*
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
zest of one lime
pinch of salt and pepper
dash of cumin, if desired

* I start with one Jalapeno and taste for heat. I also sometimes use any other hot pepper I might have around, including some of the super hots. Do so with caution!

Shuck the corn and wash well, removing all the silks. Rub the corn with a small bit of olive oil and roast the ears over a hot grill or under the broiler until some of the kernels are caramelized and golden. Set aside to cool. 

When cool enough to handle, slice the corn from the cobs and place in a bowl. Toss with all remaining ingredients. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as needed. This salsa is also delicious with a diced avocado added. and piled in a taco salad. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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