I described the virtues and pleasures of raw vegetables in a post on July 24, using zucchini in sample recipes. This post celebrates raw sweet corn. I’ve adored it from childhood on.
Sweet corn, uncooked, is a joy. It’s delicious. It’s vibrantly sweet, with lots of complexities to its taste. It’s moist and juicy and crunchy. It is versatile; the recipes below highlight raw corn in an appetizer, a soup, and two hefty salads that can be used as a featured lunch dish or as a side to a main dish as well as a salad course.
Today’s sweet corn has come a long way from its origins in Mexico some 10,000 years ago. That progenitor was a wild grass called teosinte that had small kernels, just one ear per stalk and a taste most of us would find unpleasant. Nevertheless, it was good food so it spread to North and South America. Indigenous populations bred it for a variety of desirable characteristics: more ears per stalk, larger kernels and certainly, sweetness. Still, most corn was not that all sweet until Botany professors at the University of Illinois and, eventually, other institutions, began to breed “supersweet” varieties, beginning in the 1950’s. Most of the sweet corn marketed today is the “supersweet” variety. There are many varieties and three major types, defined by color: yellow, silver and bicolor. I prefer yellow corn; its taste is more complex than other varieties and it seems to have more of a “fill-you-up” character. All these varieties have a super-terrific characteristic: they retain their full flavor for long periods. So sweet corn is one of the few plant foods bred for long shelf life that actually tastes good days after picking.
Is sweet corn healthy? Sure is. (1) But it's so sweet, especially for a vegetable - isn’t that unhealthy? Nope. Here’s the deal on sugar content: There are only 6 grams of sugar in a medium size ear. That’s less than half the sugar of a banana and one-third that in an apple. Sugary sweet corn is not related to that bugaboo, high-fructose corn syrup which comes from field corn and is not like the natural sugars in sweet corn. (2) As for calories - just about 100 per ear. (3) Fiber? About 3 grams and its the slow-to-digest type of healthy starch that helps you to feel full longer. (4) Vitamins and minerals? Lots. Vitamin C, several B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and lutein, among others. (5) With its husk covering the kernels, what you eat has little pesticide residue. (6) Is it a GMO - genetically modified organism? Almost all sweet corn is not. However, many other varieties of corn are, and certainly those used to make high-fructose syrups, animal feed and ethanol.
WAYS TO USE UNCOOKED SWEET CORN
Raw corn is, simply, a sweet vegetable with distinctive flavor. Use it as you would any uncooked summer vegetable, Corn does pair beautifully with tomato, also glorious at this time of year, so the recipes below, except for the first, take advantage of these two vegetables when they are at their wonderful best. Note for purists: corn is classified as both a grain and a vegetable; a tomato is a fruit, but often classified as a vegetable.
Pure, Unsullied, Right Off the Freshly Shucked Cob
The fanciful creature from Meso-America looks eager to devour the ear of sweet corn. Me, too. It is high on my list of super-delicious treats. TRY IT!
Corn and Tomato Bruschetta
Corn and tomato go together. Corn couples nicely with basil and so does tomato. Thus this take on the classic bruschetta recipe. Besides adding its complex sweetness to the sweet/tart tomato and sharp/peppery basil, corn, especially if yellow, hikes up the color of the dish for a very pleasing appearance.
Kernels from 2 ears of corn, preferably yellow
2 cups red grape tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, grated
1/2 cup minced red onion
1 loosely packed cup of basil leaves, cut into strips
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
1 loaf Italian bread, sliced
Olive oil and garlic to coat bread
Combine in a bowl all ingredients except bread, olive oil and garlic. Let stand 10 - 20 minutes.
Rub bread slices with garlic and brush with olive oil. Lightly toast.
Top the toast with the vegetable mixture.
Raw Corn and Tomato Soup
Cold soups with a sweet side are delightful in summer. Here is a take on gazpacho that incorporates sweet corn.
Makes 4 cups
2 slices day-old sour dough bread
1 cup buttermilk
Kernels from 1 large ear of corn
1 medium yellow tomato
1 clove garlic, grated
2 teaspoons minced onion
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
Garnish: chopped cilantro or other green herb
Pour the buttermilk over the bread in a food processor and let stand for 5 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and process. Your choice: process until smooth or just until corn is crushed and still crunchy.
Turn into serving bowl and garnish with a generous amount of green herb.
Panzanella with Sweet Corn
Sweet corn brightens this classic summer salad in flavor and appearance. Panzanella is a favorite because it has great taste and texture. The delicious, time-honored Italian combination of tomatoes, basil, and garlic in a vinegar/oil dressing combines with yeasty, crunchy bread cubes, striking chords in the mouth with each bite. Fresh corn kernels chime in with sweet, juicy goodness.
Most recipes for panzanella call for red tomatoes. I used orange ones because that’s what I had. What a pleasant surprise! The orange of the tomatoes blended beautifully with the golden bread cubes, allowing for greater contrast with the pale yellow corn and green basil leaves.
1/2 pound Italian bread, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil + 4 tablespoons
1 pound ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
1 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
1 large garlic clove, grated
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Generous pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves in strips
Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss bread cubes with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place on baking sheet in heated oven for 15 minutes, or until bread cubes are nicely toasted with brown edges. Cool.
Put tomatoes into a sieve or colander over a bowl. Scatter sea salt over and stir. Let stand for 15 or more minutes, until tomatoes have released their juices.
Put tomatoes into a bowl. To the tomato’s juices, add garlic, mustard, vinegar, and red pepper flakes, if using. Whisk in 4 tablespoons olive oil. Taste and add salt if necessary and black pepper.
In a large bowl, combine bread cubes, tomatoes, dressing and basil leaves. Mix and let stand for 15 or more minutes, until bread cubes have absorbed all the dressing. Note: The bread cubes will still have crunch as long as the edges were browned in toasting.
Visit your local farm market. Pick out an assortment of colorful vegetables and herbs to your taste. Cut vegetables into bite-size pieces and chop the herbs. Combine with salad dressing of your choice. If you are using the salad as a first course or a main lunch dish, add chunks of cheese. Here are some suggestions.
Corn, tomatoes, zucchini, baby romaine, oregano, red wine vinaigrette. Mozzarella cubes if desired.
Corn, tomatoes, cucumber, red leaf lettuce, tarragon or basil, chopped hazelnuts or almonds, nut oil/white wine vinaigrette. Aged Gouda in cubes, if desired.
Corn, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, cilantro, cumin, olive oil/lime vinaigrette. Monterrey Jack in cubes, if desired.