Late summer is a predictable season around here. There are tomatoes on the counter, which we position strategically to keep fruit flies at bay. (I can’t say we necessarily succeed – those fruit flies are such a nuisance.) There’s a glut of second nectarines and peaches, perfectly ripe and 99 cents a pound from Toigo, which we consume somewhat recklessly and with pride. There are Italian plums, which find their way into this famed torte and this less famous but quite tasty cake. And then, of course, there is all the corn.
The corn is also from Toigo. It’s the sweetest corn available – so sweet that Beth (wife of Jeremy, he of Andalusian gazpacho and fried squash blossoms) made a corn soup last week and fretted that it was too sweet, that it needed some lime to cut the sweetness. If you’re into corn ice cream, you’ll want to start with Toigo’s corn. But even if you’re making something savory, as I typically do, sweet corn is a good place to start.
If you’ve ever ordered elote, the flavors of this dish will be familiar. Elote is Mexican street corn: a whole cob, coated in crema and chile, then dunked in cotija and finished with a squeeze of lime. It’s addictive.
But sometimes you want the corn off the cob, ready to fork straight into your mouth. Enter elote salad, a chopped-and-ready version of the messier original.
Stateside versions often coat the corn in mayonnaise, which you know I despise. The salad renditions I found online also call for mayo, which makes an otherwise balanced dish look gloppy and gross. Why would you do that? Here’s my counter-proposal, cleaner and fresher and more suited to summer: sweet corn, a little butter, chile, cilantro, lime. Lots of cotija to finish. Enough forks for you and all your friends. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
And while you’re bothering with 5 corn cobs at a time, save those stripped cobs. Simmer them in water for 30 minutes, and you have a killer corn stock – a perfect base for chowder and more.
Mexican Street Corn Salad
Serves 6 as a side dish, with leftovers
3 tablespoons butter
3 scallions, diced
kernels from 5 ears yellow corn
2 teaspoons medium-mild chile flakes, or 1 teaspoon regular (hot) chile flakes (start small and add to taste)
1 large red tomato, diced
juice of 1-2 limes (again, start with one and add if you need more acid; I used 1 1/2 limes)
4 oz. cotija cheese, grated
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Add butter to a large saute pan and set over medium heat. When butter sizzles, add scallions, toss to combine, and cook 5 minutes, until softened. Add corn, chile, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until very fragrant and starting to soften, 3 minutes or so; you want the corn to retain some bite. This is a warm salad, not mush.
Taste corn, and add more chile and/or salt as needed. Then add tomato chunks, reserving the accumulated liquid for another use. Stir to combine, and cook about 3 minutes more, just until tomatoes are warmed through.
Add lime juice to taste. Spoon into a deep bowl, top with cilantro and cotija, and serve warm.