The Simple Art of the Summer Corn Salad - No. 126
How to recreate a corn salad from memory, plus grilling corn and making fresh corn stock
AS A YOUNG FOOD REPORTER IN ATLANTA, I didn’t have to go far to find a juicy story in the summertime. Peaches, blackberries, blueberries, muscadines, and scuppernongs flourished in backyards and farms. As did corn.
It was the late 1970s and early ‘80s and the beginning of Atlanta’s burgeoning food scene. Interesting restaurants were opening in need of organic produce. And with little farming experience, Jep Morgan and his wife Linda moved to Kennesaw, just north of Atlanta, to try their hand at organic farming. At Morgan’s Farm they not only grew fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables for home cooks and restaurants, but introduced people like me to the simple art of a corn salad.
On one visit to Morgan’s Farm, it was an open house with cooking demos, and I tasted a corn salad I will never forget.
Starting with a sauté of onions and peppers in olive oil, deglazing with white wine, boosting with some chicken stock, and then simmering until reduced by half, this was an otherworldly corn salad. The corn, just picked, shucked and shaved fresh from the cob, was then turned into the skillet and cooked only a minute and followed by a showering of fresh dill, parsley, and thyme.
I cut and saved that sacred recipe for many years, but now, nearly 40 years later, I can’t find it anywhere. I can only make it by memory.
Corn salad memory two
Summer salads are so much more than potato or macaroni, right? In Knoxville, one summer maybe two decades ago, I tasted such a corn salad bathed in a vinaigrette of apricot preserves and lime juice, with a touch of cumin. Tina Oschman piled her corn salad not into a bowl but onto a giant ceramic platter.
The corn was boiled, and what made this salad really unique, beyond the fact you wanted to plant your face in it, was that it was cut from the cob like bark off a tree.
The corn kernels stayed together in these sheets, which not only made them visually stunning but told everyone this was fresh corn—not canned corn or frozen. And there were black beans and lima beans, shredded iceberg lettuce, and a pile of tortilla chips on top. And you know, it was every bit as delicious as that herb farm corn salad, just different. I shared the recipe in my book, What Can I Bring.
How do you make corn salad?
And, yes, there’s a charred corn salad memory, too
Even before Mexican street corn—elotes—were the rage, I figured out how to sear corn on the grill or in a hot iron skillet to bring out the nutty flavor. And the char was interesting to look at and had a rustic vibe.
I often toss charred corn with black beans and tomatoes and avocado. Or, I do like corn salad memory one and shower it with herbs. Or like memory two and shave the corn off in sheets and after dressing the salad, top with shredded lettuce and tortilla chips.
Or, I make it like elotes, and toss with a mayonnaise-based dressing seasoned with garlic, cilantro, chili powder, lime juice, and cotija cheese.
Or I keep the salad clean and fresh, adding avocado, tomato, cilantro, roasted peppers, cucumbers, even thinly sliced radishes and tossing with an olive oil and lime dressing. And yes, I add a tablespoon of honey or apricot preserves to sweeten things up.
I add minced jalapeno for heat, plus crumbled cotija cheese on top for that Mexican street corn salad touch. Or feta. And always cilantro!
Whatever you do with corn salad this summer, hopefully I‘ve given you some food for thought. Just choose the sweetest corn you can find at the grocery or your farmer’s market. I’m a big fan of Silver Queen white sweet corn. But then, I’ve never met a corn salad I didn’t like. And I am forever reinventing it from memory.
And last but not least, don’t toss those corn cobs!
My daughter Kathleen makes a corn stock by covering corn cobs (raw, cooked, or charred) in water—along with aromatics like celery, parsley, charred onion, crushed garlic, bay leaves, and coriander seeds. She lets it come to a boil and then reduces the heat so it can simmer 2 hours. She cools, strains, and stores the stock in the freezer to use like chicken stock. It is the beginning of the best summer vegetable soup and budget-conscious, too. Waste not!
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- xo, Anne
Fresh Corn Salad 2022
Or should I call it Corn Salad from memories? This recipe combines the best of the past, from charring corn to topping it with whatever pleases you. By all means, skip the charring step if you like, or use raw corn if that’s your jam. Toss in green onions, herbs, the tangy vinaigrette and add toppings! Corn salad would just be corn without those toppings. Have fun with favorite flavors, keep an eye on color, and whatever you do, make the lime and honey dressing!
Makes 6 servings
Prep: 45 to 50 minutes
8 ears white or yellow corn, or a mix of the two, shucked
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and more if needed
1/4 cup chopped green onions
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 medium-size limes)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup chopped yellow and red cherry tomatoes
1 to 2 ripe avocados, pitted and chopped, depending on how much you love avocado
1/2 cup peeled and diced cucumber, if desired
1/4 cup thinly sliced radishes, if desired
5 to 6 roasted baby bell peppers
1 teaspoon minced fresh jalapeno pepper
1/2 cup crumbled cojita cheese or feta, if desired
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Place a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until smoking, about 3 to 4 minutes. Pour the oil in the pan. Place 4 ears of corn at a time in the pan and cook, turning with tongs, until they are charred to your liking. (You can also do this on the grill outdoors.) It will take 10 to 15 minutes. Set the corn aside. Repeat with the remaining 4 ears.
When cool to handle, slice the kernels off the cobs, keeping the pieces together in a slab if possible. Fold in the green onions. Set the mixture aside.
For the dressing, place the lime juice in a small bowl, and whisk in the olive oil, honey, chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the corn mixture.
To serve, prepare the toppings. Spoon the corn and green onions in a shallow bowl. Reserve the dressing that sits at the bottom of the bowl, if any. Top with the toppings and pour any remaining dressing over the top, and if there isn’t any remaining dressing, drizzle the top with olive oil and serve.