the corn is still sweet: get crackin’ with another salad ::::
Esteemed chef and owner of the restaurant Prune in New York City, Gabrielle Hamilton, wrote her memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter while balancing restaurant ownership and management, being a chef, and being a mother to two young children. While there are many enthusiastic passages about her love of food and the joy of cooking, the not-so-joyful moments of cooking, as well as her laments on the difficulties of being a working mother, I am most impressed with her ability to write with such eloquence amidst all of her other duties. I imagine there were many days where her best writing took place just before the Sunday rush or perhaps when she had a whole five minutes to herself at the end of the day when her kids were finally asleep.
One memorable scene in the book is when Hamilton is working as a cook at a summer kids’ camp. She notes that one of the young girls makes a point to ask for Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar, charmingly and politely. After a summer of this charm and Hamilton’s love of this girl’s appreciation of food, she is surprised to find out who Emma’s father is: the cookbook writer and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. O. M. G! she thought, though penned more appealingly by Hamilton than my internet-spawned language of acronyms.
Coincidentally, I found one of Bittman’s recipes perfect for a salad of corn and avocado, just after I finished Hamilton’s book, still basking in the glow of her descriptions detailing roasting whole lambs with her father, organizing end-of-summer lobster bakes at the kids’ camp, and the idyllic summers with her husband’s family in Italy. Summer speaks of a variety of bounty, some if it being sweet, crisp corn on the cob and creamy, buttery avocados. I tend to go the guacamole route with any avocados I get my hands on and default to the steamed, cobbed corn. This time, however, I wanted to do something different, something both the corn and the avocado could do together, other than some variation on a guacamole theme.
This recipe may seem too simple to be impressive, but that it exactly what makes it impressive. Parsimony is key. Bittman understands the idea of minimalism and how that simple can be extravagant if done right. This recipe for corn-avocado salad is done right, Mr. Bittman. Thank you. It’s not that I don’t want to indulge in a production of a spit-roasted lamb, or even attempt to make baumkuchen some day. It’s just that this salad is easy, healthy, and needs nothing but a few simple flavors to make it satisfying.
Bittman gives three choices for corn preparation: 1) raw, 2) roasted, 3) steamed. I chose to roast my corn because I wanted the caramelized sweetness of the corn to be star of the salad, playing off of the creaminess of the avocado, the crunch of the bell pepper, the bite of the red onion, and the for-once-in-the-backseat tomato. The hint of cumin and cilantro brings the melange of flavors together, while the squeeze of lime brings it to life.
- 2 tablespoons corn oil
- 4 to 6 ears corn, stripped of their kernels (2 to 3 cups)
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- ½ red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
- 1 teaspoon mild chile powder, like ancho
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1 medium ripe avocado, pitted, peeled, and chopped
- Juice of 2 limes, or more to taste
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, more or less
- Put the oil in a large skillet (per Bittman, cast iron is good here but anything will do) and turn the heat to high. When the oil is very hot but not yet smoking, toss in the corn. Let it sit for a minute or so, then stir or shake the pan; brown the corn a bit, 5 minutes or less, then turn off the heat and stir in the onion, pepper, chile powder, salt, and pepper.
- Cool for a few minutes, then toss with the tomato, avocado, lime juice, and cilantro. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature (I served warm -- perfect!). Makes 4 servings.