Two Sweet Corn Recipes and a Tale of a Mexican Fiesta!
by Victoria Challancin
Sweet Corn Season. Does life get any better? Perhaps my love of this vegetable stems from growing up in western Palm Beach County, where the rich black earth produced, what to me, is the best corn in the world. During the season, a crate of corn would magically appear on our doorstep at least once a week--and our family of five consumed it all, every time. With gusto. While my mother usually cooked it in a skillet with bacon, these recipes I am giving you here represent perhaps more modern ways to enjoy this seasonal treat.
The first recipe is for a warm corn salad with two kinds of cheeses and a citrus aioli. Rich and delicious. The second recipe is hardly a recipe at all, just sweet corn sautéed in butter and tossed with fresh basil. Equally yum. And so worth sharing.
Recipe: Grilled Corn Salad with Citrus Aioli
(Recipe from Food and Wine Magazine, August 2015)
10 ears of corn, shucked
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest, plus 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, finely grated or pressed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 ounces queso fresco (or farmer's cheese or ranch cheese), crumbled (1/2 cup)
2 ounces queso cotija (or feta), finely crumbled (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the corn and a generous pinch of salt and return to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain the corn and let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the lime and lemon zests and juices along with the 1 tablespoon olive oil, the mustard, garlic, and cayenne. Season the citrus aioli with salt.
Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Brush the corn with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat, turning occasionally, until lightly charred all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool slightly, then cut the kernels off the cobs; discard the cobs.
In a large bowl, toss the corn with the softened butter. Stir in the citrus aioli. Ad the cheeses, parsley, and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm.
Make ahead: The aioli can be refrigerated overnight.
Recipe: Fresh Summer Corn Sauté with Basil
(Recipe from Cooking Light, August 2015)
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 cups fresh corn kernels
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons torn basil leaves
Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add corn, salt, and pepper; sauté 4 minutes or until crips-tender, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with basil and serve.
See? I told you. Almost a non-recipe. It is that easy. And that good.
My son Zachary and his girlfriend Isabel, on her birthday
A Tale of a Mexican Fiesta
I asked a moment ago if life got any better than Sweet Corn Season, and well, yes, it does. Indeed it does. In Mexico, with loving Mexican friends and family, it certainly does.
In life it doesn't always work out that we love the families of those that become almost unintentionally intertwined with our own, but happily in the case of our son's wonderful girlfriend, Isa, and her equally wonderful extended family, it does. To have our families mesh together in harmony and in fun as well is an added benefit to having Isa in our lives. It is a joy, a much-appreciated joy.
Mexican fiestas, big or small, are just a Force of Nature. I know no other way to describe them. Full of life, unbridled joy, music, food, dancing, with people of all ages participating at every level--the are always almost uncomprehendingly wonderful. And Isa's twenty-second birthday fiesta was no exception.
Hosted by her family at their delightful B&B, Zaguán Hotel Bed & Art, which is a B&B, café (I could weep over the eggs baked en cocotte with olive oil and roasted garlic...sigh...), and art gallery combined, the venue was perfection itself. Creative and fun, the location just cries out for a party.
Life...in people and surroundings...
Dancing...Isa's grandmother and mother...
Good food...oh yes, and more to come...
Multiple generations...Isa with her maternal grandparents (the little ones got away)
The Food: La Parrillada
Perhaps the most common food served at a Mexican fiesta is fresh vegetables and a mixture of meats grilled and then served with soft corn tortillas and a variety of salsas to spice them up. Known as a parrillada in Mexico, (a grill is called a parrilla), these barbecues are often a communal effort. And in spite of the fact that Alfredo, Isa's father is a superlative chef, I saw at least five different people lending a hand to the grilling efforts at this party!
Grilling cactus paddles, chiles poblanos, quesadillas, and foil-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with cheese
And steak, of course...
Brochetas, or kebabs, with arrachera to come...
Grilled nopal cactus...
Steaks, arrachera (marinated skirt steak), and chimichurri-coated salmon...
Sausages, or chorizo, and beef brochettes...did I mention these?
Yes, friends, family, dancing, and good food are all essential elements, but then there is...the MUSIC!
The Music: Son Jarocho
I have lived in Mexico for 28 years. Over time, I have experienced countless fiestas. No matter the occasion, each one was studded with multiple generations enjoying with great gusto the good food, dancing, and always the music, whether piped-in popular songs with or without a dj, mariachis, local groups...or just friends with guitars. But the music at this particular party was special indeed. And a little different.
For Isabel’s twenty-second birthday, we got to experience it all: four generations of family, a parrillada (Mexican mixed grill), dancing (Isa’s beautiful grandmother insisted I dance, but my gringa hips just didn’t move like hers!), and a special kind of music.
Like celebrations all over the world, no Mexican fiesta would be complete without some form of music. Lucky for us, at Isa’s birthday party, it came in the form of Son Jarocho music, played by guests, many of whom came with their instruments in hand. Son Jarocho is a centuries-old style of regional Mexican folk music which originated in the coastal state of Veracruz and bits of the coastal areas of southern Tamaulipas state as well. The actual term jarocho, is a colloquial term for anyone or anything from the port city of Veracruz. In terms of its musical reference, it represents a fascinating fusion of indigenous, Spanish, Caribbean, and African musical elements that evolved over time in that busy port city. The lyrics include typical references, often full of humor, to love, nature, sailors, and other less widespread subjects such as cattle-breeding as well!
The eclectic ensemble of of musicians that slowly gathered at this party brought with them an interesting array of instruments, including 3 jaranas (more on these later), a guitar, a double bass (contrabass), and drums in the form of tabletops. After a few songs, I asked one Mexican friend, Cesar, about the music, specifically wanting to know if these songs were really old, as I suspected. His answer: !Muy muy viaja! Very very old. I knew that already in my bones, but it felt good having it verified. He said most of the songs were from Veracruz, but some from the state of Jalisco as well.
At another point, it seemed to me that the music was just flowing in an improvisational way, with one singer calling out a lyric and another spontaneously answering it--much like a modern jam session, but with ancient sounds and instruments. A little research later proved this to be true. These improvised verses are called décimas—and their content can be quite racy and funny as well.
The jarana jarocho is the instrument most often associated with this style of music, and we were blessed with three! The jarana looks like a large ukulele or small guitar, which upon closer inspection revealed 8 strings, 4 singles and 2 sets of pairs. I have no idea how this works, nor did I need to. I just was happy to let these authentic tunes and slightly strange music wash over me.
The double bass was provided by the daughter of the friend mentioned above, a delightful 22-year-old, Estrella, who is studying jazz on the bass in Mexico City, and who is soon to transfer to Los Angeles to continue her training. I have known her since she was a very young child, but hadn't seen her in years. Her father, a well-know political activist, conservationist, and preservationist of Mexican culture, is a musician as well. But as for this son jarocho style of music...I suspect it is just in her genes and that she never studied it at all, so effortless was the process. Watching and listening to her and her father as they played off each other, sipping smoky mezcal the whole time, was a rare treat, one I won't soon forget.
Estrella on the double bass..
Ah, Mexico, I do love you so...
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
Flavors of the Sun Cooking School and Travel
San Miguel de Allende, México