Fresh Corn, A Sweet Sensation Throughout Latin America
The next time your family passes a platter of sweet corn on the cob, think about this: You’re eating a food with an amazing history. “The single most important gift of the Americas to the world was maize, or what we now call corn,” points out Maria Baez Kijac, author of The South American Table (Harvard Common Press, 2003). Corn was first cultivated by the Indians of Central America and, by the time Columbus sailed, it was a staple all over the Americas.
Some varieties are processed to make tortillas and cornmeal. There’s popcorn, of course. And, in virtually every south-of-the-border cuisine, fresh sweet corn has earned a special place in people’s hearts and on their tables. For example, Ensalada de Vigilia, a glorious composition that calls for potatoes, fava beans, fresh corn kernels and many garnishes, is a traditional Easter dish in Ecuador.
Supersweet Corn and Quinoa Salad (photographed) hails from Peru. “This bright, colorful salad, appealing to the eye as well as the appetite, is substantial enough to stand alone as a main course,” says Kijac. “It is my favorite dish to take whenever I’m asked to bring something to a party.” The salad can also be prepared with couscous or another grain, but quinoa is a high-protein, quick cooking grain that originated in South America and is traditional in the dish. Right now is a good time to make this salad because fresh Supersweet corn from Florida is in plentiful supply until June.
In their fish soups, Peruvians often simmer golden rounds cut from fresh corn ears. Not only do the soup eaters enjoy nibbling the corn, but the cobs add flavor to the broth. Columbian Corn, Chicken and Potato Soup is a hearty main-dish soup typical of Bogota, where it’s known as ajiaco and considered a comfort food that might be eaten as often as once a week.
Supersweet corn will stay fresh for at least four days when stored in your refrigerator. For more recipes with Latin flair, plus a wealth of sweet corn know-how, visit www.freshsupersweetcorn.com.
Supersweet Corn and Quinoa Salad
- 3 cups cooked quinoa*, or prepared coucous
- 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
- 3 cups fresh supersweet corn kernels (4 medium ears)
- 1 cup seeded and diced (¼ inch) red and green sweet bell pepper
- ½ cup chopped red onion, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes and drained
- ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions (white part and 1 inch of the green)
- 8 ounces good-quality salad shrimp, or 2 cups cooked chicken, smoked turkey, or imported boiled ham cut into ½ inch cubes (optional)
- ¼ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
Add prepared quinoa to a large mixing bowl. Add the beans, corn, bell peppers, onion, scallions, and shrimp (if using) and toss to combine well. To make the vinaigrette, in a sealable container, combine all the ingredients and shake for a few seconds, until the mixture thickens. Toss the salad with the vinaigrette (use a little less if not using shrimp). Add salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Just before serving, toss the salad with the cilantro. Garnish with halved cherry tomatoes, or serve on a bed of greens, if desired.
YIELD: 4 to 6 portions
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- ½ cup chopped onion
- 3 cans (14 –14 ½ ounces each) chicken broth
- 1 pound yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 pound all-purpose white potatoes, peeled, halved and sliced ¼ inch thick
- 1 pound chicken tenders
- Ground black pepper
- 5 ears fresh supersweet corn, husked and cut into 2-inch rounds
- 2 ripe avocados, sliced
- ¾ cup half-and-half
- 2 tablespoons capers
In a heavy 3-quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add onion; cook and stir until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add broth, yellow potatoes, bay leaf, cumin and thyme. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and cook, covered, until potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes. Mash potatoes until the soup is thick and fairly smooth. Add the white potatoes and chicken; cook, covered, 15 minutes or until just cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add corn and cook over high heat until soup returns to a boil. Discard bay leaf; stir soup and divide among 6 warm soup plates. Garnish with avocado slices and serve with half-and-half and capers to garnish.
YIELD: 6 portions (about 12 cups)