Last week hailed the final (official) day of summer. Already, the nights are getting longer and the days a little cooler. As much as I love the onset of autumn, the change in seasons means among other things the decline of bright and sweet summer produce, one of those being corn.
For many people fresh corn is synonymous with the joys of summer produce, loaded with juicy, sweet kernels just waiting to pop as you take a bite. (Depending on how you eat corn can tell a lot about you apparently, though I’d take this like I take my corn – with an extra pinch of salt.)
Did you know that corn is part of the grass family, just like grains such as wheat or rice? Thousands of years ago, corn (or maize) was domesticated from a wild grass called teosinte, native to Mexico. Like many other “New World” foods (such as chillies, tomatoes and potatoes to name a few), corn has had a huge impact on global food economies, with corn now being grown on most every continent (the three biggest corn producers in the world are currently the US, China and Brazil). However, while we might love munching on a cob or two, the bulk of corn grown ends up not in our bellies, but is instead used for livestock feed and ethanol production. Such a shame…
Although I digress, you may be wondering why after all this talk about corn, I’m now going to suggest adulterating its purity and charm.
One word. Bacon.
But really, sometimes you might want to change things up a bit. Or maybe you’re feeding the masses and a corn salad is easier to manage. Whatever your reasons, give this a go, even if it’s an excuse to get more bacon into your food. But who needs an excuse, right?
So here we have Bacon and Sweet Chilli Corn. In tribute to its Mexican roots, this recipe is basically esquites, a popular preparation of corn sold by street vendors around the country.
But as well as bacon, this includes a good spoon of Thai sweet chilli sauce to help bring out the sweetness of the corn against the smoky saltiness of the bacon and cheese. A good dose of sharp lime, spring onion and coriander lends a herbaceous note to the creamy mayo background.
You have a choice of how to prepare the corn – you might grill it on the barbecue till charred, steam it or boil it. My usual go-to method for corn is to microwave it for 1 – 2 minutes per ear, then give it a char on the gas stove (your mileage may vary depending on your access to any or all of these :).
Failing that, try out the technique from Serious Eats’ Esquites recipe to char the corn kernels in a pan.
I’ve added olive oil here as well as mayo to keep it lighter, but if you want a creamier salad, use all mayo, or add some sour cream.
The recipe uses feta cheese because I’ve not been able to source cotija cheese locally, which is what would normally be used for esquites, but if you can get hold of it by all means use that!
A quick note on sweet chilli sauce…try and use one that isn’t just sugary – it should at least taste of chilli and garlic, and have some heat if you’re lucky. It’s quite easy to make your own if you fancy – Leela at She Simmers has a nice recipe which I’ve made before, and if you leave the seeds in it adds a nice bit of heat.
In fact, what I like about this salad is that it’s quite customisable. Cook the corn how you like, add more or less of the ingredients to your taste – add more lime for more acidity, maybe extra chilli powder if you want it spicy, or try a different cheese – it’s quite easy to play around with until you get something you like.
So let’s get to it!
Recipe adapted from Serious Eats – Esquites (Mexican Street Corn Salad)