By Jessie Lehail
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it’s time to talk turkey and side dishes. Most cooks are loyal to their turkey recipe, so scene-stealing vegetable side dishes can offer an opportunity for adventure. This new approach to corn invests ordinary ingredients with extra significance, boldly overturning traditions and juxtaposing flavours. Coconut confetti corn is a dish delectably satisfying that will make vegetarians and non-vegetarians feel loved and looked after.
My parents were immodest in their enjoyment of corn. They purchased fresh corn devotedly when it was in season. Once we got home, my mom took over, shucking the husks and removing the silk. There were always those little strands that stuck, and she would carefully clean them off before throwing the ears onto a rack on the stove to grill and char. When grilled (inside or outside), corn picks up extra sweetness, but it also starts to develop more savoury, browned flavours.
Occasionally we’d hear one of the kernels pop – just like popcorn. The corn was removed from the stove rack when they are sufficiently cooked and charred. Allowed to cool for a moment or two.
We experimented briefly with corn holders (they were in the shape of miniature plastic corn ears), it was determined to be easier to indulge in corn eating with our hands. Sadly, the miniature plastic corn ears didn’t stand a chance. They made their way to the back of our cooking utensil drawer and then eventually to Goodwill.
Recently though, corn is eaten by removing the corn kernels from the core before eating. To do this: holding the corn standing upright on a chopping board, the knife is run down each side between the corn kernels and the hard middle core. What is left is a pile of yellow sunshine goodness that makes indulging in our corn fancy, the easiest.
This dish captures the essence of sweet summer corn in the most magnificent way – it’s all about the corn, yet is infused with gutsy flavours. It does not necessarily have to be a side dish. It can be used as the foundation (structurally speaking) of a dish and simultaneously as its sauce. I often eat dishes in which the “sauce” is a vegetable dish that normally stands alone. The interplay of heat and richness, herbs and earth, caramel and citrus gives it substance.
Corn releases that secret buttery sweetness when it turns golden and then slightly charred. The coconut milk accentuates the sweet flavour of the corn even more. But all that sugary appeal needs to be balanced and that’s where the additions help to make the corn shine. The jalapeno brings a spicy bite that’s absolutely marvelous. The red pepper, onion, and garlic is dreamy, and that kind of deliciousness is often a signal to stop right there. But the tomatoes add an element with their contrasting texture and their mild acidity. A sprinkle of chopped cilantro and squeeze of lime juice adds brightness. Last, but not least, the Himalayan salt brings another important contrast – think of what salt does to caramel. It does it here as well.
2 tablespoons ghee
1 jalapeño, chopped
1 tablespoon, ginger, peeled and
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ red bell pepper, chopped
1 roma tomato, chopped
½ onion chopped
1 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
3 cups corn kernels plus their scrapings, (about 5 to 6 ears grilled and charred)
3/4 cup coconut milk
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
In medium saucepan, heat ghee. Add onion, ginger and garlic. Sauté until translucent. Add sea salt, black pepper, garam masala, turmeric, and cumin. Sauté for a minute. Add coconut milk. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer, for a two minutes. Turn off heat. Add corn, jalapeno, red pepper, tomato, and cilantro. Toss until well incorporated. Eat warm or at room temperature.
Jessie Lehail is the author of Indian Influence, a food blog that takes global eats and reinterprets them with a South Asian influence.
Visit her blog at www.indianinfluence.ca.