Meat Free Mondays – Mexican Street Corn

I was destined to make this recipe.

You see, I was at the local farmer’s market the other morning when I came across this unusual corn. It’s called Mirai (me-RYE), which is an ultra sweet hybrid that has an amazingly soft texture. It’s so tender that you can literally eat it raw.

Mirai corn is not widely available because it’s super soft texture makes it too tender to be machine picked. It all has to be harvested by hand.

Fortunately, there’s a farm in Harvard, Illinois, just outside Chicago where I live, that grows the corn and sells it at local farmers markets, which along with farm stands is usually the only place you can find it.

In Japan, it is hand harvested and sold as a dessert. It definitely is that sweet. When I first tasted it, I thought it had been soaked in sugar water.

So when I arrived home with all this Mirai corn — I got a little excited and bought too much — I was trying to figure out what to do with it when I came across this recipe for Mexican street corn in Runner’s World magazine, of all places!

I’ve been an on-and-off subscriber to Runner’s World (and an on-and-off runner) for probably the past 20 years, but I’ve never paid attention to the recipes, most of which tend to be directed more at the athlete than the epicurean.

But this recipe — submitted by Mark Bittman, the excellent New York Times food writer, who I’ve mentioned in this blog before — just leapt off the page at me.

I had never heard of Mexican street corn before and wondered if it was just something that perhaps Bittman simply made up. But a little research revealed that Mexican street corn is in fact a well known dish that is served not only by street vendors in Mexico, but in various other versions all around the world. I did not know that.

What I do know is that it’s delicious, easy to make, and is hearty enough to be a meal all by itself. And when you make it with the sweet Mirai corn, you could even serve it as a desset.

Mexican Street Corn

4 ears Fresh Corn, shucked

1/4 cup Reduced Fat Mayonnaise

2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 TBS Chili Powder

Grated zest and juice of 1 Lime

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1/4 cup Fresh Cilantro, chopped

1 cup Tortilla Chips, crushed

1 oz Queso Fresco Cheese

1. Preheat your grill. Soak corn in water for at least 15 minutes prior to grilling, then place on the grill, not directly over the heat, and cook until done, turning frequently. Because Mirai corn is so tender, this took only a minute. With other kinds of corn, it could take as long as 15 minutes. Let the corn get a good char on it, but don’t burn it.

2. In a bowl, combine mayonnaise, oil, chili powder, and the lime zest and juice. Meanwhile, place the tortilla chips in a sealable plastic bag and smash them until they are crumbs.

3. Brush the cooked corn with the mayonnaise mixture, then sprinkle with the tortilla chips, cilantro and queso fresco. Serve warm.

Queso fresco (literally Spanish for “fresh cheese”) is a white crumbly young cheese that tastes almost like Feta, but not as strong. It can be found in any Mexican market and even in many chain grocery stores.

Farmer’s Market Treasure

As the economy struggles to improve, it becomes more important than ever to find ways to stretch our food budget. One good way I’ve found is to visit the local farmer’s markets.

A little internet research shows there’s one almost every day of the week in the Chicago area this time of year.

Not only are they a fun way to spend time outdoors in the crisp autumn air, farmer’s markets also feature a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and usually are less expensive grocery stores because they have, literally, no overhead.

Some farmer’s markets also have flowers and plants, baked goods, jams and jellies, assorted honeys, and even cheeses.

This week, I visited two local farmer’s markets — in Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park. I spent a total of $9.25 and I bought: One medium pumpkin for making soup, two smaller pumpkins for serving the soup, three sweet gypsy peppers, two purple peppers, two large eggplants, 5 or 6 patty pan squash, and three beautiful red beets.

Not a bad haul for the money.

Next, I had to figure out what to do with all this. It’s sort of like one of those tryouts for a chef’s job, where they give you a mystery basket full of ingredients and you have to create something unique and delicious out of it.

So after nosing around my refigerator, freezer and cabinets, here’s what I came up with: Roasted Beet, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad with a Honey Dijon Vinaigrette, and Assorted Stuffed Peppers. I’ll make use the rest to make pumpkin soup and baba ganouj another time.

The stuffed peppers are kind of an inside joke between my wife, Sandi, and I. Growing up, stuffed green peppers was one of the few dishes Sandi’s mother and grandmother could make, so they made it almost every week, freezing leftovers in plastic Wonder Bread bags. As a result, she ate her lifetime allotment of stuffed green peppers by the time she turned 12. It’s one dish I’m strongly discouraged from making at home.

But I’m going to stuff those purple peppers, the sweet gypsy peppers, as well as a green pepper from our garden, so hopefully this twist on an old standard will be acceptable.

Roasted Beet, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad

For the Salad

1 large beet

1/2 TBS EVOO

1/4 cup walnuts, broken up

4 oz imported Danish blue cheese (or domestic), crumbled

1 head Boston Bibb lettuce

For the Honey Dijon Vinaigrette

2 TBS honey

1-1/2 TBS Dijon mustard

3 TBS red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp cracked black pepper

1/4 cup EVOO

1. Roast the beets the night before: Preheat the oven to 425F. Leaving about 1/2 inch of the stem attached to prevent beet juice from escaping, rub beets with EVOO, place in baking dish, cover with foil and bake until a knife passes through easily, about 1 hour. Allow to cool and remove skin with a pairing knife.

2. In mixing bowl, whisk together honey, Dijon, vinegar, salt and pepper. Emulsify the oil into the mixture by slowly whisking in the EVOO, starting with a drop at a time and building to steady stream. Season with S&P to taste.

3. Dice the beets into medium cubes. Remove a few lettuce leaves and set aside. Chop remaining lettuce into bite-sized peices and toss with beets, walnuts and blue cheese, then dress with vinaigrette. To assemble, place one Bibb leave in center of each chilled salad plate, and build tall pile of salad in center of each leaf. Drizzle a bit more dressing on top and grind a little more pepper on top of that.

Roasted Beet, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad

Roasted Beet, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad

Assorted Stuffed Peppers

2 purple peppers

1 sweet gypsy pepper

1 green pepper

1 lb ground turkey

1-1/2 cooked white rice

1/2 white onion, diced

1 clove garlic, crushed

8 oz can tomato sauce

1/4 cup grated parmesan

Assorted Stuffed Peppers

Assorted Stuffed Peppers

1. Cut tops off peppers, then use a spoon to dig out the ribs and seeds, being careful not to pierce the walls. Blanch peppers by dropping into boiling water for 30 seconds, then immediately plunging them in ice water.

2. Heat cast iron pan. When hot, add TBS EVOO. When smoking, add chopped pepper tops and onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute, then add ground turkey and cook until browned, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Combine turkey, rice and 3/4 of the tomato sauce in a mixing bowl. Season with S&P to taste.

3. Use a spoon to stuff the peppers with the meat and rice mixture. Place about 1/3 of the mixture in the bottom of a 9″x9″ baking pan. Place peppers on top, spoon a little of the remaining tomato sauce onto the top of each pepper, then sprinkle each with parmesan. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

What treasures have you found at your local Farmer’s Market? Share your discoveries in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!