A recipe for chilled corn soup with coconut milk
Regarding corn, you have no idea.
This food crop is so fertile and adaptable that it grows below sea level (in the Caspian depression north of the Caspian Sea) and up to 12,000 feet above sea level (in the Peruvian Andes) . It thrives in a massive band on Earth defined by the 50th degrees of north and south latitude. (To the north are Vancouver, Kiev, and Prague, barely Iowa.)
It’s fine with as little as 10 inches of annual rainfall in Russia and can handle the 100 inches it gets on Colombia’s Pacific coast. It will bear its grain in a fast three month growing season, but will also be fruitful if it is subjected to a 13 month season.
This bounty helps to explain the rapid spread of what are called Amerindian populations (in truth, empires) in South and North America for millennia before their colonization by Europe, itself somewhat hampered in population growth through its much more inconstant cereal crops, oats and especially wheat. This also explains the rise of these same colonizers in the New World who, from their landing, benefited from this generous harvest and from the ability to produce it developed by these indigenous peoples.
An interesting historical note about these Europeans: in the 1600s, after the explorations of Christopher Columbus, maize (or “maize”) was readily adopted by European farmers, not only because of its robust adaptability. already on display in his American birthplace, but also because it was a new grain crop and, therefore, not subject to the regular tithe owed by the serfs to their feudal lords. It was not until the early 1700s that corn was taxed in this way (when the state and the upper classes realized – due to the widespread cultivation of corn – the tax revenues they foregone).
The bounty of corn also explains Bourbon whiskey, high fructose syrup, ethanol, many plastics, vinyl records, ‘pone, donuts, hushpuppies, oatmeal, margarine, Kellogg’s, Orville Redenbacher, Fritos and the pipe du General Douglas MacArthur.
The United States is both the largest consumer and (by far) the largest producer of corn in the world. More interestingly, when we eat it, we eat almost all of it (over 99%) indirectly, so to speak, in the form of animal flesh and dairy products produced by other creatures who eat it first for us.
Just over 1% of the corn the United States produces is corn that we eat out of the blue, in the form of frozen or canned kernels, for example, or corn on the cob. In 2019, we produced 14.2 billion bushels of corn, of which only 220 million was for foods that we would recognize as corn.
Most of the corn we grow is called “dent” or “flint” corn, which is intended to be dried and either ground, distilled, made into fuel, brewed, converted into various forms of other food, fed to animals or exported.
It’s only part of what we advertise this time of year, sweet corn. But it’s a little blowing.
My father went to dental school in Chicago with a Frenchman named Jean-Louis. (I forget his last name; the first names are sufficient for his French good faith). Jean-Louis was so in love with American sweet corn – especially white kernel sweet corn – that he collected enough seeds to plant a few rows for his annual summer enjoyment at his home on Boulevard de la Reine in Versailles.
Such is the attraction of sweet corn. (Jean-Louis was ridiculed by his compatriots because in France at that time, in the middle of the 20th century, corn of all kinds was reserved only as fodder or fodder for animals.)
Be kind to this most ephemeral food. Sweet corn is the comet of summer, so pay attention and enjoy its gifts of opaline hues, tooth-singing sweetness, juice down your chin and, if devoured from its cob, the happy mustache he’s signing you.
Chilled corn soup with coconut milk
From Gabrielle Langholtz, Editor, “America: The Cookbook” (Phaidon 2017). For 4 people as a starter or 2 as a main course. Keep in mind that the soup will be served cold, so it may require more salt than when tasted while hot.
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for garnish
- 1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/2 inch fresh ginger, minced
- 5 ears of corn, kernels cut into ears, 3 ears reserved for corn broth
- 3 cups of corn broth (see following recipe)
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 1/2 avocado, peeled and cubed
- 1/2 cup popped corn
In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the leek, garlic and ginger and cook until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add corn, corn broth, coconut milk and salt to taste and simmer for 10 minutes.
Transfer the soup to a blender and toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil until smooth and satiny. Check the seasonings and adjust if necessary. Refrigerate until cold.
Serve garnished with avocado, sautéed corn and a drizzle of olive oil.
Makes 3 cups
- 3 ears of corn, cut into pieces
- 1 leek, white part only, halved lengthwise
- 1 lemongrass stalk, cut in half
- 3 thin slices of fresh ginger
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients (except the salt) with 3 cups of water and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in salt to taste. Filter the stock. It can be stored, covered, for 5 days in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.
Follow these tips for picking, storing, and cooking fresh sweet corn.
- Pick up every ear of corn you dream of; it should feel heavy. Run your fingers along the entire length of its casing, looking for any cavities or bulges, which may be a sign of damage or deterioration.
- It is not necessary to remove the casing, even near the tip. It’s really unnecessary and, on top of that, you’re ruining the ear of any subsequent buyer. The envelopes should be damp, snug, and dark green (unless someone has already removed the outer envelope). You don’t want to buy them anyway. The silks should be tan or golden; any dark brown or black sticky silk is bad.
- Final fret check: Gently touch with fingertips around silky end. The kernels should be plump and firm very near or to the top.
- Fresh corn is always better the day you pick it (or buy it). You can store it for a few days (up to three) in the coldest part of the refrigerator, still wrapped in its envelopes, in plastic bags. A paper towel wrapped around every third ear is a good way to wick away moisture.
Grill: Remove the pods just enough to remove the tang, then reposition the pods. (Alternatively, you can leave the bristles intact, they slip off easily after cooking.) Soak the ears in cold water for 20 minutes, then place them on a hot rack. Cover, broil for 15-20 minutes, turning the ears every 5 minutes or so.
Of course, you can grill “naked” corn on the cob or one stripped of their bristle and husks. Just be careful not to burn the fresh, tender grains, unless that kind of charcoal is what you are looking for anyway. Hourly? Your eyes will tell you what’s going on and when.
In the microwave : It’s a surprisingly efficient way to cook corn on the cob. Leave the ears out of the refrigerator for 30 minutes, if that’s where they came from, so they can get rid of most of their colds. Leave the envelopes and silks intact. If necessary, remove part of the end of the rod so that all ears can turn on the turntable without hitting any side of the microwave.
Zap at high intensity for 3 to 4 minutes per ear, depending on thickness. For example, three ears for 9 to 12 minutes. Cook up to 3 ears at a time, placed side by side. When finished, cut off an inch from the end of the stem. Using a tea towel or several sheets of paper towel, grab the ear by the tapered, silky end, then squeeze and pull. The envelopes and silks will slide off right away.
Boil: Shell the ears and remove the silks. Cut as you see fit. Boil in rapidly boiling salted water (no milk or sugar needed) for 2-3 minutes for crispy grains, up to 6 minutes for softer grains.
To roast: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roast the ears with the husks and bristles intact for 20-25 minutes, depending on thickness. If the ears are shelled, without bristles, wrap them in foil and roast them for the same amount of time.