Not much tastes better than fresh, local sweet corn, and August is the time it starts coming from Eastern Washington to our Seattle-area mouths. Just shucked and blanched in boiling water for three minutes, eaten plain as soon as it’s cool enough, it is perfection — though if you want to gild the corn-lily with lots of butter and salt, who’s to blame you? I ate mine that way as a kid, and those memories cannot be bested: at my grandmother’s little ranch house in the lambent late afternoon light of a 5:30 p.m. summer supper, the cute little plastic ear-of-corn-shaped corn-on-the-cob holders abandoned for the pleasure of buttery fingers, the corn almost as sweet as candy.
That corn was incredible: My grandmother, who raised a small herd of Angus cattle outside Sunnyside, Washington, grew her own in the prodigious namesake sun in a little garden plot (along with huge beefsteak tomatoes, also incredible, served by the fat slice with a blob of Best Foods). The corn often grown in the huge field just west of the house was not for us — it was my dad’s cousin Gene’s land, and as high as the stalks got, as pretty as the two-toned yellow looked if you peeled back a husk, it was feed corn, not sweet, the kernels stiff with starch. Sometimes we’d eliminate the middleman and take some ears directly to Gene’s horse and mule, who spent summers in the pasture in view from the kitchen window. Their job was to eat: The grass there, given irrigation, would otherwise grow out of control. Sentient and picturesque lawn mowers, they were also friends, though very different in temperament. The horse would lope to the fence promptly for some corn, while the mule, skittish and wild-eyed, hung back with a kind of pitiable, crazy longing that made you throw an ear right quick.
After long and happily indolent lives, the horse and the mule are gone now, but Gene still grows corn in that field, and when I saw it a couple of weeks ago, it was taller than an elephant’s eye and immensely frustrating, all those ears that aren’t actually good to eat. I’ll have my first Washington sweet corn plain; then, when it gets less expensive later in the season, I’ll make some of it into a corn and black bean salad that’s based on a recipe of my mom’s, one that also celebrates any abundance of backyard or apartment-deck cherry tomatoes.
Consider the recipe a starting point. It is easily adjustable for those who, for instance, think cilantro tastes like soap. Instead of the chili powder, you could use red chili flakes, cayenne, a minced jalapeno (with or without seeds for more or less heat), or some grilled or pan-seared shishito peppers. If you want to grill your corn, shuck it and lightly coat the ears with olive oil (using your hands to rub them saves washing a brush), then keep an eye on them on a hot grill, turning until they’re dark golden all over (same with shishito peppers). To liberate your kernels without doing the same to your fingers, break your cobs in two and stand each half upright with broken side down for stability, then hold the top and use a sharp knife to cut the kernels off from top to bottom. Mixing your dressing right in the salad bowl saves a little more dishwashing, and you can rinse the beans right in the can by adding cold water a couple-few times and redraining. It’s summertime and the living is lazy.
Sweet Corn, Black Bean and Etc. Salad is good as a side with anything grilled, inside a burrito, or on its own for a hot day’s lunch with some tortilla chips (Juanita’s are the best, though has anyone else noticed they seem significantly less salty lately? ).
Sweet Corn, Black Bean, Avocado, Etc., Salad
Yield: 2-3 servings as a main dish with chips, or 4-6 as a side
These ingredient amounts may be adjusted according to your taste, and anything you don’t like may be jettisoned, obviously. This tastes better after resting in the fridge overnight, as noted, and it’s not the worst idea to just go ahead and double it. — Bethany Jean Clement
For the salad:
- Kernels from 2 medium ears sweet corn, blanched for 3 minutes or grilled
- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 avocado, diced (but wait until you’re ready to serve)
- 10 cherry tomatoes, halved (ditto on waiting)
- ¼ cup red onion, minced
- 6-8 ounces crumbled cotija, feta or queso fresco
- ⅓ cup cilantro leaves, snipped up (or substitute Italian parsley)
For the dressing:
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup lime juice
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- Kosher salt to taste
- In a large bowl, whisk all the dressing ingredients until the honey’s all incorporated, then taste and adjust to your liking — more honey for sweetness, more lime for brightness, more chili powder for spicy heat.
- Add all the other ingredients except the avocado and cherry tomatoes, and stir to combine. Let flavors mingle in the fridge overnight if possible.
- To serve, add remaining ingredients and stir gently from the bottom up to redistribute dressing, then taste and consider squeezing a wedge of lime over the top to brighten. Garnish with a little more cheese plus cilantro (or Italian parsley), and enjoy on its own, with chips, in a burrito, as a side, etc.!