Don’t you love summer veggies? If you garden or belong to a CSA, or even shop at a Farmer’s Market and can’t resist a good deal, your kitchen may be overflowing with some of summer’s most prolific producers. Here are some new ways to prepare them.
One of my favorite childhood memories is of our first crop of corn. We had just moved from Queens, a borough of New York City, out to Long Island. We had this gigantic yard – the kind only millionaires have on Long Island nowadays – and the back fifth or so my parents made into a vegetable garden. We grew carrots and radishes, pumpkins and spaghetti squash, tomatoes and green beans. But the darling of the garden was the corn, and nothing could compare to that very first crop.
Knowing a bit more about gardening now, I realize what corn does to the soil, and how you have to amend it. I know subsequent crops are never going to provide you with the richness and health of that first year on virgin soil, full of nitrogen and healthy microbes.
But corn robbing the soil of nutrients isn’t the only problem with which organic gardeners and farmers need to contend. Read on to learn about the challenges – and IMPORTANCE – of growing organic corn, along with some yummy recipes!
Do I Really Need to Buy Organic Corn?
Corn is one of those foods which many people, even reasonably health savvy consumers, overlook when it comes to seeking out organic. One reason for this is that is isn’t particularly high on the scale of pesticide residue (although pesticides are used – see below!). With sweet corn included on EWG’s so-called Clean 15, we’ve been lulled into a false comfort level.
But pesticide use is just one facet of the story of organic vs. industrial/ GMO corn. Corn is now at the very center of our economy, our politics and our food supply. It all comes back to corn. Among other issues, eaters need to be concerned with fertilizer usage and genetic modification. As corn is a particularly nutrient-sucking crop, industrial corn farmers must use chemical fertilizers, and a lot of them. (See The Omnivore’s Dilemma for a ton of fascinating information on corn, including corn production, corn politics and why it pays for farmers to OVERUSE chemical fertilizers.)
The other thing that industrial corn farming necessitates is planting genetically modified varieties. They need their plants to have higher yield, to grow in less space (so they can pack in as many plants as possible), mature quicker, and not die when they are sprayed with toxins to kill pests. It is currently estimated that 75-90 percent of all corn is genetically modified. Up until now, this primarily referred to corn grown to be used in processed foods. (Check some labels; corn is in everything.)
That, in and of itself, is a good reason to buy organic (or better, yet: don’t buy processed foods!). But this fall, Monsanto plans to begin selling its genetically modified sweet corn straight to consumers. And it doesn’t have to be labeled as such. So you won’t know if those fresh ears of corn that you’re picking up in the produce section are genetically engineered. (And if you’re still not sure that’s such a bad thing, check out this site.)
What You Need to Know About Organic Corn
If you’ve eaten organically for any amount of time, and especially if you’ve bought straight from a farm, you might be used to sharing some of your bounty with… um… some little friends. Yes, when you buy real food that was grown out in nature, as intended, you will occasionally come across a critter or two. It’s no big deal, and trust me: If a girly-girl like me can get over it, you can, too. But just to avoid you being too surprised should you peel back the husks of your fresh, organic corn and find a stowaway, I’d like to share with you what our farmer shared with me:
“C.E.W. [Corn Ear Worm] adults migrate north each spring as moths, looking for their most irresistible love: sweet corn silk. Once here they immediately get busy laying egg after egg on the silk of flowering corn, night after night. These tiny eggs hatch into little hungry caterpillars which eat their way down the silk into the protecting husk of the corn cob, where they eat their surroundings, including their brothers and sisters, growing into nice fat ‘worms.’
Now the conventional farmer has found a relatively simple solution to sharing his dinner with C.E.W. Beginning at tassel emergence he starts spraying the corn with toxic chemicals and continues every three to four days until about seven days before he intends to pick. Six treatments later every bug in that corn field is dead, including most of the C.E.W. who got caught between hatching and taking refuge inside the corn husk four days later. He gets a pat on the back for good pest management!
Upon shunning the use of toxins on our farm, we are left fighting the battle almost bare handed, taking with us vegetable oil and treating each individual ear with about four drops of oil into the silk shaft, blocking the road for the hungry little army! Besides being labor intensive, great care has to be taken to monitor the days of pollination. Since the oil will stop pollination and hence the forming of the kernels, we are left with a two-day window of decent pollination and minimal worms.
Wow. Thank God for the hard work and dedication of our organic farmers! You can see that even with these herculean efforts, it’s likely that you’ll come across a pest or two. (I’ve actually discovered only two in our summer full of fresh corn.) Our farmer asked us, and now I beg you, to please muster up the courage to cut out corn ear worms if you find them and continue to enjoy the healthfulness of organic corn! Don’t give up on it and revert to dangerous chemicals just to avoid the heeby-jeebies.
Alright, enough lecturing. Let’s get to the good stuff. Corn is delicious, and provides us with vitamins A and C, thiamin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, choline and protein, along with important minerals! The cell walls of corn, however, are very difficult for our digestive system to break down (you may have noticed that sometimes corn seems to have made it through the whole digestive process intact!) so it is important to cook it to get the best nutritional bang for your buck.
Grilled Corn on the Cob
*Ears of organic corn (One or two per person. Sometimes I cut them in half for the littles .)
*Butter, softened (You could sub coconut oil or ghee.)
*Salt or seasoning of choice (See below.)
Preheat your grill.
Husk your corn and remove as much silk as possible.
Tear off a square of aluminum foil (about 12″ long) for each ear of corn. Place a cob on the square, and cover with butter (I usually just use my hands). Sprinkle with salt, Herbamare, homemade taco seasoning, cumin, curry powder, garlic powder – whatever you like. Grill for 25-35 minutes, depending on the heat of your grill.
Unwrap and enjoy!
Note: I really don’t like using aluminum foil, both because I try to avoid aluminum in general and because the foil needs to be thrown away after use. (You can check to see if it’s recyclable in your jurisdiction.) But this dish is a summer favorite of the whole family, so I make an exception. None of the other techniques I’ve heard people recommend come out as good… so forgive me!
This next recipe was shared with me by a mom at my daughter’s old preschool. (Thanks, M.K.!) It is similar to something I used to make, however I’ll first share the recipe as it’s written, because when I made it this way, even my teenage son was begging for more!
Fresh Corn Salad
*5 ears of organic corn, shucked
*1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
*3 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar
*3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
*1/2 teaspoon sea salt
*1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
*1/2 cup julienned fresh basil leaves
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the corn for 3 minutes until the starchiness is just gone. Drain and immerse it in ice water to stop the cooking and to set the color. When the corn is cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob.
Toss the kernels in a large bowl with the red onions, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Just before serving, toss in the fresh basil. Taste for seasonings and serve cold or at room temperature.
Variations: You could do so many things to this delicious salad! When pinched for time I’ll use any old homemade vinaigrette I have in the pantry. You could sub cilantro for the basil (or other herbs that would complement your dinner). If using cilantro, consider adding some lime juice (and even some zest). Tomatoes and avocados would be delicious – and beautiful – additions. You could even add in cooked chicken or shrimp and make this a great summer meal!
Would it be strange if I shared a recipe that I haven’t actually made yet? It comes to me highly recommended, and it’s on my ‘To Be Made Soon’ list. Doesn’t it sound fab?
*2 Tbsp. butter, divided
*2 cups organic corn
*Sea salt and pepper
*1 jalapeno, diced
*2 tsp. minced garlic
*1/4 cup mayonnaise
*1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
*Shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, etc.)
Melt 1 Tbsp. of the butter in a saute pan. Add the corn, season with salt and pepper, and saute about 5 minutes.
In a separate pan, melt the remaining Tbsp. of butter and saute the jalapeno and garlic for about 2 minutes.
In a bowl, mix together the corn and jalapeno mixture, along with the mayo, cayenne and a handful of shredded cheese.
Pour into a baking dish, top with another handful of shredded cheese and bake at 350 for 2o minutes.
Serve with organic tortilla chips and enjoy!
And finally, since I’ve been obsessed with Indian cooking lately…
Indian Style Corn
*6 ears of organic corn, cut off the cob
*2 tsp. mustard seed
*1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
*1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
*1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
*6 Tbsp. butter
*2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
*1/2 tsp. turmeric
*2-4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
*2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
*2 cups plain yogurt
*1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Saute mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, red pepper flakes and ginger in butter. Add onion and jalapeno peppers and saute until tender. Add turmeric and stir around. Add corn and garlic and mix well. Simmer gently until corn is just tender. Stir in yogurt and season to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
Share your favorite way to make corn below! Oh, and if you still think creamed corn has to come from a can, check out this yummy recipe…
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This post is linked to Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday.
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