corn with scapes, chilies and cilantro

If you skip ahead and read down below, you'll see I'm offering up some stuffed poblanos for lunch. Though if we're being frank, and I think we should be, the stuffing is really the take away today. That corn, and its countless variations, is something I've been making for ages, and I find myself tucking it into all manner of meals.

It started with this soufflé I think — hi there, terrible old point and shoot camera photo — that summer was a good one for corn and our now six-year-old, then less than two, was a major fan. I'd cook it until just barely tender, in butter with salt and pepper, fresh off the cobs we'd buy at the farmstand. Then I started adding onion, then garlic, then lime and herbs, and sometimes peppers, served hot and warm and at room temperature. As long as there was corn to start, there was a clean plate to finish.

And so ever since, sautéed corn has been in our rotation. As the base to corn puddings; cooked in olive oil and stirred through with torn basil, for a side along with a chicken that was spatchcocked and roasted over flames; or with fresh oregano in a salad, offering sweet against the aggressive salt of feta; or with slices of young chèvre in skinny omelets.

Like I said, it's useful. 

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My husband and I have a running joke that my children each have my stomach. They have my eyes, and my nose, and many other things, too. William, our younger, has my scrunch-faced grin.

But the most unexpected boon is that at the table, when it comes to their tastes, they closely follow my own.

It makes sense, as I am the primary cook in the family that there are certain flavours that find their way to our plates fairly often. My children have been raised on onions, garlic, ginger, and cilantro (but it's dhanya in our household), coriander seed, cumin and lime — the foundations of Indian cooking. I remember reading some research that said what a mother eats while pregnant effects the tastes of her unborn child, so maybe my children had a head start in that regard. Either way, it is a trait that's set them up for another one of my favourites, Latin American cooking.

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As they've gotten bigger and all the more adventurous, combining those familiar tastes with the standby of the sautéed corn they already love made perfect sense. We started with empanadas with corn, cumin and cotija cheese. Then tacos with beans and pico de gallo, and now stuffed poblanos, in a recipe that has lots in common with chile rellenos. 

These fried, filled poblanos are as straightforward as can be, save for the fiddly business of roasting and peeling the peppers. For all the care that one step requires, the work itself is a matter of minutes, so it's hardly a stressful endeavour. Once stuffed with corn and cheese and vegetables, the poblanos get an inelegant dunking in a beer batter — that batter fries up into something actually kind of beautiful, with edges that are crunchy, lacy and light. The peppers have that lip-humming heat, the corn is still plump and juicy, and the Monterey Jack slips its way through everything, binding it all together.

You can prepare the poblanos in advance. Secured and without batter, they should be able to hang around the fridge for a little while. The dipping and frying takes no time at all, allowing your leisure to get yourself organized. A few minutes at the stove and you're soon free to head outside, preferably with a bottle of Jarritos or some more of that beer, to tear open poblanos, crisp and soft and oozing, and gobble them up, eagerly.

Which is exactly what we did. 

POBLANO CHILES STUFFED WITH CORN

Adapted from a recipe by Eugenia Bone, as published in Martha Stewart Living (July, 2012). My children are used to some spice; please take care when handling peppers and consider the tastes of those to whom this will be served when preparing. If in doubt, omit the Thai chili.

Frozen corn can be used in place of the fresh, and I stash bags of it the freezer when we're up to our ears (ha!) in the local harvest. Blanch the husked corn, then cut the kernels from the cob and freeze on baking sheets lined with parchment until firm. Then transfer the corn to storage containers for freezing and feel rather pleased with yourself.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup lager beer
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 poblano chilies
  • 4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 8 pieces, see note
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup finely-diced onion
  • 2 cups corn kernels, cut from 2 or 3 ears
  • 3 garlic scapes, minced, see note
  • 1/2 Thai chili, seeded and minced, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons minced cilantro, leaves and tender stems
  • Oil for frying
  • Sour cream, lime wedges and additional cilantro for serving

About an a hour and a half before you want to serve, whisk together the flour, beer and salt in a wide, shallow bowl. Refrigerate batter for an hour — it will puff as it chills. 

Meanwhile, place chilies over the flame of a gas burner (or high-heat barbecue). Roast, turning carefully with tongs, until the skins are black and blistered. Alternatively, the chilies can be placed on a pan and broiled in the oven, turning often, until charred all over. In either method the aim is to be able to remove the skin without really cooking the flesh; if overcooked, the chilies will be hard to peel and too delicate to stuff. When the chilies are cool enough to handle, peel and set aside. 

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft but without colour, around 5-8 minutes. Add the corn, garlic scapes, and Thai chili and continue to sauté until the corn is just tender, around 5 minutes more. Off the heat, stir in the cilantro, and season with salt and pepper.

Leaving the stem attached, use a small knife to run a slit down the side each of a peeled chili. Carefully remove the seedpod and place a slice of cheese inside. Spoon in about 1/4 cup of the corn mixture, then carefully use a toothpick to enclose the filling.

Heat 1-inch of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, dip the chilies in the batter, letting some of the excess drip off. Fry the peppers in batches without crowding, until golden on all over, about 1 minute per side. Drain on paper towels and serve with sour cream, lime wedges and chopped cilantro. 

Serves 4 as a main, 8 as a side or to start.

Notes:

  • I like the cheese to be cut long and thin, so that it melts evenly and makes its way all through the filling. If the slices are too long for your poblanos, break them into pieces if necessary, rather than cutting big chunks. I'm fond of a cheese flecked with jalapeños, but plain is fine.
  • We had some scapes kicking around, plus their green speckling the corn and vegetables looks nice, but 1 tablespoon minced garlic can be used instead. 
  • Cooked white beans or favas would make a fine addition to the filling.
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Authortara