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Here’s my family’s summertime answer to the problem of children who avoid vegetables: let them eat corn. In fact, it’s my parents’ reflexive response to the presence of any and all children during the months of July, August, and September. When the corn is good, it’s a great strategy.
As a kid, I wouldn’t eat any vegetables more challenging than carrot sticks and iceberg lettuce. But corn? Is that really a vegetable? I felt it was more of a starchy-sweet butter vehicle. Corn was also part of a whole experience. Back in the ‘70s, we’d stop at the farm stand and buy it for a dollar a dozen, then return home to shuck the ears. Technique was key: my brothers and I competed to see who could leave the ears with the fewest strands of silk.
My mom would boil them and stack them on a platter, wrapped in a clean dishtowel. We’d roll them along a stick of something buttery and dig in. Sometimes we used little plastic pronged corn-ear holders, but most often we’d get our fingers and faces all slippery with butter.
This summer, my kids and I visited their great-grandmother, two sets of grandparents, an uncle, and some close family friends. At each stop, they were served corn on the cob. My younger boy discovered that he could mow down 3 or 4 ears at a sitting. He takes his without butter, thank you, but with plenty of salt and pepper. Along the way, we became regional connoisseurs. New England corn was the tenderest and sweetest. As we swung back south, the corn became more substantial, toothsome, almost glutinous.
One night, my dad boiled up more than even my little guy could consume. The next evening, we stripped it from the cobs and tossed it with vine-ripe tomatoes from the farmers market. I’ll be making it again and again. Lime juice and cilantro pull the flavors together into a salad that will give you reason enough to buy the last of summer’s corn. It’s easy, adaptable, and tastes of summer. (It also sneaks in a few of those more nourishing foods, but we can make that our little secret.)
This is simple enough to pull together in 10 minutes, but you can boost its flavor into the stratosphere by adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of cumin seeds, toasted in a dry cast-iron skillet. An older child can and should try this. The first time my dad gave me this task, the amber aroma rising from the pan was a thrilling revelation. After toasting, pulverize the seeds in a mortar or a spice/coffee grinder. Wonderful.
- 2-4 ears of freshest corn on the cob, cooked
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes and/or a few ripe heirloom tomatoes
- 1 cucumber
- ½ Bermuda onion, chopped (or to taste)
- 1 firm-ripe avocado, chopped, optional
- ¼ cup, more or less, chopped cilantro leaves (washed and patted dry first)
- juice of 1 lime
- 1-2 tablespoons canola, sunflower, or other neutral oil (not olive oil)
- 1-2 teaspoons white wine vinegar, to taste salt and pepper to taste
- 1-2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground, optional
Use a sharp knife to cut the kernels from the cobs of corn. Break up the little kernel slabs with your fingers or a fork, and place in a medium bowl. Cut cherry tomatoes in halves, or cut larger tomatoes into bite-sized wedges. Add them to the bowl. Use a vegetable peeler to peel stripes of skin from the cucumber, then slice it in half lengthwise. Drag a spoon down the center of each half to remove seeds, then trim ends and slice crosswise into ¼” thick pieces. Add them and chopped onion to bowl, plus avocado if you like.
Add cilantro, lime juice, oil, and a couple of generous pinches of salt. Toss gently and taste. If the flavor is flat, add a teaspoon or two of white wine vinegar. Season generously with fresh-ground black pepper and cumin, if desired, and more salt if needed. Garnish with additional cilantro leaves and serve right away.