Thursday, August 27, 2009

Veggie Might: Esquites (Divinely Roasted Corn)

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

It’s been a highly politicized year for corn: High-fructose corn syrup wars have been raging, and Food, Inc reminded us that American farmers mostly produce corn that feeds livestock and the agri-industrial complex.

But let’s forget all about politics for today. It’s summer; the sun is shining; and, if you can stand the humidity, it’s high time to talk about corn that people eat.

Corn is a nearly perfect food. It’s sweet; it’s savory; and it can be cooked a million ways. I’m always on the lookout for a new way to use corn, and New York magazine’s In Season recipe from a couple weeks ago left me all atwitter.

I’d never heard of esquites, but, after a little bit of research, I discovered the delicious truth. Esquites is heavenly Mexican street food: corn, butter, cheese, lime, and epazote with optional mayo. Served in a cup with a spoon, you’re ready to hit the town. That beats a dried out pretzel any day.

The NY mag recipe comes courtesy of Chef David Schuttenberg of Cabrito, a restaurant I’d neither heard of nor been to. But man, this stuff is good, so who knows...

His version of esquites has no mayo and adds onion and garlic. I subbed cilantro for epazote and queso blanco for the tangier cotija cheese, both purely because of availability. Parmesan would have been a better sub for the cotija, but hey, it’s what I had on hand. I also significantly reduced the amount of butter (and subbed vegan margarine), and it was still amazing.

The second best part was roasting the corn over the open flame of my gas stove. Though I love the flexibility of cooking with gas, I’ve always been a teensy bit afraid of my stove. I’ve had two small kitchen fires in the 14 years I’ve lived this gas-heated community. But for roasted corn, I was willing to work through my fears. (Next up: down escalators.)

The best part was eating the results. Oh sweet St. Honoré, the esquites were divine. (was divine? I’m having cross-lingual subject-verb agreement issues.) Roasting brings out the sweetness in the corn in a way you just don’t get from boiling. This dish will become a permanent part of my summer rotation. It’s best hot, but it was also delicious at room temperature on a blanket overlooking New York harbor.

Oh, hey, Honoré, patron saint of corn? Can you take up this whole industrial corn mess with the big G and see what y’all can work out? ‘k. Thanks.

Esquites (Roasted Corn)
adapted from David Schuttenberg’s Esquites in New York magazine
serves 4 – 6

4 ears corn, husks removed
1 tbsp vegan margarine or butter
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk epazote (stems separated from leaves, and leaves finely chopped)
2 tbsp cilantro (thicker stems separated, leaves finely chopped)
1 lime, juiced
2 tbs. cotija cheese (available at many Mexican bodegas, parmesan is a good substitution)
salt to taste
cayenne pepper to taste

1) Heat a grill, or turn on your gas stove burner. Cook 2 ears of corn until black, but not burnt. Set aside to cool.

2) Remove kernels from remaining two ears of corn with a knife.

3) Melt the butter and add olive oil to a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes.

4) "Add raw corn kernels and stem from epazote" or cilantro. Cook 5 or 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Corn should be juuust cooked through.

5) Remove kernels from roasted ears of corn.

6) Up the heat to high and add the charred kernels of corn to the pan. Stir until heated through.

7) Squeeze in lime juice. Add salt and cayenne to taste.

8) Remove epazote stem and move mixture into individual bowls or a serving bowl. Top cheese and chopped epazote or cilantro leaves. (To be honest, I mixed everything together in the serving bowl and it was gorgeous.)

9) Eat and gimme an Amen.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
Serves 4: 192.5 calories, 7.5g fat, $.82
Serves 6: 128.3 calories, 5g fat, $.54

4 ears corn: 508, 8g fat, $0.1.33
1 tbsp vegan margarine: 100 cal, 11 fat, $.12
1/2 tbsp olive oil: 60 calories, 7g fat, $.04
1 medium white onion: 40 calories, .2g fat, $.50
2 cloves garlic: 8.4 calories, 0g fat, $.024
2 tbsp cilantro + stems: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 lime, juiced: 9.5 calories, 0g fat, $.10
2 tbsp queso blanco: 44 calories, 3.6g fat, $.19
salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
cayenne pepper: negligible calories and fat, $.02
Totals: 770 calories, 30g fat, $3.26
Per serving (totals/4): 192.5 calories, 7.5g fat, $.82
Per serving (totals/6): 128.3 calories, 5g fat, $.54

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