Corn-lovers unite: It’s summer and officially the best time to dig into the sweet, versatile veggie.
But what’s the best way to enjoy corn this summer? Well, how much time you got?
According to Junction chef Melissa Close-Hart, corn can be used “all over the place” and shows up in cuisine across the globe. But it’s particularly prevalent in Southern and Tex-Mex cooking, she says.
“I’m from the Deep South, and we looked forward to corn season,” Close-Hart says. “My uncle had a small family garden, so we were always eating fresh corn.” It’s the perfect vegetable, she says, because it’s also a starch—kinda like munching on a baguette and claiming it’s kale.
Since launching Belmont-based Junction early last year, Close-Hart has been able to expand on her love of corn through the restaurant’s Southwestern specialties. Junction features corn in tortillas, pupusas, salads, a braised chicken dish, Johnny cakes and more. Deeper into the corn calendar, she’ll roll out her peach tart with corn ice cream.
“It turns up so often in Mexican cuisine because it’s indigenous and so versatile,” Close-Hart says. In addition to garnishes and stand-alone dishes like elote street corn (see sidebar for Close-Hart’s recipe), corn can be processed for oils and flour.
Corn’s also quite prevalent in Virginia, and farmers are beginning to embrace many of the previously forgotten heirloom varieties, Close-Hart says. She scores bushels of those babies when she can, but Junction goes through so much elote—about 30 percent of diners order the dish of cobbed corn, Duke’s mayo, queso, cilantro, lime and spice—she has to bulk source a “good bi-colored sweet corn.”
“Mexican street corn has really gained in popularity as street food in general has become popular,” Close-Hart says. “It’s easy to do on food trucks and markets, and the public has grown to appreciate it.”
Junction’s Mexican street corn
6 ears corn, shucked
1 cup Duke’s mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
3 tbs. garlic, minced
1/4 cup Junction spice mix*
3 tbs. lime juice
3/4 cup queso fresco, crumbled
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, half of the cilantro, garlic, half of the Junction spice mix, lime juice and 1/2 cup of cheese in large bowl. (Dressing can be kept in refrigerator for up to two weeks.) In another large bowl, combine oil, salt, pepper and the remaining half of the Junction spice mix. Add the corn and toss until it’s coated evenly. Grill or broil corn until lightly charred on all sides. Place corn in a bowl with the dressing; toss to coat evenly. Serve immediately. Garnish with remaining cilantro and queso fresco.
*Available at The Spice Diva
Sweet corn has been grown in the Virginia earth since long before English settlers landed here. The state’s rich soil is ideal for the crop, which must be planted in blocks of three or four rows to allow it to pollinate in the wild, according to Virginia Tech ag experts. Other conditions necessary for proper corn cultivation include:
- Sunny climate.
- Average moisture.
- pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
- Warm temperatures between 60 and 75F.
- Manured or composted soil the fall
- Seeds planted two weeks after last
- Planting 1.5 to 2 inches deep, 4 to 6 inches apart; rows planted 30 to 36 inches apart.