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~Classic Grilled Mexican Sweet Street Corn (Elotes)~

IMG_9963It's that time of year:  sweet corn season.  Where I live here in Central Pennylvania, it's hard to drive a mile in any direction and not encounter vendors selling it at a farmer's market or a home-grown stand in front of their farm.  While in season, I buy it twice a week.  We enjoy it, on and off the cob, cooked in lot of ways -- I even freeze the cooked kernels.   For six years now, I make it a point to post a recipe or two each year that gives my sweet-corn-loving readers another way to serve this beloved vegetable.  In my food world, no culture knows more about cooking with corn than the Mexican people, so, this year, I'm sharing two Mexican street-food specialties.

Mexican elotes today (a grilled sweet corn appetizer/snack):

IMG_9971Elote (ay-loht) is the Spanish word for "corn", and in Mexico, it typically references a very special street-snack food:  grilled corn-on-the cob slathered in a crema and chili-powder and lime-laced sauce, then sprinkled with crumbled cotija cheese (similar in texture to feta but similar in taste to Parmigiano-Reggiano).  Street vendors typically pull back the husk but leave it attached, remove all of the silk, return the husk to its original position, secure it at the open end with a piece of twine or husk and place it over hot charcoals.  In modern home kitchens with outdoor gas grills, it's common practice to remove the husks and simply place the cobs on a hot grill to char a bit.

Mexican esquites tomorrow (warm sweet corn salad):

IMG_9972Elotes (ay-loh-tee) is one of two sweet street corn dishes usually sold together by Mexican vendors. The second, esquites (es-kee-tays), meaning "cup of corn", is corn-on-the-cob, that has been grilled or boiled, shaved from the cob, then sautéed in a butter and oil mixture along with some minced serrano chiles and epazote leaves.  While often referred to as corn salad, it is served warm (not cold), in a bowl, garnished with cotija cheese, chile powder and lime juice, and, eaten with a spoon.  It's a marvelous side-dish to have in your repertoire when you want to serve fresh sweet corn to fussy women, like myself, who don't fancy gnawing it off the cob.

IMG_99396  even-sized ears sweet corn, husks and silks removed

1/2  cup Mexican crema (or sour cream)

1/2  cup mayonnaise

3/4-1  teaspoon ancho, chipotle or guajillo chile powder + additional chile powder for garnish 

IMG_9930 Epazote-3003/4-1  teaspoon dried, crushed epazote leaves (Note:  "Eehp-ah-ZOH-teh" is a pungent, uniquely-flavored leafy herb that grows wild in the United States and Mexico and has been used in Mexican cuisine for thousands of years dating back to the Aztecs.  Its distinctive flavor cannot be replaced by other herbs, so, if you don't have access to it, its simply better to leave it out.  In the Mexico, fresh leaves are available everywhere all year round.  Here in the USA, dried is all I can ever find, and I keep them on hand in my pantry.  1 teaspoon dried = 7 leaves or 1 stem)

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

2  garlic cloves, run through a press

1/2  cup minced fresh cilantro leaves, no stems included, 1/4  cup for stirring into sauce and 1/4  cup for garnish

2  teaspoons lime zest from 1 lime

2 tablespoons lime juice from 1 lime

IMG_99363/4  cup finely-crumbled cotija cheese, or, 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese tossed with 4 tablespoons finely-grated Parmesan cheese (Note:  "Coh-CHEE-ha" cheese, a Mexican cow's milk cheese, can be hard to find.  Its texture is similar to feta, but it doesn't taste quite like feta.  It is, however, affectionately referred to as "Mexican Parmesan" because its flavor is very similar to fresh Italian Parmesan.

6a0120a8551282970b01630627a618970dQueso fresco cheese is a Mexican cow's milk cheese which is common in authentic Tex/Mex dishes.  It's a fresh cheese, similar to feta, with a shelf life of about 5 days.  When placed on top of a dish, or stirred into it, it softens rather than melts, and, with enough heat becomes slightly creamy.  When queso freso is tossed with a a bit of Parmesan, it's a great texture and flavor substitution for hard-to-find cotija.)

Remove husks & silks from corn, leaving woody stalk intact.  

IMG_9945Just prior to grilling corn, prepare sauce as follows:  

IMG_9948 IMG_9951In a medium bowl, stir together the crema, mayonnaise, your choice of chile powder, dried epazote, salt, garlic, 1/4 cup of the cilantro, lime zest, lime juice and 6 tablespoons of crumbled cheese (a hand-held box grater works really well for crumbling cotija or queso fresco). Set aside 1/4 cup of cilantro and 6 tablespoons cheese.

Heat the grids of gas grill over high. Place corn directly on heat.

Grill until kernels are golden on all sides, about 8 total minutes.

IMG_9957Slather w/sauce & sprinkle w/cheese, cilantro & chile powder:  

IMG_9962Classic Grilled Mexican Sweet Street Corn (Elotes):  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List: garlic press; microplace grater; hand-held box crater; large spoon; long-handled tongs for grilling 

6a0120a8551282970b0168ebf0c318970c-800wiCook's Note:  Purchasing chile powder or chili powder blends can be confusing, but once you know what the spelling means, you will know what it is and what is in it.  ~ Is it spelled chile or chili?  It's Not a regional thing! ~ can be found in Categories 13, 15 or 16.

There is indeed a difference between a chile, chili, chile powder and powder and chili powder.

IMG_2464CHILE:  Spelled with an"e" at the end, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family.

CHILI:  Spelled with an "i" at the end, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (like chili con carne).

CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with and "e" at the end, means it is a powder made from one or more dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or marketed as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder).

CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" at the end means it is a mixture of ground, dried spices (for example:  cumin, garlic, onion) and chile powder, meaning:  the manufacturer has added spices to the chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016) 


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