It’s a beautiful spring day today, gently warm and dappled with colour. The breeze drifts softly over sun-drenched trees, heady with sweet rose and eucalyptus. Bird calls are echoing outside my window, intermingled with the urban hum of tyres against blackened tar. I love days like this. The argent hues of spring bring the promise of summer; days at the beach, floaty sundresses, balmy evenings in the garden eating ice cream with sticky fingers.
As a diasporic Australian, I’ve always had strong associations with summer. The crackle of scorched grass underfoot, frozen spearmint milk, iceberg lettuce and the whir of an oscillating fan; all of these images mean ‘summer’ to my mind.
As I’ve grown older, Mexican food has also become one of my summer associations. It’s something to do with the colour, textures, spice and one-handed portability; perfect for nights by the pool drinking ice-cold Sol with lemon.
Though I’ve always been a fan of crisp quesadillas, guacamole and cheesy tacos, it’s only been over the past three years that I’ve discovered the delicious freshness of ‘real’ Mexican food such as spiced tamales, mole poblano and lime-drenched elotes or ‘seasoned corn on the cob’.
My first bite of fresh, blackened corn slathered in Mexican cream, crumbled cotija, chilli flakes, lime and garlic was heavenly. I’ve been eating it in various forms ever since.
One of my favourite ways of eating Mexican corn is in salad form, namely esquites or ‘Mexican street corn salad’. It contains all of the main ingredients of elotes but removes the need to gnaw at a sticky corn cob (less cheese on face and more in mouth is a win, in my opinion).
As the months have passed, my version of esquites has evolved to contain more herbs and less sticky, cheesy ingredients. Of course, the cotija remains, but the mayonnaise and Mexican cream have been replaced with creamy avocado and fruity olive oil.
The end result is a light, fresh corn salad that retains its lime-drenched goodness within a less cloying package. The fresh corn, colourful peppers, soft herbs and creamy avocado pay homage to my Mexican Corn Salad of one year ago whilst being ‘amped up’ by pickled jalapenos, powdered ancho chile and black pepper.
I’ve piled this corn salad into a soft tortilla with grilled fish and sour cream for an easy hand-held dinner. It’s also been a regular on the barbecue rotation alongside grilled asado, chimichurri and creamy potato salad. But in the late afternoons when I’m sitting alone in my kitchen, I just eat it from the bowl with a spoon. It’s that good.
Blackened Corn Salad with Ancho Chile and Lime
Serves 6-8 as a side dish
- 4 ears corn, freshly washed and husked
- 1/2 medium green pepper
- 1/2 medium red pepper
- 2 whole avocadoes
- 5 spring onions, finely sliced
- 200g mixed cherry tomatoes, quartered
- a handful of mint*, washed and chopped finely
- a handful of coriander*, washed and chopped finely
- 2 limes, zest and juice
- extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp ancho chile powder
- 2 tsp pickled jalapenos, drained and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup grated cotija, crumbled feta or Parmesan cheese
- sea salt
- cracked black pepper
*you will need equivalent of 1/4 cup chopped herbs, mix and match as desired
Using a pair of heat-proof tongs, carefully rotate your corn cobs over a naked flame (gas cook top or portable gas hob) until hot and slightly blackened. When cool enough to handle, hold each cob over a medium-sized bowl and use a sharp knife to remove the kernels.
Whist still warm, add in the juice and zest of one lime, salt and pepper, the ancho chile powder and a good slug of olive oil. Mix well and set aside.
De-seed your halved peppers and chop each into a rough dice (about 1x1cm). Peel your avocadoes and remove the stones. Cut each into a similar size dice to the peppers, then squeeze over the remaining lime juice to prevent browning. Add the peppers and avocado to the corn mix with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well, taste and season as necessary.
This salad is perfect in burritos or tacos, served alongside fish or chicken. It’s also great as part of a barbecue spread, accompanied by good bread, guacamole, chipotle sauce and copious amounts of char-grilled meat.