Braised Sweet Corn Salad

Technically, I am not a hoarder. The tangible cookbooks I do have rest comfortably on shelves or stacked in neat piles on tables, and the myriads of digital books are categorized specifically on my tablet. But the sheer volume of them, fellow food lover ... well, let's not split hairs here.

Today's recipe is a salad (because it's summer and I love salads and vegetables are slowly taking over my life and I'm fine with it) from Gjelina, Travis Lett's cookbook featuring recipes from his restaurant of the same name in LA. The book is not completely vegetarian - there are mind-blowing, mouth-watering suggestions for what to do with fish and meat - but the book, as well as Travis's restaurant, features the veg-heavy dishes that highlight LA's Cal-Med obsession. 

I've always been a big fan of a grilled sweet-corn salad, but when I came upon this jewel, the word "braised" made me catch my breath in excitement (it doesn't take much, really). I adore cooking food for a really long time in liquid. I have the patience for it. But braising corn? This I had yet to try.

Travis takes the Mexcian Street Corn concept we all love and makes a salad out of it. Salty-tangy queso-fresco is replaced with briny feta and the warm chile and fresh cilantro will have you reaching for that bottle of tequila. Hey - you're braising this salad, you have time! As with any good dish, quality ingredients are a key factor. Lett encourages us to source "organic sweet corn which is not genetically modified" which is not easy to find these days. A good place to start is your local farmers market. The texture of non-GMO corn will be starchier, and it's not as sweet as the sweet corn you'll find easily in your grocery store, but it contains a "deep old-fashioned corn flavor" that Travis says is all but lost in modern corn. 

Even if you do use regular ol' corn from the market (no judgement here), don't be tempted to take short-cuts with the recipe. This is not as fast as a grilled corn salad, but it doesn't take three days, either. Yes - you need to scrape the corn cobs and use that corn milk to braise the corn in. It adds creaminess and richness to the dish without the use of additional butter or cream. You're going to end up with extras of the corn-cob enriched stock which is a honey of a thing to have around.

This is so summer, and so good. A sweet corn salad with a bit of heat and salty cheese brightened in the end with lime and cilantro. This one's a keeper.

Braised Sweet Corn with Chile, Cilantro, Feta, and Lime

From the Gjelina cookbook
Serves 4-6 as a side dish

Ingredients

6 ears corn, shucked
Kosher salt
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 medium-hot red or green chiles, preferably Fresno, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 1/2 oz (70g) feta cheese, crumbled
Juice of one lime
1/4 cup (7g) fresh cilantro leaves

Using knife, shave the corn kernels off the cob into a medium bowl and set aside. Working over a small bowl, scrape the cobs with the back of a knife to extract the milk. Set aside the milk. Cut the scraped cobs into 2-inch pieces.

In a 1-gl saucepan over high heat, combine the cob pieces with cold filtered water to cover and season with salt. Bring to a boil, cover the pan, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the stock becomes cloudy and is deliciously corn-scented, about 20 to 30 minutes. Strain and discard the cobs. Set aside 1/2 cup of this corn stock and reserve the rest for another use (it freezes beautifully). 

In a medium saute pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the chiles and shallot and cook until tender but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the corn kernels and season with salt. Add the corn stock, the reserved corn milk from the corn cobs, and half the feta cheese and cook until the liquid has reduced slightly, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with additional salt and stir in the lime juice. Remove from the heat and stir in half of the cilantro leaves.

Transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with remaining feta and cilantro leaves, and serve warm.