How could I turn down a chance to review a copy of Marie Porter’s “Sweet Corn Spectacular”? For at least a decade, my sister and I have been exchanging corn-themed gifts, a gag that sometimes goes viral when other family and friends find an interesting object that fits with the corn theme. Yet the only way I’d ever cooked fresh corn, aside from making corn relish, was to boil it and serve with butter.
Marie Porter, born in Manitoba and transplanted in Minnesota, wrote “Sweet Corn Spectacular” to share some of the recipes that she and her “corn freak” (her description) husband enjoy. While I’m not ready to adopt her occasional practice of having a “Day of Corn”, during which she serves only corn-based meals and snacks, I have been motivated to add more corn dishes to my repertoire.
Visually, the book is a modest effort, lacking the glossy paper and lavish photographs of high-end cookbooks. There are, however, some nice black and white photos, and the fonts and page layouts make it easy to read and follow the recipes.
The material is arranged logically into an introductory chapter called “corn: the basics”, followed by chapters on breakfast foods, appetizers and side dishes, main dishes, condiments and beverages, and desserts. It is well-indexed.
Porter’s writing style is informal, and her voice comes through loud and clear in the writing, with personal comments and vignettes to accompany the recipes.
The recipes that I tried worked well, and were tasty. I particularly enjoyed the Corn Frittata, which was easy to make and tasted just as good when we ate the leftover portion the day after it was cooked, and a high-fat but absolutely delicious Mexican salad called Esquites. Once in awhile, as in the case of Basic Corn Buttermilk Scones, we wondered what the purpose of the corn was, and questioned whether it added anything to the quality of the dish.
Of the six techniques described for cooking corn on the grill, I tried the easiest, which is to shuck the corn and grill over indirect heat for 8-10 minutes. I liked the simplicity, which I preferred over a method I’d tried long ago, that entailed soaking unhusked ears of corn in water, grilling it intact over direct heat, and then removing the charred husks and silk from the hot cobs of corn.
I found that the yield is off for the Hearty Corn and Black Bean Soup, though that’s not really a problem, as it makes a delicious meal. Perhaps she counts on larger helpings than I do, but I get about 6 servings when using only ¼ of the quantities listed, which, based on the author’s numbers, should produce 1 ½-2 servings.
It’s a big, thick, hearty soup, to serve as an entrée, not a starter. I used chicken broth labelled 35 per cent less salt and omitted the additional salt that the recipe calls for. Next time I make it, I’ll use no-added-salt broth, as the bacon adds a significant salty flavour. I drained off and discardeda the bacon fat before adding the beans and broth. We liked it topped with sour cream and minced cilantro leaves, and I plan to try it topped with plain Greek yogurt. You can, of course, adjust the number of jalapeños to suit your taste for heat. I’ve added metric measurements.
Hearty Corn and Black Bean Soup
Adapted from Porter, Marie: “Sweet Corn Spectacular”. Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, MN, 2013.
2 large onions, chopped
500 g (1 lb) bacon, chopped
1 kg (2 lb) dried black beans
3 L (12 ½ cups) chicken broth
1 - 2 bottles light-tasting beer, or use 500 mL - 1 L (2 - 4 cups) water or
additional chicken broth
6 ears fresh sweet corn, husks removed
juice and zest of 2 limes
6 ribs celery, chopped
3 green bell peppers, chopped
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
3 jalapeños, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
10 mL (2 tsp) cumin
5 mL (1 tsp) salt (I omitted)
5 mL (1 tsp) pepper
Optional toppings: Cheddar cheese, sour cream, crumbled cooked bacon
In a large, heavy pot, cook onions and bacon over medium heat, stirring, until bacon is cooked but not crispy. Add black beans, chicken broth, and beer, and heat to boiling. Once mixture comes to a boil, stir it once, cover it with a lid, and remove from heat. Allow to sit for 1 hour. Return mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, stirring frequently.
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut kernels off the ears of corn. Add kernels to pot along with lime juice and zest, celery, peppers, jalapeño, garlic, and seasonings. Continue to simmer for another 20 minutes, until beans and all vegetables are tender and soup is quite thick.
Serve hot, topped with Cheddar cheese, sour cream, and/or crumbled bacon.
Marie Porter’s “Sweet Corn Spectacular” is part of the Northern Plate series from Minnesota Historical Society Press, 345 Kellogg Blvd. W., St. Paul, MN 55102-1906.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.