Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Corn, Zucchini, and Red Pepper Salad

Summer is fast approaching, and the first ears of organic white corn have begun to appear on the produce shelf at my local natural food store. Having grown up in Mexico, corn is something I could eat every day, so you can imagine my delight. I particularly enjoy inventing new ways to prepare, present, and indulge in this native American staple. I was very busy yesterday--among several projects, I'm writing my third cookbook, collaborating with my wife on building a terraced vegetable garden on our hillside property, and keeping my two blogs going--and it was a hot day, so I needed to make something quick and succulent. I went to the market, and this dish came to me as I picked out the best-looking produce.

I hadn't used wilted zucchini in anything recently, and last night's salad reminded me of what I'd been missing. First off, for those who may not be familiar with this technique, I'm not referring to limp old vegetables from the marked-down produce shelf. These were very fresh zucchini, which I cut into thin julienne strips with the help of a mandoline, and then salted and left to drain in a colander. The salt draws out most of the water and renders the firm strips pliable, resembling cooked pasta. This is a far better option than cooking the zucchini, because the strips are much more resilient and malleable, and they're still raw, so all the nutrients that might be damaged through cooking are still intact.

While the zucchini were draining, a process that takes fifteen to twenty minutes, I prepared the other ingredients. The corn could technically be eaten raw as well, but I find that a quick blanching, followed by rapid cooling in an ice bath, makes the outer layers easier to penetrate, and removes any chalkiness from the inner starch. It'll still be mostly raw if you do this quickly. I read somewhere that the Amish cook their corn for only as long as it takes to say the Lord's Prayer, and then immediately yank it out, which is barely par-boiling it. What I'm suggesting wouldn't make it past "...who art in heaven..." before the ice plunge, so this is almost an ethereal formality, like whispering "vermouth" over gin and calling it a dry martini.

Using a sharp paring knife, I cut the kernels as close to the cob as possible into a large bowl. Then I added diced red pepper and red onion, and finely chopped Italian parsley. For the greens, I washed and spin-dried a head of red leaf lettuce, snapped and torn into decent bite-size pieces, and a few ounces of baby spinach. This all took a mere ten minutes or so.

For the dressing, I would have probably chosen an herb vinaigrette, but we had decimated the basil fairly recently, and you have to let it grow back before attacking it again, or you'll have to start over with new plants. So instead I went with another favorite, a light, velvety vinaigrette made with 18-year-old balsamic, a fruity EVOO, Udo's DHA Oil Blend, Dijon mustard, a little pressed garlic, Celtic salt and freshly ground black pepper.

I drained and rinsed the zucchini "linguine," dried it in the salad spinner, and added it to the bowl with the other vegetables. I poured a healthy slug of the dressing into the bowl and mixed it into the vegetables with my fingers (yes, I washed my hands first).

To serve, I tossed the greens separately with a small amount of the dressing and made shallow beds on the plates. Then I scooped up the corn-zucchini mixture and mounded it in the center of the lettuce. I had also made a plate of  warm "finger sandwiches" with tempeh strips fried in coconut oil, sliced avocado, and squiggly lines of sriracha sauce, to pump up the protein.

The day's heat was slowly dissipating--I love this feature of living on the side of a mountain at 7800 feet--and my wife had just finished working on her free-form PVC greenhouse, so we sat down and enjoyed every juicy bite. It's impossible to say how rich, fortunate and grateful my life makes me feel.

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