How can a vegetable taste so sweet?
Fri 12 Sep 2014 20.59 BSTFirst published on Fri 12 Sep 2014 20.59 BST
yotam ottolenghi’s sweetcorn tamales and chilli chicken with chorizo and orange
Yotam Ottolenghi’s sweetcorn tamales and chilli chicken: tastes better the day after it is cooked. Photograph: Joahanna Parkin for the Guardian. Food styling: Maud Eden
One of my sweetest childhood memories involves neither a cake nor a biscuit, not a chocolate bar or a bag of sweets, but rather an ear of sweetcorn, boiled and slathered with butter. I could never get my head around how a vegetable could taste so sweet, and to this day still consider myself oddly lucky to be enjoying so much sugar well before pudding.
There was a real sense of occasion whenever we had whole corn cobs. The special yellow corn holders would be ceremoniously brought out of the cutlery drawer, and then the crunching would ensue – left to right along the cob, or right to left – with each eater uttering a silly typewriter “ping” at the end of each line of kernels. Poor dad must always have wondered why he’d bought the corn in the first place.
Cooking with sweetcorn as an adult is almost as much fun. I love grilling it on a barbecue or griddle, shaving off the blackened kernels and adding them to salads and coleslaw; I often fold them into batter for pancakes, fritters and muffins, too. Or I cook the kernels slowly with stock and milk, into a very sweet savoury porridge, then blitz them and serve with a spicy-salty stew. Or, as a nod to childhood, I still blanch whole cobs, douse them with butter, sprinkle with coarse salt and sit down to enjoy the sweetness.
These are great with the chilli chicken dish that follows, but also lovely with just a spicy tomato or avocado salsa and a spoonful of sour cream. I wrap and steam the tamales in the corn husks for appearance’s sake, but baking paper and string work just as well. Serves four.
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4 whole corn cobs, in their husks
15g unsalted butter
100ml double cream
¾ tsp ground cumin
120g quick-cook polenta
¾ tsp baking powder
12g coriander, roughly chopped
¾ tbsp picked thyme leaves
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely diced
1 egg, whisked
Salt and ground white pepper
Top and tail the corn cobs to help remove the leafy husks. Wash the husks and dry them. Pull off and discard the silky hairs. Stand a cob vertically on a chopping board and with a large, sharp knife cut down the sides to remove the kernels. Repeat with the other three cobs, transfer the kernels to a food processor, blitz to a wet paste and set aside.
Put a large sauté pan on a medium-high heat with the butter. Once melted, add the kernels, cream, cumin, three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a quarter-teaspoon of pepper. Cook for five minutes, stirring once or twice, until the corn is cooked through and has the consistency of porridge. Remove from the heat and stir in all the remaining ingredients.
Tear two of the husk leaves into long, 2mm-wide pieces of “string”, and set aside: you’ll use these to tie the tamales together. Take two more leaves and lay them on a work surface, slightly overlapping, so you have a 10cm x 15cm rectangle. Put two tablespoons of the corn mixture in the centre of the rectangle, then fold in the two long sides over the filling. Draw in one of the shorter ends, followed by the other, then secure using two pieces of the husk “string”. Repeat with the remaining mixture and husks, until you have about 15 tamales. (If you run out of leaves, use greaseproof paper and kitchen string.)
Put a large saucepan for which you have a fitted steaming basket (or colander) and lid on a high heat with plenty of water (but not so much that it touches the base of the basket). Once boiling, put in all the tamales, cover, turn the heat to medium and steam for 30 minutes. Serve warm, with scissors to unwrap the tamales and a bowl for the wrapping.
Chilli chicken with chorizo and orange
This was devised as a delicious vehicle for the tamales (thank you, Clare Latimer), but it works just as well with plain rice, sour cream and guacamole. If you are making the tamales, warm them through by putting the corn parcels directly on top of the stew 10 minutes before the end of its cooking time. Remove the tamales from the pan, serve and garnish the stew, then place the corn on top. This stew, like so many, tastes much better the day after it is cooked, so consider making it a day ahead. The tamales can also be prepared ahead of time. Serves four.
1kg chicken thighs, skinless, boneless and cut in half widthways
½ tsp finely grated orange zest
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
2 tbsp picked thyme leaves
200g chorizo, cut into 1cm dice
2 red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp smoked paprika
450g chicken stock
2 ancho chillies, torn in half
230g (net weight) cooked and rinsed black beans (ie, 1 carton or tin)
230g cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp red-wine vinegar
To serve (optional)
20g coriander, chopped
80g soured cream
Put the chicken in a bowl, add half a teaspoon of salt, mix and set aside for 15 minutes. In a small bowl mix the orange zest with one crushed garlic clove and set aside.
Heat a large sauté pan for which you have a lid on a medium-high heat, then add the oil and onions, and fry, stirring often, for eight minutes, until softened and starting to colour. Add the remaining garlic, cumin, thyme, chorizo, red chillies and both paprikas, cook for two minutes, stirring constantly, then add the chicken. Cook for eight minutes, turning halfway through, so both sides colour, then add the stock and ancho chillies. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the black beans, tomatoes and vinegar, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce has thickened. Sprinkle the orange zest and garlic mix on top, add the coriander, too, if using, and serve with sour cream alongside.
Crushed yellow split peas with sweetcorn and spring onion salsa
yotam ottolenghi’s Crushed yellow split peas with sweetcorn and spring onion salsa
Yotam Ottolenghi’s crushed yellow split peas with sweetcorn salsa: lovely, and dairy-free. Photograph: Joahanna Parkin for the Guardian. Food styling: Maud Eden
A lovely dairy-free salsa, though if you like you can crumble in some feta. The crushed peas are best served warm; if you want to serve them at room temperature, just fluff them up with a fork before spooning on the salsa. Serves four.
200g split yellow peas
¼ tsp ground turmeric
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
200g fresh sweetcorn kernels (or defrosted frozen corn)
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced at an angle
1 red chilli, deseeded and diced
10g fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted
1½ tsp yellow mustard seeds, toasted
1 tsp finely grated lime zest
2 tbsp lime juice
½ tsp caster sugar
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly grated
1 tsp ground coriander
Put the peas in a medium saucepan with the turmeric, garlic and three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt. Pour over a litre of water, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat to medium and simmer for 50 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the peas are cooked. Remove from the heat and roughly squash the peas with the back of a spoon (if all the water hasn’t been absorbed, you may need to drain off a bit of liquid before crushing them). Keep the peas somewhere warm until ready to serve.
While the peas are cooking, make the salsa. Put a large, heavy-based frying pan on a high heat. Once smoking hot, add the sweetcorn and dry-fry for a minute, stirring once or twice, until charred. Remove, set aside to cool, then tip into a bowl with the spring onion, chilli, fresh coriander, cumin seeds, yellow mustard seeds, lime zest, lime juice, sugar, a tablespoon of oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Mix and set aside.
Put a medium frying pan on a medium heat with a tablespoon of oil. Add the onion and ground coriander, and fry gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelised. Stir into the warm peas, along with a tablespoon each of water and oil. Spread the crushed peas on a plate, spoon the corn salsa on top and serve..