Some food, some drink.
Chile Lime Grilled Corn: A Lighter Alternative to Mexican Street Corn.
Elotes, a.k.a. Mexican street corn is kind of like the Snickers bar of vegetable recipes. There's a reason they serve the stuff as a treat at fairs and carnivals, and that's because the really good elotes are slathered in mayonnaise and dairy; meaning the calorie conscious and/or vegans in the crowd have no path to sweet, juicy, grilled corn satisfaction. Because not every meal should be eaten with reckless abandon where nutrition is concerned, I've come up with a recipe that I think does a good job showcasing that charred, sweet, spicy and tangy flavor, despite the missing umami usually delivered courtesy of mayo and cheese.
This summer, I've been a bit obsessed with grilling corn. Be it at the supermarket or the farmer's market, I can't help but pick up a few ears if what's under the husk looks good. One of my favorite ways to grill corn is to make Mexican street corn or elotes, but it's not always practical (or healthy) to gunk up a vegetable with a whole mess of mayo and dairy. Thusly I've been tinkering at the grill to come up with a recipe that will give an ear most of that tangy, spicy, slightly charred flavor synonymous with Mexican street corn, and I think I finally got something I can share. The secret to this grilled corn recipe is in the homemade seasoning, which uses smoky sweet paprika, and crystallized lime to deliver big, up front flavors delivered via a mere spoonful of oil.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Clean up your nasty-looking grill grates, then set your outdoor cooker for high, direct heat; about 450F to 475F.
Mix together the salt, smoked paprika, ancho chile powder, coriander, sugar, black pepper, and True Lime. Brush each ear of corn with the sunflower oil, and then liberally sprinkle on the seasoning you just concocted. Throw the seasoned corn on the hot grill, turning a quarter turn every 2 minutes for a total grilling time of 8 minutes. Garnish with additional seasoning if you'd like before serving, or just put the shaker on the table and let folks do it themselves.
- Oils selection is an opportunity to add flavor. Short of pan and/or deep frying, I very seldom use refined oils, simply because there's no taste payoff. Regardless, you're gonna need some fat to keep the corn from drying out on the grill and to act as a vehicle to bring out the true nature of the ancho chile in your seasoning. Since I was gifted a bottle of extra virgin sunflower oil, I've been trying it in all sorts of applications where olive oil could work, but a more subtle and perhaps nutty flavor is desired. Use whatever oil you want here; we're only talking 2 tablespoons for a whole mess of corn, so feel free to get crazy (truffle oil corn anyone?).
- So much store-bought "chili powder" is a crap-shoot of spices. You think you're getting ground chiles, but you best turn the label around and give it a read before throwing it in your shopping basket. I'm a bit of a control freak where chiles are concerned so I grind my own. Like those "green" experiences you may have had in college, seeds and stems are undesirable, so take them out of the equation before your peppers hit the spinning blades (and wear gloves while dissecting - your eyes will thank you later).
- Just what the hell is crystallized lime you ask? Well, I discovered True Lime while in a discussion regarding how to add citrus flavor to white chocolate. Sometimes you want the concentrated taste of lemon or lime without the associated water. I use the stuff in my fajita seasoning, and with a little salt, it makes a killer seasoning for popcorn or home-fried tortilla chips. I'm totally hooked on this all-natural miracle of food science, and it sits in my pantry next to the spices for easy access when an inspired food tinkering moment arises.
- Eight minutes' grilling on high heat. No more; no less. You're gonna wanna over-cook this stuff. You're gonna give the corn a gentle squeeze after eight minutes and swear it's still unyielding and raw, when the fact of the matter is that the hot water under pressure inside each kernel is just pressing back. Over-cooking is just as bad as under cooking, and even worse, there's no going back. Just like a good steak, a four minute rest will allow your veggies to re-adjust and finish any carry-over cooking. Trust me here, it'll come out perfect.
Y'know I'm not going to say that this is better than elotes, 'cuz it's not - There's just no getting around the fact that things like mayo and cheese deliver a ton of lip-smacking, savory flavors. However if you're looking to fix a recipe that's more than a one-trick pony, I think this chile lime grilled corn is much more versatile. If you still dig the way elotes are dressed, you could always brush on a little low-fat spicy southwest ranch; and any sort of surplus can be re-purposed to make a fantastic corn and black bean salsa. All the same, there's nothing wrong with this particular grilled corn as-is; it'll work as a side for just about anything that'll you're flipping on your grill, and the cook times pretty much fall in line with boneless cuts of pork and chicken (having everything finish on the grill at once always makes me feel like I know what I'm doing).
I've always thought the notion of calling something "skinny" is kind of silly (chalk it up to the Y chromosome I guess). But, if you love the flavor of elotes and are trying to avoid all the extra fat, I suppose this is a great place to start. Calorie-consciousness aside, this particular grilled corn recipe is a great vegan alternative to the more traditional Mexican street corn, which means that there will be no worries as to what the sans-animal folk will be eating at your next cookout.