Welcome to Serious Eats' Corn Week 2013. All week we'll be featuring recipes, techniques, and how-tos about how to get the most out of the sweet summer corn that should soon be flooding our farmers' markets, including a new grilled corn topping idea each day.
Today our grilled corn takes a quick trip top North Africa. I first tried slathering the cobs with straight up harissa paste, a thick, oily Tunisian spice paste made with chilies and warm spices, but found the balance to be a bit off. It works as a rub for grilled meat or for flavoring stews and couscous; as a corn topping, it needs a bit of modification.
First step: get some acid up in there. It's pretty common to combine hot sauces of various origins with mayo to tame their heat, add some acid, and get them nicely spreadable, but in this case I found the flavor to be a little too muted when mayo was added. Straight up acid would have to do instead.
Some harissa blends already have plenty of citrus or vinegar in them, but the DEA brand most common 'round these parts is relatively lacking. Lime juice and some lime zest tarted it up nicely (no, not in that way).
Warm spice levels can also vary greatly between brands. So while some are packed with cumin and coriander, others mostly rely on their chili heat. A couple teaspoons of toasted spices added some more complexity to mine.
Finally, I add a good amount of olive oil mixed in to form a very loose emulsion and help the flavors distribute themselves and stick to the corn, along with a handful of freshly chopped mint leaves. The resulting corn has an intense smokiness and a slow-burning heat that quietly builds up as you eat your way through it.