Serious Eats

Charred Corn and Cherry Tomato Salad with Zucchini and Radishes

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

I love cooking corn in cast iron indoors. Unlike green vegetables, which can quickly go from bright, crisp, and vibrant to dull and mushy, corn pretty much can't be overcooked. As it cooks down and picks up color, it only intensifies in flavor and sweetness as complex carbohydrates break down into simpler sugars and caramelize.

A good bowl of esquites is a summertime staple at my place, but I'm currently in California where it'd be inexcusable to only use one type of produce in a salad, so we're upping the game a bit.

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Crunchy radishes are a natural pair—they're often served as an accompaniment to tacos and grilled corn, their lightly spicy crunch plays nicely with sweet corn. Zucchini is also a natural pair, especially this time of year when it's coming into season. I like to char my zucchini in the same manner as the corn to build up some flavor. The key is to use a screaming hot pan so that the zucchini can pick up some color before it starts to soften too significantly. Nobody likes mushy zucchini.

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Tomatoes are also impossible to miss in late August, particularly the smaller cherry, grape, or pear varieties, which come into season a little sooner than the larger cultivars. I like to split my tomatoes open so that some of their juices can mix in and coat the rest of the ingredients.

The rest of the flavors are simple: some fresh chopped cilantro, thinly sliced scallion, and chopped serrano or jalapeño chilies for heat, along with just enough Mexican crema to add some rich tang, some grated cotija cheese, and a squeeze of lime.

So long as you've got the corn, the dressing, and the herbs in there, you're guaranteed to do all right, but like any party, things get a lot more interesting when you invite the other guests to join in.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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