Why It Works
- The big secret is not so secret at all: get the best darned end-of-summer produce you can find, and put it together.
- Heavily charring the corn brings out its natural sweetness.
- The lemon and olive oil dressing is as simple as it gets, and lets the vegetables' natural flavors come through.
As a serious and internet-savvy home-cook, I know what you're thinking: Oh god, not another corn and tomato salad!
But here's one thing I can absolutely guarantee that nobody at a dinner table or backyard barbecue has ever said: Oh god, not another corn and tomato salad!
I've put together a lot of grilled corn and tomato salads in my day, and not once has it ever been met with anything but excitement.
When I'm writing recipes, I try hard to find the hook—the trick or technique that makes people look at it and go, "huh, I have to try that." In this particular case, nature's taken care of the hook for me. The real trick with a good corn and tomato salad is to show some restraint. Keep things simple enough that you don't distract from the stars, adding just enough of supporting cast to prop up their performance without stealing the scene.
The first step is to properly grill the corn. After much experimenting last summer, I've discovered that the simplest method is best: just shuck your corn and throw it straight onto a hot, hot grill. As it cooks, complex carbohydrates break down into simple sugars that then caramelize and eventually burn, adding sweetness and a good smoky char. Keeping the fire hot ensures that the kernels don't dry out before they finish cooking all the way through.
(And whatever you do, do not brine your corn! It only dries it out.)
For the tomatoes, I like to go for nice, heavy, heirloom varieties like Purple Cherokee or orange Amana tomatoes, along with a few smaller cherry or grape tomatoes. But really, the only key is that the tomatoes must be ripe, and that they must be as local as you can find. Tomatoes shipped long distances are almost invariably picked under-ripe in order to be able to withstand the rigors of travel. Local tomatoes are generally allowed to ripen more completely on the vine.
Got a farmers' market nearby? Great. Got a neighbor who likes to garden? Even better.
Along with the tomatoes, I add chunks of salty feta cheese—they're great for absorbing some of the excess juice the tomatoes give up as the salad sits. I also add handfuls of herbs, in this case parsley, mint, and basil, though any mix of good, leafy, fresh herbs will do.
For this salad, I went with the simplest dressing I could: just a squeeze of lemon juice and some really good olive oil whisked together just before serving.
Like most good things in life, your window of opportunity for a truly fantastic corn and tomato salad is limited. Great corn is hard to come by, and great tomatoes even more so, but the end of the summer is your best bet for finding both in abundance. Take advantage of your time.
3 tablespoons best quality extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
4 ears sweet corn, husks removed
2 pounds ripe tomatoes (see notes), cut into bite-size chunks
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
8 ounces feta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine olive oil and lemon juice in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. To char corn without a grill, see notes.
Place corn directly over hot side of grill and cook, turning occasionally, until charred on all sides and fully tender, about 10 minutes total. Remove corn from grill and allow to rest until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes.
Working one ear at a time, hold corn vertically inside a large bowl and use a sharp knife to remove the kernels. Discard cob. Add tomatoes, parsley, basil, mint, and feta cheese to the bowl. Whisk the dressing and add it to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper and gently fold with clean hands until all the ingredients are incorporated and coated in the dressing. Serve immediately.
For the tomatoes, I like to go for nice, heavy, heirloom varieties like Purple Cherokee or orange Amana tomatoes, along with a few smaller cherry or grape tomatoes. But really, the only key is that the tomatoes must be ripe, and that they must be as local as you can find.
To char corn without a grill, remove raw corn kernels from husk. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large nonstick or cast iron skillet or wok over high heat until shimmering. Add corn, shake once to distribute, and cook without moving until darkly charred on first side, about 3 minutes. Toss and flip corn and repeat until corn is covered in dark spots, about 8 minutes total. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then proceed with the second half of step 4.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 16g||21%|
|Saturated Fat 7g||34%|
|Total Carbohydrate 24g||9%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||14%|
|Total Sugars 9g|
|Vitamin C 30mg||148%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|