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There's nothing like the summer-sweet flavor of fresh corn. On the cob it's the perfect finger food. Off the cob it's wonderful in soups, salads and main dishes.

Corn's sweetness comes from its natural sugar, which begins turning into unsweet starch immediately after picking. Hybrids such as Supersweet slow down the process, so corn stays sweet for several days after picking.

Here are a few kernels of corn know-how:

- When buying corn, choose plump ears with fresh-looking green husks. Once home, wrap the unhusked ears in damp paper towels and refrigerate until just before cooking.

- To remove kernels from the cob, steady it on its flat end and cut straight down with a sharp chef's knife. One medium ear yields -3/4 to 1 cup corn kernels.

- You can cook corn any way you like; just don't overcook it.

TO BOIL: Put enough water in a pot to cover the shucked corn. Bring it to a boil and cook 4 minutes.

TO STEAM: Place husked corn in a steamer basket for 8 minutes of full steam. If necessary, break the ears in half to fit.

TO MICROWAVE: Place two to four ears unhusked corn in a single layer on a platter and microwave on high six minutes. Remove hot ears with tongs and let them sit a few minutes before pulling off the husks and silk.

TO GRILL: Remove dry outer pieces of husk from ears. Tear one piece into narrow strips and reserve. Gently peel back the remaining husks, leaving them attached at the stem end. Remove silk, rubbing away the small bits with a damp paper towel. Pull the husks back over the corn, and tie at the top with reserved strip. Soak ears in cold water for 30 minutes before grilling over high heat for 20 to 25 minutes, turning often.


Black Bean, Corn and Red Pepper Salad with Chile-Lime Dressing

-1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

-1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Pinch of cayenne

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

5 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

1 -1/4 cups dried black beans, soaked overnight and cooked, or 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed

2 ears fresh sweet corn, steamed, cooled and kernels removed

1 red bell pepper (roasted or raw), diced

3 scallion greens, very thinly sliced

-1/4 cup minced red onion

-1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

- In a small bowl, whisk the spices, lime juice, oil and salt to taste. In a medium bowl, mix the beans, corn, red pepper, scallions and onion. Pour the dressing on this mixture, and mix well. Just before serving, add cilantro. Makes 8 servings.

Nutritional information per serving (with from-scratch beans): 220 calories (36 percent from fat), 9.2g fat (1.3g saturated, 6.4g monounsaturated), 0 cholesterol, 7.9g protein, 29g carbohydrates, 6.1g fiber, 7.7mg sodium.

Source: Adapted from Raising the Salad Bar by Catherine Walthers (Lake Isle, $19.95)