Stone Soup is an ongoing quarantine feature in which I come up with a recipe that uses the impossible thing in your cupboard, without making you go to the store or wasting any of your ingredients. Last time, we used chickpeas to make a fancy French dessert.
A few years ago I won an autumn farmers market raffle and got a box of All The Things. That included a few dried corn cobs, which are apparently not of the variety that can be turned into popcorn. So I have a vacuum sealed jar of dried corn that I think is supposed to be turned into cornmeal but I’m not really sure and maybe I should try making popcorn anyway. Anyway, it stares at me every time I open the cabinet. I have lots of spices, butter, ghee, buncha different oils and vinegars, flour/ sugar etc., the usual fridge stuff like milk and grated Parmesan, and no dietary restrictions, but really no idea of what to do with that relic of a fall bounty. Please help!
Judging by this photo Teresa sent, the corn in question is dried red corn, which is great news! Red corn is both pretty and tasty. It acts like any corn, and has a sweet, toasty, earthy flavor. Dried like this, it’ll keep for a zillion years. It can be cooked or ground for cornmeal, but not popped.
The process of cooking it is pretty simple, and then you’ve got corn, which you can do all kinds of things with. Because of the high sugar and starch content of corn, it’s really stellar for keeping in all kinds of forms — canned corn, frozen corn, and dried corn all hold up about as well as fresh corn for most cooking purposes. I’m guessing lots of people have corn in the freezer or cupboard right now, so I’m going to treat this Stone Soup as a lightning round of corn options. Let’s eat
A Fuckton of Corn
First thing’s first, let’s get that dried corn ready to eat. It’s going to take a few hours and very little effort.
Step One: Soak it. One cup of dried corn wants two cups of water plus a little salt. Soak it for two hours.
Step Two: Cook it. Simmer on the stovetop for 50 minutes to an hour.
That’s it. That’s literally it. Now you have corn!
Okay, you have lots of options. Here are some things you can do with your corn:
Serve it straight-up. Hit it with butter, salt, pepper, and maybe some fresh herbs if you’ve got ‘em.
Toast it. Throw some butter or oil into a skillet over medium-high heat. Add salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika. Throw the corn into the skillet and give it one toss, then cover it with a splatter-guard in case any of the kernels fling themselves up off the heat. Let it sit for a minute or two, give it another toss, let it sit for another minute. The kernels should get a little brown in a few places. Finish with a squeeze of lime if you’ve got one.
Cream it. Throw that corn into a skillet and toast it just like you would in option 2, but without the cumin and paprika. While that’s going, whisk a couple of tablespoons of flour together with half a stick of melted butter. Add a cup and a half of heavy cream to the skillet. If you don’t have that, you can substitute a can of coconut milk including the solids, or in a pinch, a cup of greek yogurt whisked together with a quarter-cup of warm water.
Add a pinch of salt (two big pinches if you’re using coconut milk), a couple of tablespoons of sugar or a big squeeze of honey, and a lot of black pepper. Stir in the butter + flour mixture. Keep stirring over medium heat until you’ve got a thick, rich cream sauce. Take it off the heat and add parmesan cheese if you’ve got it. Fresh basil sure would be nice on top of this.
Esquites. (This is my personal favorite. Just writing the word ‘esquites’ is giving me some unwholesomely gluttonous impulses.) Toast about a cup of that corn in a skillet with about a tablespoon of butter. Now take it off the heat and add a healthy spoonful of mayonnaise. Sprinkle in chili powder, salt, pepper. Add queso fresco. Add a squeeze of lime if you have it. Deliver the result directly to my face, in enormous quantities.
If you don’t have all of the right ingredients and you’re trapped in your house by a pandemic, you’ve got some options. This is a desperate time and I’m not going to judge you if you use substitutions, but you’ve also got an easy path to having the things you need if you’re willing to take some extra time:
If you don’t have mayonnaise, you can use sour cream, crema, creme fraiche, or greek yogurt. That said, mayonnaise is (a) traditional, (b) delicious, and (c) easy to make. Here’s how:
Grab a couple of egg yolks and whisk them together with a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice or vinegar.
Slowly, a few drops at a time at first, whisk in a cup of oil. Olive oil is great for this, but any neutral-flavored oil will work. Once it starts to thicken you can switch to pouring the oil in a steady stream.
When it looks like mayonnaise is supposed to look, add a pinch of salt and then use it to make esquites and give me the esquites.
If you don’t have queso fresco, you can use feta or paneer or any other crumbly white farmer’s cheese. But queso fresco isn’t hard to make, and I bet you’ve got the stuff you need. Here’s how:
Heat up half a gallon of milk in a saucepan, but don’t let it boil. When it’s at 165°F (or, if you don’t have a thermometer: when it’s trying hard to bubble), turn off the heat.
Add a half cup of white vinegar and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Give ‘er a stir. The milk will immediately curdle and look horrible. That means you’re doing it right. Now leave it alone for 45 minutes.
Line a colander with a cheesecloth (if you don’t have one, rip the seams out of a t-shirt you don’t like very much and use that). Pour the curds and whey into the lined colander and let that sit for 45 minutes to drain.
Add a little salt and give it a gentle stir. Gather the cheesecloth into a tight bundle and tie it off, then let that sit in the colander for another 30 minutes or so.
Unwrap it. You should have a nice little disc of cheese. Shape it if you want, then let it sit in the colander for another 30 minutes to take the air. Cover it up and store it in the fridge for a week or so. You’ve got queso fresco! Use it to make some esquites and then (and I cannot emphasize this enough) give the esquites to me.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and for pete’s sake, stay home.
… unless you’re bringing me esquites.