Sweet corn is a subject that divides people into two camps: some say it’s a grain, and some, including me, say it’s a vegetable.
Before I explain my position, though, I want to talk about history. I’ve watched plenty of presidential candidate debates and footage of rallies, and picked up on how all politicians use digression as a rhetorical strategy, so here goes:
Sweet corn comes from maize, a staple food indigenous to the Western Hemisphere. Scientists believe that maize was domesticated thousands of years ago in Mexico, then spread to other regions in the Americas. Many Pre-Colombian populations, including the Fort Ancient people here in the Miami Valley, grew maize along with beans and squash. Together, those crops were called the Three Sisters, which provided a nutritionally balanced diet.
Come to think of it, even today sweet corn is often served with beans, such as in the form of beans and cornbread. The combination makes logical sense: sweet corn lacks an essential amino acid that’s abundant in beans and vice versa; together sweet corn and beans form a perfect protein. Big league. Trust me on that.
Now, back to debate: grain or vegetable?
Here’s the position I support: Maize is harvested when the kernels are mature, hard and dry. It’s stored like grains. A genetic mutation of maize, sweet corn, on the other hand, is harvested when the kernels are young, tender and juicy; then it’s stored, prepared and eaten like vegetables.
If you disagree that sweet corn is a vegetable, maybe we can still find common ground. Let’s not fritter away our time but instead agree on how delicious the accompanying recipe is:
SWEET CORN FRITTERS
1 quantity boiled sweet corn, without butter
1¼ cups spelt or wholemeal flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon baking powder
4 scallions, finely chopped
6 sprigs cilantro, stalks finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped
Flavorless vegetable oil, to shallow-fry
Chili sauce or sour cream, to serve
Cut the kernels from the sweet corn cobs. Mix the flour, egg and baking powder, gradually adding 7 tablespoons water to make a thick batter, then season well with salt and pepper. Add the scallions, cilantro and sweet corn to the batter and mix.
Heat a heavy-based skillet or skillet over medium heat with a glug of the oil. Fry spoonfuls of the fritters, flattening them a little with the back of the spoon. When they are golden brown, flip them over and fry on the other side. Keep warm while you cook the rest. Serve with chili sauce or sour cream.
Storage: The fritters will keep 3 days in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Reheat in an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit 12 minutes or until hot right through. A boiled sweet corn is best eaten immediately, but can be cut from the cob and reheated in a saucepan with a little butter.
Our assessment: These fritters are very flavorful and satisfying; plus, they have a very pleasant texture.
BOILED SWEET CORN WITH BUTTER
2 large sweet corn cobs
4 tablespoons butter
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a rolling boil. Remove the husks and silk from the corn, add to the pan and over. Boil 10 to 12 minutes, then drain and smear with butter.
Our assessment: It’s very easy to boil corn on the cob. The key is not to overcook.
From the book: “The Natural Cook: Eating the Seasons from Root to Fruit” by Tom Hunt; 176 pages, $29.95. Published by Quadrille, 2016.
What you get: Divided into seasons, this book covers 26 vegetables and fruits. Three simple recipes accompany each ingredient as well as tips and ideas for leftovers so nothing is wasted.
In his own words: “I love cooking simple, rustic food that is full of flavor, vibrant and healthy. All good meals start with the ingredients so, before I start cooking, I seek out the very best I can.” — Tom Hunt
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