- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Corn is coming into summer vegetable markets, and it will be climbing toward its peak over the next month or so. When we eat fresh (I mean really fresh) corn during the heart of the season, the crunchiness and sweetness are like nothing else, not even corn itself at any other time of year.

It’s hardly news, but it’s worth noting that corn purchased and cooked within a day of picking is sublime. Even though freshly picked and cooked corn is wonderful solo, I love to find ways to include raw corn kernels straight from the cob in various dishes, most notably salads. To that effect, I have paired a lovely light corn soup with a matching salad.

These two dishes complement and echo each other. Shiitake mushroom broth frames cooked corn in the soup, and rendered mushrooms partner with freshly shorn corn in the salad. Together, they make a perfect summer lunch or supper, especially when accompanied by a crisp, bubbly prosecco and followed by a bowl of raspberries.

The soup and the salad are Chinese-themed, which makes this meal surprising. We don’t normally think of corn in Chinese food, but look closely at the menu next time you’re in a Chinese restaurant and you’ll notice that corn lurks in soups and sauces and in miniature form with mixed vegetables.

After the late 15th century, corn traveled far and wide with traders and explorers. Because it was adaptable to various types of cultivation, corn ended up all over the globe.

The subject of corn is a vast one because it has influenced the development of cultures near and far, but it’s a subject I’ll leave to a world-class corn authority, a wonderful writer named Betty Fussell, whose work “The Story of Corn” (University of New Mexico Press) is a fascinating read. Look for the book and dive in. In the meantime, let’s get dinner.

Velvet corn soup

1/4 pound dried shiitake mushrooms

6 cups corn

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 to 3 tablespoons dry sherry

Freshly ground black pepper

Minced flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, and scallion greens for garnish

Bring a kettle filled with at least 5 cups water to a boil.

Briefly rinse dried mushrooms under running water, then place them in a large bowl. Add 5 cups boiling water, cover bowl with a plate, and let stand at least 1 hour. Drain well, reserving both the mushrooms and the water, and squeezing all excess liquid from mushrooms. Transfer mushroom soaking water to a soup pot, and reserve mushrooms for the salad recipe that follows (or for another use, such as a stir-fry).

Add corn, salt, soy sauce, sesame oil and sherry to the soup pot containing mushroom soaking water. Heat just to boiling, then turn heat way down, partially cover, and simmer 10 minutes. Puree in a blender or with an immersion blender until fairly smooth. If you want an even smoother texture, strain puree through a medium-mesh strainer.

Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper; serve hot, topped with a light sprinkling of minced fresh herbs. Makes 4 cups soup strained, 5 cups unstrained.

Chinese mushroom-corn-and-noodle salad

This salad has some wonderful yet subtle textural contrasts. The mushrooms are soft and highly absorbent, soaking up the flavors of the sesame oil, lemon juice and soy sauce.

The bean-thread noodles (also known as cellophane noodles) are tiny and thin, yet they have quite a bit of body to them. The delightfully raw, fresh, in-season sweet corn brings a juicy little snap in the mouth. Just slice it off the cob and mix it in.

A light sprinkling of sesame seeds on top provides just the right amount of crunch.

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon peanut oil or canola oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon cider vinegar or unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar or light honey

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Salt

9 ounces uncooked bean-thread noodles (see note)

1/4 pound (dry measure) shiitake mushrooms, soaked in boiling water until soft

2 to 3 scallions, green parts included, minced

2 cups very fresh, very sweet corn (about 3 to 4 ears)

Freshly ground black pepper

Salad greens for serving, if desired

1 to 2 tablespoons lightly toasted sesame seeds for garnish

For the dressing, combine sesame oil, peanut or canola oil, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar or honey, soy sauce, and 1 scant teaspoon salt (or to taste) in a medium-size bowl. Stir with a small whisk until combined; set aside.

Cook noodles in boiling water until just tender. Drain well, then rinse in cold running water and drain again thoroughly. Transfer to bowl containing dressing, and toss from the bottom, using tongs or a fork.

Squeeze all water from soaked mushrooms, then remove and discard stems. Slice mushrooms into thin strips and transfer to bowl containing noodles. Add scallion and corn, and mix from the bottom again with tongs or fork. Season to taste with black pepper, then chill until serving. Serve cold on a bed of crisp salad greens, if desired, and top with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds. Makes 5 to 6 servings.

Note: Bean-thread noodles are available in most Asian grocery stores. If you can’t find them, use thin rice noodles or plain vermicelli. You will need a total of 3 cups cooked noodles, and they can be made a day or two ahead of time if stored in a container of water in the refrigerator.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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