American as… Bodacious Corn

Last year at this time, corn was just corn. In the south, they grow it sweet and it all passed my lips in a hurry, unnamed. Back then, I liked to strip the husk back and remove the silk. I’d place the moist rewrapped corn in the microwave for about 3 minutes. When it was steaming I’d remove the husk and quickly sear the kernels on the grill, then drizzle with a little lime juice, maybe some chili flakes.

It was Michael Pollen’s book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, that underscored for me the fundamental importance of corn in this country. I understood that it was an early American staple shared by the Indians and early settlers; I got the historical significance.

What I failed to appreciate was corn as the American success story, of its incredible impact on the industrial age. Once it was discovered in a lab that a slight alteration of corn’s genetic composition could make it more abundant, more useful, it wasn’t long before the revolution kicked into high gear. Corn’s affordability and versatility made it the darling of industry; corn was everywhere: in sugars, oils, cereals and other convenience foods; in plastics, packaging and fuel. For a country hungry for beef, it was the prime feed for cattle. Corn was no longer just a vegetable; it was a commodity capable of influencing national economic policy.

On my cross country trip this year, catchy signs would appear along the road side for ‘Bodacious Corn!’ They were usually situated at the most inconvenient times, when I had no desire to stop and inquire. I would press on in my westerly direction, and continue to muse. Bodacious? Corn? What does that mean? Was it some sort of local mythology? An incomplete ad for Burma Shave?A corny joke, perhaps?

Now, here in Oregon, I’ve been told all about Bodacious corn and the debate rages on. Considered by some ‘hands down the most superior corn available’; it’s easy to grow, big, fat, juicy and absolutely delicious; it keeps and freezes quite well. Referred to as a triple sweet variety, it is considered cutting edge in corn breeding technology.

Good gracious, it’s Bodacious! Only in America.

Garden Cornbread
Practically a meal, this low fat veggie laden beauty is moist and portions easily thanks to the secret ingredient: couscous.

1 tablespoon butter, divided
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup or more fresh corn kernels, 1 large ear
2 tablespoons pepperoncini, slices
3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup couscous grains
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line and spray 8″ square pan.

Spray a medium skillet and melt 2 tsp butter over medium low heat. Add the scallion and peppers; cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oregano and corn; cook 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and add pepperoncini.

Sift flour, baking powder, soda and cornstarch into a bowl; add the salt, sugar, cornmeal and couscous and combine evenly. Stir in buttermilk and eggs with a few strokes, then stir in vegetables, do not over mix.

Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake until set and almost done, about 15 minutes; brush top lightly with remaining butter, melted. Remove from oven when puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Serves 4-6. ~~

Chili-fied Lentils with Corn
Inspired by Didi Emmons’ Entertaining for a Veggie Planet

For a meat version, substitute about ½ pound cooked ground beef for pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
28 ounces can diced or crushed tomatoes, with juice
2 cups lentils, green or brown
4 chipotles in adobo, or see note below
2 cups water, up to 4 cups or more
2 tablespoons cornmeal
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/3 cups corn kernels, @ 1-2 ears
1 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted, toasted, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
accompaniments: green onion and yogurt crema, pickled red onions, cilantro

In large pot sauté onion in olive oil; when soft add garlic, cumin and coriander, and sauté til aromatic. Stir in tomatoes, the lentils, chipotles and 2 cups water and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer adding water as needed as it thickens; cook 40 minutes. Stir in additional 1 cup water plus 2 tbsp. cornmeal and simmer additional 10 minutes or longer, until lentils are soft and it has thickened. Adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper.

Add the corn kernels and heat through, about 2 minutes. Stir in cilantro and pumpkin seeds. Serve in bowls topped with sour cream, more cilantro, and a few more seeds. Serves 6. ~~

Note: if chipotles in adobo are unavailable: substitute 3-5 dried peppers, plus 1 tbsp each smoked paprika, chili powder and cider vinegar; and a pinch cinnamon.

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