18 Aug 2010


The delivery man brought me a box of delights yesterday - a great mound of fresh corn-on-the-cob straight from the fields of central Nagano, with dark brown whiskers and bright green husks clasped snugly around ears of corn that peeled back to reveal tight rows of plump, golden kernels, gleaming and glistening like pearls. They looked so good, I was tempted to take a bite right off the cob to taste the sun-warmed sugar on my tongue.

Sweet corn conjures memories of childhood summers in the sun, of barbecues in the back garden and bedtimes deferred. Eating corn-on-the-cob today transports me back to a more carefree past - to a time when South African English slipped off my tongue: corn-on-the-cob were 'mielies', the barbecues my dad lit in the back garden were 'braais', we wore 'takkies' (sneakers) and the char-grilled food that came off the barbecue and that we ate in the company of 'chommies' (friends) was 'lekker' (delicious). My mother is South African and the language and food of her childhood flavored the landscape of ours. When my brothers and I get together today, braais are still braais, and lekker is the superlative we seek to earn with our culinary efforts.  
But right now the task in hand is to make sure that the corn you eat in this wonderful season is fresh and full of sugar, because prolonged heat after harvesting turns the sugar into tasteless starch, and once that happens, the sweet taste is gone.  
My corn came from the mother of a friend and she swears by quick shucking and cooking. The box came refrigerated, but even so, she still called to chivvy me along. I followed her advice and boiled most of my huge stash, but decided to keep a couple of ears back because there are things you can do with raw corn that are truly delicious. 
Slicing raw corn off the cob is a technique that belongs to Indian cuisine, and the process produces corn with a flavor and texture that is particularly gratifying. I started with a soup. Basically, you chip the raw kernels of the husk with a very sharp knife; a single cob yields around 100 grams of kernels, and if you combine these with caramelized onion then you get double the sweetness!  

Sliced Corn Soup

2 ears of con worth of sliced corn (preserve the husks)
1 onion
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
5 cm piece of kombu
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of kudzu powder (or arrowroot; dissolved in the same volume of water)
1 perilla leaf

Finely chop the onion. Heat the sesame oil over a low-medium flame, add the onions and saute until they begin to caramelize (at least 5 minutes). Add the kombu, water, sliced corn and husks, and the salt, and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes. Remove the husks and kombu, then add the kudzu powder, dissolved in water and stir until thickened. Pour into bowls and serve with wafer-thin slices of perilla. 

Incidentally, Kudzu powder is Japan's earliest thickening agent and is used to treat a wide array of ailments from inflammation and hangovers, to sexual apathy and indigestion, but it's basically the same as arrowroot, and if you haven't got that then cornstarch will do. 

Then my new lens arrived, so to celebrate (and experiment with the lens) I decided to make tofu balls with another ear of corn! I'd thought about fritters - something along the lines of the samosas that are sold at street stands throughout South Africa, but I had a wedge of tofu left over from last night's stir fry and the tofu balls seemed like the healthier option. 
Tofu balls are known as 'ganmodoku' here, or 'pseudo goose'. Apparently they're supposed to taste like goose, hence the name; I'm not convinced. These have a delicious combination of textures and are very easy to make and, more to the point, they taste nothing like geese, ducks or any other game. I added curry powder to give a hint of India, but feel free to omit it if you want to preserve the sweetness of the corn unadulterated. 

Sweet Corn & Tofu Balls
1/2 cup corn kernels 
80g tofu, drained
1 tablespoon cornflour
a generous pinch of salt
5 bite-size pieces of 'fu', or wheat gluten

Crumble the fu into a bowl. Add the drained tofu, corn kernels, cornflour and salt, and mix well; shape into bite-size balls. In a frying pan, heat a tablespoon of oil over a medium flame, then add the tofu balls, shaking gently to ensure even browning. Lower the flame and cover, then steam for 2-3 minutes to allow the tofu balls to cook through. Remove the lid and turn up the heat to brown the tofu balls thoroughly. 
If you've made these with curry powder then you really don't need anything else, though a spoonful of mango chutney adds a delicious contrast. I served these with char-grilled green peppers that I marinaded in a mixture of grated ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil. Divine! 

The eggs have nothing to do with anything! They came in the box and were so pretty I couldn't resist photographing them. Apparently they're raised by a neighboring farmer and are infinitely more nutritious and delicious than their store-bought, commercially produced brothers (and sisters). They look like Easter eggs. 

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