This has been the first summer that we’ve had a real garden harvest. And that has happened despite the things that are failing. We have many, many things doing well. But also piles of plants that look fabulous yet are either not producing anything (cauliflower I’m looking at you) or things that are pretty terrible (yes, you cucumber plant I ripped from the ground today for producing the worst bitter taste I have ever encountered). And one failure at this house has been legendary. Corn.
Growing up my dad would try planting it on the side of the house. Oh how he wanted piles of sweet, amazing corn. And what did he get? Tiny ears of toothless looking cobs. Spindly and sparse or a band of concentrated kernels wrapped like a sweat band at one end or the other. Did it matter that they tasted amazing? Maybe not- because you only got a couple bites and the brief, sweet love affair was over. I especially remember this during my days with braces when corn on the cob meant cutting the kernels into a pile. What a small, sad, but oh so sweet pile it was.
So this year I had small hopes, but tried anyway and threw about 16 kernels into a garden bed. And they grew! Tall! And robust-looking! On a visit to the Boulder’s farmer’s market I asked the corn man if I should be doing anything special to help these corns grown. I had heard about and read about hand pollination. He said, “leave it to the bees” and I felt silly and walked away. And my corn was covered in bees. Humming and busy, pollinating, surely doing amazing things for my corn.
This was the first corn I harvested:
The curse! I saved my sorrows for later and sliced the kernels from the cob, cooked them quickly in butter with a bit of salt and tried them. Yup. Just as I remembered. Sweet in an eye-rolling-back-in-your-head kind of way. And the little brown bits in the pan…they should make a snack out of just that flavor. I ate the remaining couple spoons right from the pan. And then I turned to the internet.
Pretty much everything I found said I could gather the dangly little bits that shoot out the top and pollinate the silks. Silently I cursed the farmer who made me feel like an idiot and went outside to play a bee for my remaining corn. I was not alone. My corn was still covered with real bee bees. I did this for a few days and then forgot all about it. Until today.
Going my rounds, I plucked tomatoes (finally coming in!), some more alarmingly large zucchini (until my dying day, their ability to grow fast and huge will surprise me), a pile of greens because I have to eat them every day or they will carry away my first born….and then….some corn. Three ears to be exact. The first one felt good, but looked toothless and strange. But the next two were beautiful. I was smitten.
And then the dinner planning began. At first I wanted to just make a fresh polenta topped with something…tomato and zucchini glop of sorts perhaps or maybe corn and zucchini fritters? I continued this way of thought inside to wash the veggies and browse the fridge. That is when I saw a package of tofu that I had neglected and needed eating. Immediately I thought of these tofu “dumplings” I had had recently with a friend. They were really more like fried tofu balls or fritters and they floated in a coconut broth with roasted kabocha squash and bok choy. It was an excellent dish and I set out to create something similar.
I had no idea what was in the tofu dumplings, but they had a deep flavor so I started there. I had some leftover bacon from breakfast and some dried shrimp in the freezer. I figured shallots and garlic were a no brainer. My mother had stopped by earlier and left a package of baby shiitakes which always add depth and love. So I envisioned the dish—a puddle of sweet corn broth topped with steamed greens and slivered mushrooms, fried tofu balls and, of course, my chili garlic, sesame oil drizzle that pairs so wonderfully with sweet corn.
1 pound firm tofu, quartered and drained
2 strips bacon, rendered
2 teaspoons dried shrimp
1 medium shallot, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
3 tablespoons green onions, sliced
1 cup shiitakes, sliced
2 tablespoons soy
1 egg yolk
5 tablespoons bread crumbs (or panko)
2 teaspoons corn starch
2 ears corn
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 cup water
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon soy
basil for garnish
1 bunch chard, stemmed
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
Pulse bacon and dried shrimp in food processor to small crumbs. Saute shallot in a tablespoon of oil until beginning to brown. Add garlic, stirring another couple minutes. Add to food processor. Sautee mushrooms in pan briefly until just starting to brown. Add 2 T to food processor and set rest aside. Add tofu, soy and green onion and pulse until uniform but still a little textured.
Scoop mixture into a bowl and fold in egg yolk, bread crumbs and corn starch and chill in refrigerator at least 30 minutes.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan and add onions, garlic and ginger and cook until translucent. Grate corn on a box grater and add to pan, stirring for a few minutes. Add water and cobs and a pinch of salt, cover and cook 12 minutes. Holding cobs with tongs, use the back of a chef knife to scrape any remaining kernels from cobs. Blend corn mixture until smooth, strain and stir in coconut milk and soy and set aside.
Add wet chard to hot pan, cover and steam until wilted. Squeeze gently with tongs. Mix chili garlic sauce, sesame oil and vinegar.
Heat 4″ oil in a small pot to 325. Form balls of tofu mixture the size of rubber bouncy balls (smaller than a golf ball….bigger than a marble….) Fry in batches several minutes until a deep golden brown. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.
To plate: pour 1/4 cup corn mixture onto four plates. Arrange chard and mushrooms around plate. Add several fritters, drizzle chili oil mixture and top with basil chiffonade. Eat right away.