Continuing the exploration of corn off the cob that I wrote about here a few weeks ago, I made two new recipes for a casual Latin American vegetarian dinner. Again, one of them came out very well; the other less so. But this time the corn recipe was the star.
In The Cuisines of Mexico, Diana Kennedy says there are so many variations of corn-chili-cream dishes that it was hard to decide which one to put in her book. I’ll say the recipe for Elote con Crema (Fresh Corn with Chiles, Cheese, and Cream) that she settled on was an excellent choice, rich with flavor and very little trouble to make.
The chiles in the recipe are poblanos, which can range from very mild to pretty hot. The ones I had from my local greenmarket were surprisingly hot – but very good. I roasted them on my stove burners, peeled them, and cut them into strips. In oven-proof casserole I sautéed onions and garlic in butter, added the chile strips, and cooked them, covered, for a few minutes.
Meanwhile I was cutting the kernels off a few ears of corn. I added them to the peppers, along with salt and some cubed cheddar cheese. I covered the pan again and put it in a moderate oven for 40 minutes. Actually, I was supposed to add the cheese only after the first 20 minutes, but I didn’t notice that in the recipe, and so had it there from the outset. It didn’t seem to matter, fortunately!
Last of all came the cream – sour cream, which we stirred into our own portions at the table.
It didn’t make a pretty presentation, since I was too lazy to put it in an attractive serving dish, but it was great. The spicy warmth of the poblanos made your whole mouth sparkle. The combination of flavors was very satisfying, though I felt my mild cheddar didn’t contribute as much as it should have, so I’ll use a sharper one next time.
My second dish for the dinner was a recipe for Cuban-style black beans that I’d cut out from an issue of Saveur magazine and had been meaning to try for a long time. Alas, it turned out ho-hum. (The recipe’s available here, but I really can’t recommend it.) My beans, an heirloom variety called Negro de Arbol, had a nice flavor of their own, but they completely ignored the sauté of scallions, garlic, green pepper, oregano, bay leaf, and cumin that the recipe declares is “the secret of good black beans.” Well, it was certainly secret: we couldn’t taste them at all.
The beans were much helped, however, by their companionship with the corn, poblanos, and sour cream. A scoop of each vegetable rolled into a warm fresh tortilla was very tasty. We finished the corn easily that evening, and a few days later Tom, with the help of some lard and habanero sauce, ingeniously turned our leftover beans into Mexican-style refried beans, which we ate with fajitas. Much better!