Suzi's Blog

Esquites: Sauteed Corn Kernels with Lime Juice, Cream and Chile from Yucatan by David Sterling

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This recipe is from Yucatan by David Sterling. David knows Yucatan inside out: the homes, the markets, the small shops, the restaurants, and the street food. This dish is a street food staple, sometimes available on weekdays and always on weekends. This version uses “everything” David has seen in those street versions. Sometimes other peppers are added, or the scallions are omitted. You have perfect freedom here to mix and match away.

There is a basic, penetrating flavor that comes from the Recado Para Escabeche spice mix, a combination of black peppercorns, Mexican oregano, cloves, allspice and bay leaves. The spice balance, perfected over generations, is rich and penetrating. It does not overpower the corn, but you’ve probably never experienced corn with allspice. You are in for a treat.

While the suggestion is to serve this at room temperature, I have enjoyed it hot off the stove and cold from the refrigerator. And, as a side dish, it pairs with any protein.

 

Esquites: Sautéed Corn Kernels with Lime Juice, Cream and Chile

Yield: 10 servings

Ingredients:

To prepare ahead:

  • Recado para escabeche [see yesterday’s post or search on this blog]

For the corn:

  • ¾ cup olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon recado para escabeche
  • 1 cup bell pepper, cut into medium slice
  • 1 ½ cups chiles poblanos, charred, peeled, seeded, and cut into medium dice
  • ½ cup scallions, thinly sliced diagonally, including some green
  • ½ cup lime juice or Seville orange juice

For serving:

  • ¾ cup Mexican cream [or crème fraiche, plain yogurt or sour cream] in a squeeze bottle, thinned with a bit of milk
  • 3 ½ ounces queso cotija [or feta cheese]
  • Cayenne powder, to taste
  • Fried tortilla chips, optional
  • Lime or Seville orange wedges

Preparation:

Begin by sautéing the corn. Heat ½ cup of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over moderate heat. Add the corn, salt and recado and sauté 6-7 minutes, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the skillet to prevent sticking. The kernels should be slightly deeper golden color and barely softened but still al dente. Transfer the corn to a heatproof mixing bowl and allow to cool completely.

Add the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil and the other ingredients, except the citrus juice to the bowl of corn and toss to combine. Allow the mixture to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to amalgamate the flavors. If you won’t be serving the dish immediately, cover and refrigerate.

If the corn has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature. Add the juice just before serving and toss to combine. Check the seasonings.

To serve, the dish is typically presented in individual serving bowls or cups and eat with a spoon. It can also be eaten as a dip with chips. Top each serving with a squeeze of cream, some crumbled cheese, and a light dusting cayenne powder.

Serve additional crema, cheese, chile powder, chips and lime wedges on the tale. Esquites is also an excellent accompaniment for seafood dishes or grilled meats.

Source: Yucatan by David Sterling

Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/4.5 for 1/25th second at ISO‑3200

 

Recado Para Escabeche from Yucatan by David Sterlin

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When was the last time you used allspice? Did you even know? If you are not Caribbean by descent, if you don’t go forage for jerk chicken, then about the about the only time you may encounter allspice is when you make pumpkin pie. It’s one of the components of “pumpkin pie spice.” No, the spice there is a mix. There is no pumpkin pie bush. Time for a spice change.

In fact, it’s time for a big change, one that affects your culinary life, one that gives you a new avenue of flavors that can impact the taste profile of your kitchen.

Yesterday, I posted a cookbook review of the remarkable book Yucatan by David Sterling. His survey of Yucatan cuisine includes not only recipes but a vast sea of information on history, culture, and sociology. It’s an important work, not just a cookbook, but literally a study of the Yucatan civilization.

Often we hear about regional cuisines and most often that triggers an image of Italy. Little towns and villages, just miles apart, with quite different cuisines or at least quite different techniques and flavors for the “same” dish. Think of Yucatan as the same situation, one where the culinary roots go back 8,000 years.

In the Yucatan, spices have evolved to be basic ingredients, key ingredients. I should say spice mixtures. For what has happened there is the evolution of the recardo, a spice mix in either powdered or paste form. Recardos appear in almost every dish it seems. There are hundreds of versions with, as in Italy, the same name not necessarily meaning you get the same flavor.

In Yucatan, there are 10 recipes providing an intelligent but still very small sample of the recado world. This one, the Recado Para Escabeche gets its name from the Spanish “escabechar” meaning “to pickle.” Pickling, and vinegars, were one of the skills brought to the Yucatan by the Spanish. The Maya took that pickling idea and merged creating this spice mix.

This combination of peppercorns, oregano, cloves, allspice and bay leaves is one that you have to experience. Just make it, wait a moment, take a deep breath, and relish. It’s fabulous.

And while this recado can be used for pickling, tomorrow I’ll post using it with corn to make a side dish that is common in Yucatan as a street food. Corn like you have never experienced.

This particular recado appears over and over again in the many recipes in Yucatan. It’s wonderful on chicken, on fish, on veggies.

And that’s how I want to change your flavor profile. Instead of barbequing with one of those commercial rubs, considers making your own recados. All you need is pepper and spices and imagination. You can look in Yucatan for wonderful, authentic idea. If you Google now, you’ll begin to see a battery of recado recipes working their way onto the web. Fresh, homemade and without preservatives, this is the better way to add flavor to your food.

Oh, when I went to make this and looked for allspice berries, I found two containers. There was the little one bought last Thanksgiving, one of those inch high containers with just a few berries. And then buried away I found a two cup container that Suzen must have bought at some big box store. I hate to compare the price per ounce of my small container and her big box version. Good for Suzen and me, because we are now in the recado business. Try this recipe, and you will be, too.

Oh, this recipe says to use a spice grinder. How could I do that? I got out a marble mortar and pestal and pretended to be Maya. Thing is, black peppercorns are pretty hard. I would crush and they would soar out over the floor. I had fantasies of how to explain this debris on the kitchen floor to Suzen: "I don't know," "Maybe the cats did it," "Someone else is using our house when we are not here." I switched to the Vitamix. It's a wonderful machine: works well on pepper corns and you don't have to lie to your wife.

 

Recado Para Escabeche: Peppery Spice Bland for Pickled Dishes

Yield: 6 tablespoons

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons dried whole Mexican oregano, lightly toasted
  • 20 cloves
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 13 bay leaves

 

Preparation:

Place the first 4 ingredients and 5 of the bay leaves in a spice mill or coffee grinder reserved for the purpose and grind until very fine. Strain the power through a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, crumbling any remaining bits of debris through the sieve with your fingers. Return anything left in the sieve to the grinder and process again. Pass through the sieve again. Discard any residue.

Transfer the ground spices to an airtight container, add the remaining whole bay leaves, and toss to mix.

Source: Yucatan by David Sterling

Photo Information [top]: Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/4.5for 1/50th second at ISO‑2000

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