I’m excited to share today’s recipe because it’s DELICIOUS. My kids went nuts for it…”naughty little fingers in the serving bowl, scraping up every last bit” kind of nuts. If any of you invite me to a party, or picnic, or any summer event at any time now or in the future, expect that I will bring this salad. But, before I get to the recipe, here’s a little background on its inception.
Friends often think that because I cook professionally, my food always comes out just right. Not so. Case in point is today’s dish. It wasn’t supposed to be a corn salad at all. I had planned to share a homey corn pudding inspired by a recipe from my husband’s family: His people hail from the south. But I got a bit aggressive in my tinkering, knocking out all of the cream and replacing it with milk, changing the method entirely, and using a large cast iron skillet in place of the medium-sized baking dish dictated by the recipe. I had a bad feeling about my version from the get go. And that was before I dropped the entire pan when I pulled it from the oven (said cast iron skillet was too heavy). My dinner sizzled on the open oven door looking more like poorly executed scrambled eggs than any corn pudding I’ve ever seen. I’m still finding corn kernels in the crevices of my range.
With summer corn still on the brain, I turned my attention to something a little more in my comfort zone: salad. This Corn and Avocado Salad with Quick Pickled Onions is my take on a dish that’s been cropping up all summer long: in food magazines, on restaurant menus, and most recently, at a friend’s catered party. Putting summer’s sweet corn and tender, ripe avocados together is a no-brainer. Including pickled red onions, one of my favorite homemade condiments, is what sets this salad apart.
I know, I know, pickling has a lot of you running scared with visions of great aunties and grandmothers hovered over bubbling cauldrons and Ball Jars lined up across the kitchen counter. But this is not your grandma’s canning. It’s a quick and dirty, one minute pickling job that takes the bite out of the onion, infusing it with a touch of sweetness. The only skill required is a teensy bit of patience for the magic of vinegar and sugar and salt to do its work on the red onion. After making it once, it’s a handy addition to your cooking repertoire that can add deliciousness to any number of summer favorites: on hamburgers, alongside barbecued pork tenderloin, and chopped into potato salads.
The starchiness of the corn and the richness of the avocado make this a particularly satisfying salad. It can hold its own as alongside grilled meat, fish or poultry. Feel free to swap out the cilantro for fresh basil if you like. And although the avocado may brown a bit overnight, the salad holds up well flavor wise as a leftover. We built a taco dinner around ours, melting sharp Cheddar on little corn tortillas topped with black beans and this salad. It was just as good as the first time around.
As for the corn pudding, I’ll probably get back to it one of these days. Maybe I’ll have recovered from my cooking debacle by the time corn is good and sweet again next summer.
CORN AND AVOCADO SALAD WITH QUICK PICKLED ONIONS
• 4 ears corn on the cob, shucked, silks removed
• 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1 3/4 teaspoons Kosher salt, divided
• ½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
• ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
• 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 ½ ripe avocados
Cook the corn on the cob using your preferred method until just tender. I’m partial to steaming it over high heat in about 1 inch of water in a large, covered pot. I usually move the corn around in the pot once during cooking and check for doneness by popping a kernel off of the cob using a butter knife and tasting it.
While the corn is cooking, make the pickled onions. Mix together the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small bowl, stirring until the solids dissolve. Add the onion slices and submerge completely in the vinegar. Let that stand for at least 20 minutes.
When the corn is cooked and cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off of the cobs. If you don’t have a particularly sharp knife, a serrated edge one can work well here.
Put the corn in a medium bowl. Scoop the pickled onions out of the vinegar, allowing the vinegar to drip off of them, and add the onions to the corn. Add two tablespoons of the pickling vinegar to the corn. Discard the remaining vinegar or save it to use in another salad dressing.
Add the remaining ¾ teaspoon of salt, cilantro, and olive oil. Mix well. Cut the avocados into cubes and add to the salad. Stir gently and serve.
Makes 6 side-dish servings