Hot weather aside, you really know it's summer when fresh sweet corn shows up at every Greenmarket and farm stand. I always love the sight of folks digging through piles of fat green-husked ears, looking for the best specimens. I'm right there with them, grabbing my own.
For the first few weeks of corn season, I'm happy to eat it on the cob, boiled or grilled, smeared with butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper or lime and chili powder. Or plain. But at a certain point, it's time to take those kernels off the cob and start playing. I may make my own creamed corn (butter-stewed, then finished with creme fraiche and chives) or a bright succotash with peppers, zucchini and sundry beans.
Adding fresh kernels to corn bread or polenta is always nice, or I'll try a vegetarian corn chowder, with a broth made of simmered cobs, new potatoes and a fistful of fresh herbs. This week, even in sweltering weather, I had a yen for something fried, and though I could have settled for corn-studded hush puppies, my inclination was to make something spicier, more complex. I love the vibrant flavor of Indian food, especially in summer. (It always seems refreshing.) So I turned to a few of my favorite Indian cookbooks for inspiration, and I found a solution: corn pakoras.
Crispy and well seasoned, pakoras are fritters that can be made from most any vegetable, corn included. I wanted to emphasize the corn flavor, so I used a fair amount of fine cornmeal, besides the more traditional chickpea flour. I got out my food processor to grind up fresh kernels for the batter, then in went the spices: the chilies, the ginger and scallions.
To accompany the pakoras, I craved a chutney that was sweet, hot and a little sour. Ripe mangoes and tamarind were at my local Indian grocery, so I used those, but green mango would have been good, or practically any other chutney, really.
Once the batter was made and the chutney assembled, I waited for sunset. Then it was time for an icy beverage before approaching the stove.
Using a couple of soup spoons, I slipped morsels of the mixture into a bare inch of hot oil. The frying took only a few minutes. (If you don't want to fry them, cook them like pancakes on a well-oiled griddle.)
My little pakoras were just the thing for a hot night: spicy, crispy, sweet and savory.
Spicy Corn Pakodas with Mango-Tamarind Chutney
Time: About 1 hour
1/4 cup chickpea flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup fine cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 6 ears corn)
4 tablespoons ghee, clarified butter or vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh red or green chili, or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 up chopped scallions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, tender stems and leaves
1 tablespoon grated ginger
Vegetable oil, for frying
Mango-tamarind chutney (see recipe).
1. In a mixing bowl, combine chickpea flour, all-purpose flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and turmeric.
2. In a food processor, grind corn kernels to a rough puree. Add puree to flour mixture; stir well to make a stiff batter.
3. Put ghee in a small pan over medium-high heat. Add cumin, fennel and mustard seeds. When seeds are lightly toasted and begin to pop, pour mixture into the batter. Add chili, scallions, cilantro and ginger, and stir well. (Batter may be prepared several hours ahead.)
4. Pour vegetable oil into a cast-iron skillet to a depth of 1 inch. Heat on medium-high until oil looks wavy. Using 2 large soup spoons, carefully slip morsels of batter into the oil, working in batches if necessary. Adjust the heat so pakoras brown gently on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn pakoras and brown on other side, about 2 minutes more. Remove with a slotted spoon or spatula and blot on paper towels. Serve hot with lime wedges and mango-tamarind chutney, or another chutney if desired.
Yield: 16 to 18 pieces (4 to 6 servings).
Time: 20 minutes
4 ounces seedless tamarind pulp, about 1/4 cup (or 1/2 cup prepared tamarind juice)
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh red or green chili, or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 medium mangos in 1/2-inch dice, about 2 cups
2 tablespoons chopped mint, optional
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, optional
1. To make tamarind juice, put pulp in a bowl and cover with 1 cup boiling water. Stir well and let soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Set a fine strainer over another bowl, add soaked tamarind and press hard with a wooden spoon to extract the juice. This should yield 1/2 cup tamarind juice. Discard the solids left in the strainer. (If using prepared tamarind juice, skip this step.)
2. Add brown sugar and salt, and stir to dissolve, then add onion, chili, ginger and diced mango, and toss gently to combine. (Chutney may be prepared several hours ahead.) Just before serving, add mint and cilantro, if using.