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Monsoon corn 'khichdi'. Photographs by Nandita Iyer
Monsoon corn 'khichdi'. Photographs by Nandita Iyer

Opinion | Taste the rain, one corn dish at a time

Here’s how to use the most readily available ingredient of the season to make an offbeat 'khichdi' or a coconut-infused stir-fry

One of the lasting monsoon memories from my childhood in Mumbai is the bhutta (corn on the cob) cart that would show up every evening in our neighbourhood in Wadala. The lady managing the cart would ask us if we wanted tender or mature corn.

She would check by pushing off the husk to a side and pressing a nail over one of the kernels. The tender corn would ooze a milky liquid owing to higher moisture content. Those with dimpled kernels indicate that their water content has reduced. She would then roast the corn over live coals, fanning it with a piece of cardboard, until lightly charred. A lime half dipped in chilli powder and salt would be rubbed all over the corn, sending our salivary glands into overdrive.

This beautiful sensory experience was all mine for the princely sum of one rupee. If you wanted your bhutta with the salty goodness of Amul butter, it was for double the price, 2.

Corn (or maize) was one of the earliest grains to be domesticated nearly 10,000 years ago by the native people of Mexico. Introduced to India as a part of the Columbian exchange in the 16th century, it is one of the few grains that can be cultivated without tilling and is suitable for growing in kitchen gardens. While travelling in Sikkim, I noticed every home had a fence of tall corn plants. Growing your grain and vegetables in front of your house is a beautiful example of sustainability.

Mexican cuisine worships corn like no other. My love for Mexican food made me research masa harina (traditional Mexican flour from corn) as it was not available in India five-six years ago. I wanted to find out if our regular makai atta could be used as a substitute for masa harina to make tortillas.

Turned out, masa harina is no ordinary maize flour. Corn kernels are put through a fascinating process called nixtamalization. It involves cooking the corn kernels in an alkaline solution (by adding slaked lime or ash to the water), followed by fermentation and removal of the skins. Then the corn is dried and ground. Nixtamalization reduces almost all the mycotoxins in corn and makes the nutrients, like niacin (a B vitamin), more bioavailable, thereby preventing pellagra in populations where corn is a significant part of the daily diet. It also improves levels of calcium, iron, zinc and copper.

Masa harina easily forms a dough, which is then used to create a variety of products like tortillas and tortilla chips; in comparison, flour from untreated corn does not form a pliable dough. In modern times, an alternative industrial process employing enzymes is used to replicate this process.

Here are two delicious recipes to try with corn this monsoon.

Corn sundal.
View Full Image
Corn sundal.

CORN SUNDAL

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cups corn kernels (fresh)*

Quarter tsp turmeric

Half tsp salt

1 tbsp coconut oil

Half tsp mustard seeds

1-2 sprigs curry leaves

2-3 green chillies, sliced

2-3 dried red chillies, broken into bits

Half tsp ginger, grated

Quarter cup coriander, chopped

For garnish

1 lime

2-3 tsp fresh grated coconut

1-2 tsp coriander, chopped

Method

In a pressure cooker, place 1 cup water with turmeric and salt. Add the fresh corn kernels and pressure-cook for 3-4 minutes on lowest heat after full pressure is reached.

Meanwhile, prepare the tempering. In a pan, heat coconut oil. Fry mustard seeds, curry leaves, chillies, ginger and coriander. Drain the cooked corn kernels and add to the tempering, mixing it well together. Check for salt and add some more if needed. Remove the pan from heat. Squeeze the lime, stir to combine and transfer into a bowl. Garnish with fresh grated coconut and coriander leaves.

*If using frozen corn, place 2 cups of it in a microwave-safe bowl with enough water to cover. Add 1 tsp salt. Cover and microwave on full power for 3-4 minutes. Drain and proceed with recipe.

MONSOON CORN KHICHDI

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 ears of corn

Half cup rice

Half cup moong dal (green gram)

One-and-a-half tsp salt

Quarter tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp ginger-green chilli paste

For tempering

2 tbsp ghee

A pinch of asafoetida

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 green chillies, sliced

For garnish

2 tsp ghee

Lime wedges

Fresh coriander leaves

Method

Peel the husk and silk from the ear of corn. Grate the corn coarsely over a dish. Wash the rice and dal two-three times. Drain and keep aside. In a pressure cooker, place the grated corn with all its juices, rice and dal along with seven cups of water. Stir in the salt, turmeric and ginger-chilli paste. Pressure- cook for 6-7 minutes on lowest heat after full pressure is reached.

Meanwhile, prepare the tempering. Heat ghee in a pan. Add asafoetida, cumin seeds, green chillies and fry until cumin seeds splutter. Open the pressure cooker and mash the khichdi well with a wooden spoon.

Transfer the tempering over the cooked khichdi. Stir well to combine, thin with some hot water and mix well if you want a softer consistency.

Top with ghee, fresh coriander. Serve piping hot along with lime wedges and a pickle.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

@saffrontrail

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