For a precious six weeks each summer, the NYC Greenmarket comes to Rockefeller Center - a mere block away from where I toil at my nine-to-five. At the height of the season there are overflowing piles of fresh sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, purple and white eggplant, beans, and a rainbow of peaches, plums and berries. There is local honey. The Amish stand (or maybe they are Mennonites, because if they're Amish how do they get here?) has fresh eggs, cheese, beef jerky and baked goods. There are pretzels and bread and apple donuts and enough jams and jellies for days. I go almost every day and sometimes make my lunch by picking up a roll from one stand, a tomato from another and then convincing the cheese people to sell me just one thick slice.
If I didn't exercise some kind of self-control, I'd buy something from every stand to take home. Recently, I found myself trying to think of a good summer salad to make with the two most obviously ripe and ready stand-outs: the corn & tomatoes. My thought process went something like this:
Wow, I'd really like to eat some corn. And tomatoes. Hmm...what if I put them together? So if I buy the corn today...wait, I have that thing tonight so I won't have time to do any cooking... that means they'll have to be refrigerated... but I'd rather eat them super fresh... maybe I should buy them tomorrow...
So, I went back to the office with just my lunch fixings... and found on my chair the food section from the New York Times - with a recipe for corn & tomato salad. The next day I bought all my ingredients and made the salad. And then licked the plate clean. It was so delicious and fresh and everything I wanted. It was summer in a bowl.
I wanted more. I made plans to cook with a friend. The NYT version of this salad is made with bacon. My friend is a vegetarian, so I suggested that we replace the fat from the bacon with cheese. Mozzarella would be good, but I wanted something that would go well with cilantro and lime juice. Feta came to mind - specifically my favorite variety - Valbreso feta. This is a French feta made with sheep's milk. It has the characteristic saltiness of traditional Greek feta but is very creamy. Unfortunately, the store I knew carried Valbreso was closed (first day of Ramadan?) but there was another store a few doors down that had something I had never tried - Bulgarian feta. The shopkeeper advised me that it was nice and creamy so I went for it.
The final touch to our vegetarian version of this salad was to use a smoked salt that my friend had in her pantry. Her's came from Whole Foods and it added a light touch of smoke to the finished dish. I plan to make this salad until the last of the good tomatoes and corn are gone for the season. It's easy, simple and super fresh.
Summer Corn & Tomato Salad w/Feta
adapted from a recipe by the New York Times
Note: I used a "corn zipper" to remove the kernels from the cob. You can also carefully cut along the ear with a sharp knife. Also, adjust the amount of chili pepper to your liking - the seeds and pith hold most of the heat so remove them if you prefer.
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
4 ears of corn, kernels removed
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 avocado, diced
1 small chili pepper, seeded & minced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
juice from 1 lime
1 cup crumbled feta, Valbreso or Bulgarian if possible
fresh ground pepper and salt to taste (smoked salt if available)
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high. Add the onion and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the corn and cook for another 5-7 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from heat and allow to cool somewhat.
In a large bowl, combine all other ingredients. Add the corn & onion mixture and stir gently. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.