Wednesday, July 29, 2009

America, the land of Corny McFatterson

I watched a funny, disturbing and occasionally nauseating documentary a few weeks ago, “King Corn.” The film traces the invasive nature of corn into America’s food system — mainly via high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) — its role in the obesity epidemic and the seemingly backwards and frankly, upsetting government-subsidized program that fuels the growth of trillions of bushels of “non-edible” corn in Iowa each year. The mountains — literally — of excess corn go on for days because the silos are so full … Why isn’t the government subsidizing the growth of heirloom tomatoes, radicchio, and kumquats? I am convinced they are afraid we would wither away to mere shadows of our former corn-fed selves. Especially disconcerting is the revelation that the average American’s biological makeup is about 40 percent corn-based. That is, the amount of your body made from corn, a.k.a. your corn carbon count. “You are what you eat” is right on. Corn is in everything — even Tylenol!

I like to think I eat fairly well; watching what I put in my mouth and reading ingredient lists, but this film set-off screeching alarm bells and has caused me to become especially cautious / conscious as of late — issues such as buying local and eating non-processed foods are becoming more of a priority. The film also profiles the slow extinction of the American family homestead and it’s terribly, terribly depressing. I encourage you to support your local family farms — even if your pocketbook and/or your husband complain! On the upside, however, some corn has its place. We just need to steer farther away from the variety that finds its way into our food via the HFCS highway and stick to the unprocessed stuff. Here’s a great recipe that I’ve made a few times this summer (including for my brother's birthday dinner) — thanks to my friend, Jen, a fabulous cook, who introduced me to it. The salad is crisp, tangy and refreshing and pairs perfectly with just about anything else you throw on the grill. It may be the most perfect summer side dish I’ve ever encountered. Bobby Flay definitely moved up a notch in my book with this one.

Grilled Corn and Tomato-Sweet Onion Salad with Fresh Basil Dressing and Crumbled Blue Cheese

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 ears corn, grilled in the husk, kernels removed
1 sweet onion (such as Vidalia or Walla Walla), halved and thinly sliced
1 pint Sweet 100 tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, halved
8 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
Fresh basil sprigs, for garnish

Combine the vinegar, basil, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Can be made two hours in advance and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using.

Combine the corn kernels, onion and tomato in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat, season with salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Top with crumbled blue cheese and garnish with basil sprigs just before serving. Salad can be made one day in advance and served cold or at room temperature.


jenny goodman said...

It kills me that you have to work to purchase products that do not have HFCS in them, and they cost more than those that do. Going to the grocery store is agonizing for me at the moment, trying to balance purchasing healthy foods without going absolutely broke!

Hillary said...

I know, it's so hard! I've been trying to simplify things by eating more in the "paleo" style, with mostly whole foods that existed before industrialization. I figure it all costs less than open heart surgery and a lot of medication when we're old, right? ;-) The price tags are hard to swallow, though. You should definitely watch the film; I think you'll really enjoy it.

Emily said...

I love this salad - thanks for sharing the recipe (and thanks to Jen too). Another beautiful photo!