Mexican Street Corn Chopped Salad

Light up the grill to whip up this chopped salad, inspired by Mexican street corn. Smoky grilled corn, red peppers, jalapenos, scallions and bacon are tossed with crunch romaine, sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs and cotija cheese in this summery salad. 

Marriage is pretty awesome. You get to spend the rest of your life with your favorite person in the universe, and what could be a better gift than that? Certainly, nothing I can think of. But coming at a close second – filling your kitchen with the brand new matching (!!!) kitchen gear from your registry. No more college hand me downs! After we returned from our honeymoon, I didn’t waste anytime before getting into the kitchen to play with my new toys.

Our big kitchen upgrade was a fancy new grill, a gift from my grandpa. After years using, get this, a handmade charcoal grill made from a discarded old keg, I was thrilled to have something not so, well, redneck.

Of course, as soon as it was delivered, it rained for about two weeks straight. Pure torture, cause we’re the type of kids who like to play with our toys as soon as we open them. On the bright side, it left us with plenty of time to dream up the perfect inaugural dish. What did we decide on? Mexican street corn.

Until food trucks became a thing, typical street food in America was a

hot dog boiled in dirty water

or a pretzel with neon yellow mustard. In Mexico, they’ve been doing things right for a long time, serving up grilled corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise and sprinkled with fresh cheese, chili powder and lime juice. It may seem like an odd combination, but

once you try it

, you’ll fall in love.

Speaking of love, corn is kind of like that bad boy on every teen drama who actually has a good heart once someone takes the time to know him. The Ryan Atwood/Chuck Bass/Damon Salvatore of the vegetable world (yes, I watch too many teen dramas). The Atkins diet/low carb craze was the first blow to it’s rep, and it never fully recovered. Now, as people have become more aware of GMOs, corn is getting hated on once again. People say corn is “too sugary,” or that it’s unnatural, but they just haven’t taken the time to get to know it.

First, lets address the whole carb situation. Corn is what we consider a starchy vegetable. Although it has more starch, and thus total carbohydrate, than non-starchy vegetables, it’s high in fiber, preventing it from spiking your blood sugar. Carbohydrate-wise, it’s pretty much equivalent to a whole grain, so include it as the carbohydrate in your meal, not as a vegetable. Corn does contain some natural sugar, about 5 grams in a cup. To put it in perspective, compare that to 27 grams of sugar in a cup of coke, 28 grams in a cup of vanilla ice cream and 12 grams in a cup of honey nut cheerios.

Now, the GMO issue is a little more interesting. In a way, corn is the

original GMO

. The wild form of corn, a grass called teosinte, is nothing like the corn you find at the grocery store. It doesn't have a cob or kernels - in fact it's completely inedible. Native Americans cultivated it into maize over thousands of years, demonstrating a knowledge of genes before we even had a name for them. In South America, corn has been consumed as a staple crop for thousands of years, where it makes an appearance in almost every meal in one form or another.

Here in America, most people don't consume corn more than a few times a week, but our intake of corn products is actually

higher than people living in Central and South America

. That's because we consume a massive amount of corn byproducts, like high fructose corn syrup and meat from animals raised on corn. The

genetically modified corn

used for these products has been engineered to resist bugs and pesticides. Now, 50% of corn is GM. From an environmental standpoint, there’s

good reason to avoid GMOs

. From a health standpoint, there is

growing evidence

 to suggest GMOs could be harmful. However, there are no large, controlled trials, so it’s impossible to say if it’s dangerous…or if it’s safe. It would be a smart idea to purchase organic corn, which is never genetically modified, or from a local farmer, so you can ask.

If you're still fearful of corn, here are some more fun facts. Corn is a rich source of antioxidants, including beta-carotene, anthocyanins, zeaxanthin, and leutein. Different colors of corn contain different antioxidants, so if you ever find purple or blue corn, it would be a fun thing to experiment with. It's a rich source of B vitamins, including pantothenic acid, B3 and B6.

Now, on to this salad, very likely the best salad I've made all summer. It's got all the flavors of Mexican street corn plus more. With grilled red peppers, jalapenos, green onions, and even grilled bacon, it made great use of our grill. There is so much flavor going on in this salad, I don't even know where to start, so I'll just go ahead and get to the recipe!

Mexican Street Corn Chopped Salad

serves 4

For a vegetarian version, leave out the bacon and add a cup of chickpeas, black beans or kidney beans for protein. To make it vegan, swap chopped olives for the cotija cheese. Inspired by Half Baked Harvest.

Ingredients

  • 4 ears corn, husks removed
  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 jalapenos
  • 4 large scallions
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup cotija cheese (feta, queso fresca or ricotta salata would work too)

Instructions

  1. Heat the grill to medium heat.
  2. Brush or spray the corn, peppers, jalapenos, and scallions with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the oiled vegetables on the grill along with the bacon. Grill until the peppers and jalapenos are tender and lightly charred all over, the scallions are marked and the bacon is crisp. The scallions will be done first (after two minutes), then the bacon (after about 5 minutes), then the jalapenos (7-10 minutes), and finally the red peppers and corn (15-20 minutes). After grilling, set each ingredient on a large platter to cool.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, chili powder and smoked paprika and season with salt and pepper. Brush the corn with the mixture and set the rest aside to use as dressing.
  4. Place the chopped lettuce in a large bowl. Stem and seed the grilled peppers and jalapenos. Chop and place in the bowl with the lettuce. Crumble in the bacon. Chop the scallions and add them to the salad. Cut the corn off the cob using a serrated knife and add to the bowl with the other ingredients. Add the cherry tomatoes, basil and cheese. Drizzle in the dressing. Toss together and serve.