Farm Stand Corn & Mushroom Tortilla Salad
I walked into a coffee shop the other day, Nina Simone playing in the background, an unidentifiable buzz and warmth in the room and the scent of hot beverages brewing, and it totally transported me; I feel ready for the cooler months ahead to be filled with days of apple picking, Fall dinners with friends in Fort Greene, weekend drives to go leaf peeping, the build to the holidays and rum toddies. I’m finally facing the fact that it’s the end of summer and am filled with this mixture of wistful nostalgia and excited anticipation of the fall to come. That said, it’s my last hurrah! And I couldn’t help but take one last shot at summer with this beautiful salad inspired by the farm stands I visited out in the South Fork this past week and a Mexican tortilleria in Queens where I spent the day cooking.
In thinking about Mexican food and traditions, I wanted to visit Tortilleria Nixtamal because they make incredible corn tortillas in keeping with true Mexican tradition, a not-so-straightforward process that hinges on corn quality, cal, humidity, and timing (they happen to supply to many of the best of the best Mexican restos in town). The restaurant also turns out gorgeous authentic food to boot, so I headed out to Queens to learn a few dishes from the Chef there, Santiago, and see just how this tortilla process works. My time at Nixtamal and this dish is the basis for my next webisode of Exotic Table, so stay tuned!
One dish Chef Santiago taught me was a quesadilla with Oaxaca cheese, corn, and huitlacoche, a fungus that actually grows on the corn and is a Mexican delicacy. Here, I decided to use that as inspiration for a salad, substituting some farm stand shitakes to add the earthy kick from otherwise hard-to-find huitlacoche and threw in some gorgeous grape tomatoes. Bright and filled with end of summer flavors, this is a super easy dish to make at home, tortilla bowls included. Enjoy!
Yields 4 servings
4 corn tortillas (the thinnest you can find)
Butter and olive oil
¾ cup shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 ¼ cups fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
6 – 8 grape tomatoes, halved
handful of cilantro, chopped
farmer’s cheese or queso fresco
salt and freshly ground black pepper
The first step is to make the tortilla “bowls.” Rather than deep-frying to achieve pliability and moldability, I like to go a bit healthier and just use a skillet with a touch of butter and/or olive oil to get similar results. While doing this, you’re going to use small bowls that fit inside each other to mold the tortillas. They will not turn out as crisp (and using thinner tortillas will help), but this method makes me feel better about calling this a salad.
Simply heat a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the tortilla and flip at intervals until it puffs and browns a bit. You’ll feel the edges start to get crispy. At this point, add a ½ tablespoon of butter or olive oil and let coat the tortilla. Place a small bowl upside down on a cookie sheet. Remove tortilla carefully and place on top of the overturned bowl. Take another bowl, overturned, and put it on top. It should mold the tortilla to the shape of the bowl and hold it in place as it cools. Repeat for remaining tortillas, and let cool while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Heat the same skillet over medium-high heat, and add another tablespoon of butter with 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil. When the foam subsides, add the mushrooms and let sit undisturbed in a single layer for about 2 minutes. You want to develop a nice, golden brown on the mushrooms and bring out the flavor. Stir the mushrooms and sauté for another minute or two to cook through. Add salt at the end to taste and, using a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl.
Add another tablespoon or two of butter or olive oil to the pan. Add shallots and jalapeno and a bit of salt to draw out the moisture. When shallots are translucent (about 3 to 4 minutes), add corn kernels and tomatoes and toss to mix thoroughly. I like to crank the heat up a bit here to develop a more roasted flavor to the corn, but be careful because the corn can start to pop a bit. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes until corn is cooked through and tomatoes have puckered a bit.
Remove from the heat, toss back in the mushrooms, season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and add some chopped cilantro, reserving some of the cilantro for garnish. Spoon mixture into tortilla bowls and dollop farmer’s cheese or queso fresco to your heart’s content. Garnish with remaining cilantro and serve warm or room temperature.