Sunday, October 2, 2011

Farm Stand Corn & Mushroom Tortilla Salad and the great Rocky Mountains

I came across this recipe while I was browsing food porn, I mean photos, on Pinterest (my latest guilty pleasure). I immediately "pinned it" to one of my boards. Then a few weeks later I found myself at the farmers market where fresh corn and corn tortillas were being sold. Excellent! There were also tons of mushrooms. I bagged about 2 cups of shitake...perfect for this dish.
The recipe is from New York based chef Aliya LeeKong. It is bright and "filled with end of summer flavors" - using fresh farm corn and grape tomatoes. It's very easy to make and incredibly flavorful.  
I've been getting into Mexican-style dishes because Mexican cuisine is a big part of Colorado cooking. There are chiles everywhere, so finding a nice looking jalapeno isn't very difficult. Fresh cilantro and some queso fresco top this little number off. It's the perfect lunch bite.  
Farm Stand Corn & Mushroom Salad (Adapted only slightly from Aliya Lee Kong)
Ingredients
Yields 2 servings
4 corn tortillas (the thinnest you can find)
Butter and olive oil
1 1/2 cup shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
12 grape tomatoes, halved
small handful of cilantro, chopped
farmer’s cheese or queso fresco
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Procedure
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 sautĂ© 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.
* * *
Colorado is an exceptionally beautiful place. We are fortunate to live about a two hour drive from Rocky Mountain National Park. I fell in love with our National Parks when my parents took me and my brother on a cross-country road trip. We were 11 and 10, respectively.  It was kind of Ken Burns meets National Lampoons Vacation. It was very memorable!
Since that trip almost, um, 25 years ago (eek!), I've been to Glacier, the obscure and kinda-hard-to-get-to Big Bend National in Texas, Everglades, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Painted Desserts,  Grand Tetons,  Olympic National and Mt. Rainier. For some reason the Rocky Mountains eluded me. Until now.  
I was thrilled when we decided to take an ambitious day trip to the park. For 'normal' people, a 4 hour round-trip expedition wouldn't be such a big deal.  But for us that is something exceptional since we have a 2 year old toddler and an 8 week old in tow. But we did it.    
The fall foliage was incredible. The Aspen trees were beautiful. And the Elk were mating so they were everywhere.  And I do mean EVERYWHERE.  They were on the highway, the golf course, in the park and by the river.  There were females, young calves and giant males with massive antlers. It was quite a show. As my husband and I were watching the herd cross in front of our car, Otis woke up from his afternoon slumber. He thought it was pretty strange to see the animals all over the road. With his eyes bulging he screamed out, "Moose!  Moose!" Close enough. We told him that they were Elk, he thought about it, and then he screamed, "Elk! Elk!" It was priceless. 
Below are a few shots from our outing...
From the car window...
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