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The Flavor of Corn, but With Sizzle

Sweet tender corn, one of summer’s great joys, is in season, though it may seem too obvious to mention. It’s pretty much everywhere, there’s a lot of it, and it’s oh so easy to love.

Even though most farm stands post a sign that says, “Please don’t peel the corn,” it seems everyone fails to resist, peeling back a bit of husk to check the interior. Easier and more reliable is simply to inspect the exterior. Is it fresh-looking, bright green and plump? Most important, does it feel heavy in your hand? This means the ear within has matured, with kernels of the proper size. Take it home for dinner.

Perhaps the best way to eat corn is straight off the cob, with one’s hands. Is there anything better than a hot ear of corn slathered with butter, sprinkled with salt and nibbled voraciously? I think not.

And whether it’s consumed at a picnic table or in the dining room, it ought to be a course on its own, before moving on to the rest of the meal. (It’s mighty good, too, with a spicy mixture of salt and hot pepper, administered with the help of a halved lime.)

Yet, at a certain point as the summer progresses, you may be ready for a less primitive approach. That’s when thoughts turn to succotash and creamed corn and chowder.

My weakness, however, is fresh corn griddle cakes. Pancakes, yes, but so much more. Not breakfast flapjacks or delicate corn-scented blini. What I want is substantial, more like good cornbread with a high percentage of cornmeal.

I like them to feel a little bit Latino, with intense corn flavor and somewhat taco-ish. So I find myself stirring chopped jalapeño and a handful of chives or scallions into the batter, along with a few cups of fresh corn kernels. If you keep the griddle medium hot, the cakes cook slowly enough to soften the corn and acquire a bit of a crisp crust.

Now imagine them topped with a kicky salsa of multicolored summer peppers and tomatoes, some fluffy cilantro and crumbled queso fresco. You could add a spoonful of sour cream or a fried egg, and no one would mind. Nor would it be a sin to accompany them with chuletas, skinny grilled pork chops. But these babies are so tasty, you could eat them plain.

Griddle Cakes with Spicy Salsa

For the batter:

1½ cups cornmeal

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1½ cups buttermilk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

6 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing griddle

3 cups freshly shucked corn kernels, from about 4 ears

1 small jalapeño chili, finely chopped, or to taste

3 tablespoons finely sliced chives or scallions

For the salsa:

1½ cups red onion, finely diced

1½ cups bell peppers, finely diced, prefer- ably a mix of colors

1½ cups firm-ripe tomatoes, finely diced, preferably a mix of colors

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 small jalapeño chili, finely chopped, or to taste

Juice of 2 limes, more to taste

1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, for garnish

1 cup crumbled queso fresco, for garnish (may substitute mild feta)

Stir together cornmeal, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs and 6 tablespoons melted butter. Set both bowls aside until ready to cook griddle cakes.

Make the salsa: in a serving bowl, toss onions, peppers, tomatoes, salt and jalapeño. Add lime juice and toss again. (May prepare 1 to 2 hours ahead.)

Finish the batter: Add buttermilk mixture to cornmeal mixture and mix briefly with wooden spoon or whisk to obtain a thick batter. Add corn kernels, jalapeño and chives and stir to combine.

Set griddle or large cast-iron pan over medium heat. When griddle is hot, grease lightly with a dab of butter, using a folded paper towel or pastry brush. Spoon slightly less than ¼ cup batter per cake onto griddle. Adjust heat as necessary to keep griddle cakes from browning too quickly. Cook for about 1½ minutes, then carefully flip with spatula and cook for another 1½ minutes. Cakes should be slightly crisp on both sides.

Serve immediately as soon as the first batch of griddle cakes is ready, or keep hot in a low oven until all batter is used. To serve, put 3 griddle cakes on a plate. Top with a generous spoonful of salsa. Garnish with a few cilantro leaves and a sprinkling of queso fresco.

Makes about 2 dozen 3-inch griddle cakes, 6 to 8 servings.