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Relishing Sweet Summer Corn

Save the fresh taste of Illinois sweet corn for a few extra months with this earthy, fire-roasted corn relish.

Katherine Sacks

In the hot days of July, summer’s bounty is in full swing, and it’s finally time for Illinois corn. Known as the Corn Belt, more corn is grown in the Midwest then anywhere else, and in the summer months you can find the sweet varieties everywhere from farmer’s markets to restaurants to plain Jane grocery stores.

Grilled and topped with a lime marinade and feta cheese, like Matt Armendariz suggests, corn becomes the perfect summer treat. But oh-too-quickly the sweet summer corn will disappear from farmer’s market stands, leaving behind frozen bags and dreams of next summer.

Instead, preserve some of this year’s loot in this fire-roasted corn relish. You’ll capture all the wonderful flavors of summer, savoring the sweet flavors of corn and pickled cippolini onions just as the autumn leaves are starting to fall. The perfect mix-in for salads, the relish is also a wonderful addition to this Lime and Cilantro Cornbread or spooned on top of do-it-yourself tacos. So head to the market so you can enjoy corn throughout the fall!

Fire-Roasted Corn Relish with Cippolini Onions (makes two 8-0z jars)
Vegetable Oil
6 cippolini onions, preferably small
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar

10 ears of corn, shucked and stalks removed
2 red bell peppers

1 tbsp whole grain mustard
2 tbsp hot sauce (I use Valentina’s brand)
3 tbsp honey ( I use Chicago Honey Co-op)

1. Cut the green stems off the cippolini onions. Remove the outer skin, using a sharp paring knife. If you purchase the onions from the farmer’s market, there may be only a small layer of outer skin. If you purchase them from the grocery store, they may have several layers of thicker, more onion-like skin. Soaking in water before removing the skin will help to remove it, but dry-off thoroughly after. If the cippolinis are larger, cut in half.

2. Place a large, heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil and move the pot around so that the oil coats the bottom of pot. Heat the pot thoroughly, around 3 to 5 minutes. Add cippolini onions, being careful because they may splatter. Cook onions so that dark golden browning occurs on all sides, but be careful for burning. Move onions around occasionally. When onions are browned, add the vinegar and the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover the pot and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the onions become translucent and soft.

3. While the onions are cooking, heat an outdoor grill or grill pan on your stove. Coat the corn and bell peppers in a thin layer of vegetable oil and place on the grill. Cook the peppers, turning occasionally, until all sides are charred completely. Cook the corn until the desired variation of color has been achieved. You should have a mixture of golden brown, charred and yellow kernels.

4. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap (the steam will further cook the vegetables, allowing for easy removal of the skins). Place one corn cob on a cutting board at a time, and cut down the cob, removing the kernels. Do this to all of the corn cobs (you can save the cobs for vegetable stock). Next, remove the peppers from the bowl carefully, and peel away the charred skin. It may be helpful to do this under cold water, as the peppers will be very hot. Carefully cut one side of the pepper open and remove the seeds and top. Pat the peppers dry with paper towels. Lay the cleaned peppers on the cutting board, trim away any blemishes and cut into a small dice, roughly 1/4-inch small square pieces.

5. When the cippolini onions are soft and translucent, add the mustard, honey and hot sauce to the pot. Add the corn and diced bell pepper, turn up the heat and bring back to boiling for five minutes. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust for desired seasonings. Cool completely.

6. Once cooled, pack relish into two 8-oz jars. Relish will keep three months in refrigerator and up to six months if frozen.


  1. I’ve been on a canning kick lately, and this looks like a great change from the sweet jams coming out of my kitchen. Anything that tastes like the grill is good in my book!

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