My good friend, Corn. How many ways can I praise you? Where, even, to begin?

It’s hard to imagine a more eaten, more useful, more controversial grain. We love it on the cob, in breakfast cereals, luncheon tacos, in our soda drinks and bakery sweets, in adult beverages. Ground into flour, it’s one of the few grains we can cook without strengthening or flavor-enhancing additives. Corn’s history is deep, and its agricultural impact, troubling. Some claim it is toxic, others that it contains gluten (both false). I challenge anyone to honestly state they’ve never eaten it.

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This generic sourdough starter recipe works with any grain flour, except oats. Use it to make an active, rich-tasting starter that can be incorporated into any sourdough bread recipe, gluten-free or glutenous.

Instructions include "Putting the starter to sleep", "Feeding" the starter, and "Waking up" the starter.

Yield: About 1 quart ready-to-use sourdough starter.

Time to make: 10 minutes per day for 10 days

Tools needed: 1 Qt or larger glass, plastic or stainless steel container with lid. Measuring spoons and cups. Stirring spoon. Zip-lock bag.

The unusual ingredients combined in this treat are unified by the deliciousness resulting from nixtamalization, an ancient method for preparing corn. Nixta corn flour, sometimes called masa harina or masa seca, is lightened with a bit of tapioca starch and shortened with butter before being made into pie dough. A filling of over-ripe bananas with a touch of cream and cardamom completes the picture.

Yield: six, 4-inch tarts or one, 7-inch rustic galette.

Not quite Mexican and not quite French (but the best of both!) these crepes are quick and easy to make and taste wonderful. Wrap them around fish, meats, cheeses or mushrooms (we particularly love them with huitlacoche). If you end up with more than enough, they freeze beautifully too.

Yield: About 10, five-inch diameter crepes.

Time to make: about 20 minutes.

Tools needed: A skillet, a spatula, a way to daub butter onto the skillet. Any well-seasoned frying pan works.

This very tender bread captures two of summertime's best savory flavors: corn and wild black trumpet mushrooms, AKA Poor Man's Truffles. Available in many farmer's markets July through September (November through February on the West coast), black trumpets are earthy and intense. Placed into a bread that's designed for post-oven toasting makes a genuine treat.

Yield: One, 22 Oz (610 gram) loaf.

Time to make: 30 minutes plus overnight soak. 25 minutes oven dwell.

A southern staple, Angel Biscuits are double-leavened with baking powder and with yeast. I've added a third trick: a boost of Tangzhong, or pre-gelled, corn flour. This extra step not only extends the concept of biscuit to include Asian cuisine, it substantially tenderizes the end result, moves the flavor dial towards More Interesting, and adds only a few minutes time.

Yield: 8 - 10 biscuits, each about 1 ounce

Time to make: 1 hour active. 1 hour proof and 15 minutes oven dwell.

Great-tasting Mexican tortillas and tamales are made with a dough called masa, which consists of specially processed corn. This method, called nixtamalization, intimidates many a U.S. cook. Which is a shame, since it is very easy and absolutely approachable. To do it, one boils hard corn in a mixture of calcium carbonate ("Mexican cal") and water, then grinds the softened kernels in a food processor. Any corn can be nixtamalized, but after many tests we've settled on white popcorn. It's inexpensive, readily available and responds beautifully.

This Mexican classic is a stew of leftover corn tortillas. There are probably as many versions as there are Abuelas who make it, but no matter, all are excellent. My recipe uses fresh tomatoes and stale tortillas, is modestly spiced, and enriched with shredded cheese and eggs. Feel free to improvise wildly, but hold the line at tortillas. Only the best-tasting will do, because that bright flavor of nixtamalized corn is the magic cement holding chilaquiles' diverse sensations in luscious balance.

 

These cookies are a treat that goes by two names in our house: Rosquillas and No They're Not. To me these soft, sweet, corn-based snacks are the closest thing I've eaten to any Central American dessert, and so I call them what I think they should be. To my wife Leslie, who lived in Honduras for more than a decade, "If your teeth are intact, they're not Rosquillas." Authentic or not, this recipe yields treats that are a cross between corn tortillas and sugar cookies.