Grilled corn salad with sesame-crusted avocado, couscous and lime chilli vinaigrette

Many years ago, on my first visit to New York City, my husband and I stumbled into a squishy corner restaurant in Nolita and encountered a life changing food experience. The luncheonette was a Cuban joint named Café Habana and the dish in question was corn. But not just any corn. Grilled corn on the cob, smothered in lime, chilli and salty cheese. 

Eating this dish was a seminal moment for me. Apart from the big, bold flavours, I love how it effortlessly takes an everyday vegetable from humble to spectacular. I guess this is at the very heart of how I like to cook, eat and share. 

The bold yet harmonious flavours of this Café Habana dish inspired the classic Arthur Street Kitchen salad Barbecued corn and Roasted Butternut Pumpkin with Black Beans and Jalapeno Sour Cream featured in my book Community. Here, this inspiration holds true but I dare to venture every so slightly off-course with a grilled corn salad, paired with sesame crusted avocado, fluffy couscous and lime scented chilli vinaigrette. As much as raw avocado may be an acquired taste for some, cooked avocado is doubly confronting. If you haven’t tried it before, you’ll be surprised (hopefully pleasantly!) by how the cooking process dramatically intensifies its flavor. 

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Grilled corn salad with sesame-crusted avocado, couscous and lime chilli vinaigrette

I love grilling corn on the barbecue but if you don’t have a grill, you can also cook it on the stovetop using a griddle pan or normal frypan. In this salad, I love to leave the corn on its cob – it looks fantastic! I used ricotta salata but you could also employ a sharper hard cheese such as manchego, pecorino or parmesan!

Serves 4-6

VG: leave out cheese | GF: substitute couscous with quinoa

  • 3 corn on the cob, husks removed
  • 2 large (or 3 small) ripe avocado, seed and skin removed
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup white sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 tbsp black sesame seeds
  • 1 ½ cups couscous
  • 2 cups hot vegetable broth/stock
  • 50g ricotta salata cheese
  • ½ cup (tightly packed) coriander leaves
  • 1 ½ cups baby rocket (arugula) leaves
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Lime chilli vinaigrette

  • Juice and zest of 1 lime
  • ½ clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp cayenne powder
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • Sea salt

Preheat a barbecue, griddle pan or large frypan to high heat. Coat the corn in extra virgin olive oil. Place the corn on the hot cooking surface, and allow to cook. Turn the corn often to get an even charring on all sides. Remove and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, slice the corn on the cob into 1cm slices.

Place your sesame seeds in a shallow bowl, and season with sea salt and black pepper. Slice each avocado half, lengthways, into 4 slices. Each avocado will yield 8 slices. Carefully dip each slice in the sesame seeds until well coated. Reserve any leftover seeds to add to the salad at the end.

Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a frypan. Keeping the heat on medium-low, pan-fry the sesame-crusted avocado for about 1 minute on each side, or until the sesame seeds are golden, turning them very carefully with a pair of tongs. Allow to cool.

Heat the oven to a low 150˚C/300˚F. To prepare the couscous, pour the grains in a shallow baking dish, sprinkle with a good pinch of sea salt and about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Stir to mix well. Pour the hot vegetable stock over the top, and cover immediately with plastic wrap. Leave for 10 minutes. When ready, remove the plastic wrap and drizzle over another tablespoon or two of olive oil. Place immediately in the low oven for another 10 minutes, to allow the grains to dry out further. Remove from oven, and using a fork or chopsticks, fluff up the grains.

To serve, combine the corn, couscous, coriander, rocket and any leftover sesame seeds. Season well with sea salt and black pepper and an extra drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Spoon over the lime chilli vinaigrette and fold through. Place the avocado pieces on top and finish with a scattering of ricotta salata (for other variety) cheese.