Make Ahead

Corn Salad with Cilantro & Caramelized Onions

August  4, 2011
6 Ratings
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

The good recipes get passed along from friend to friend like a game of telephone, with each cook adding their own twist until the last version is barely distinguishable from the first. This corn salad is one of those. My recipe was inspired by my friend Sandra, who brought it to a BBQ one day, where it was love at first bite. Her recipe was inspired by our friend Chris, and who knows where it truly began but it always ends with an empty bowl. Simple summer goodness. When I told Sandra she should enter the recipe in this contest, she said that I should enter my version instead, so here we are....Pass it on. - Ms. T —Ms. T

Test Kitchen Notes

Over the years, we've met and loved many a corn salad. The cool, sweet crunch practically screams summer, and the variations are endless. Ms. T's version includes a technique we've never seen before: first, she has you cook down red onion in balsamic vinegar and olive oil -- as the onion pieces soften into silky, purple jewels, they simultaneously create a rich, deeply flavored dressing for the rest of the salad. Once you toss this luscious mass with crisp pancetta cubes, fresh cilantro and barely cooked kernels of corn, you've got a corn salad that breaks new ground. We couldn't stop eating it, right from the bowl. - A&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 6 ears of fresh corn
  • 6 slices pancetta
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and diced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Cook the corn on the cob in a large pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes. Drain hot water and plunge corn into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Drain corn and set aside to cool completely.
  2. Dice pancetta and cook in a heavy skillet over medium heat until brown and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer pancetta to a plate lined with paper towels. Set aside.
  3. Pour off most of the pancetta fat from skillet, leaving a little goodness left in the pan for cooking your onions. Add oil, onions, vinegar, sugar, and dash of salt to pan, and cook over medium-low heat. Cook for about 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently until onions are caramelized and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove pan from heat and set aside.
  4. Cut corn kernels off of the cobs and place in a large bowl. Add onion mixture and cilantro and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and if it seems dry, add a little more olive oil.
  5. If you’re making this ahead of time, cover and put it in the fridge. Take salad out about 3o minutes before serving to take chill off. Stir in ccrispy pancetta just before serving.
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A museum marketing professional 8 hours a day, and a gal who's dreaming, drooling, obsessing about food for the other 18 hours. Wait, that doesn't add up to 24? Oh, that's because I'm counting the hours I'm supposed to be working that I dream about food (don't tell my boss). Several years ago, I started a cooking club with six girlfriends...ten years later...many of our addresses and last names have changed, our palettes have gotten more sophisticated and the wine has gotten less cheap. We now usually sit at dining room tables like grownups instead of on cushions on the floor of studio apartments, and the conversations have shifted with the life stages...but we're still going strong, the food gets better every month, and nothing is more pleasurable than sharing an afternoon laughing, eating, and trading tips on recipes and life.

100 Reviews

Miss_Karen September 28, 2020
YUM! I halved this recipe since there are only two foodies in my home. I also had to swap parsley for the cilantro (because cilantro is vile.)
Roy C. November 20, 2018
Just found this recipe and could not wait to try it. I had to use frozen corn and substituted for the pancetta. O.M.G.! What a delightful salad! Can hardly wait till fresh corn is plentiful again.
Megan July 9, 2016
This was so good. I used bacon because I'm cooking on an island and no access to pancetta. I added some halved cherry tomatoes as well. It was a hit! Thank you for this recipe!
tjm December 7, 2014
This is a great recipe. I used Trader Joe's frozen corn and substituted bacon instead of Pancetta. Served it with Fish Salpicon by Merrill Stubbs. Everyone loved it! Thank you for this recipe.
Mulzee April 27, 2014
Corn season just started here in Australia and this was the first recipe I made. So simple to make and delicious to eat! Thank you!
LeeLeeBee December 2, 2013
It's almost summer Down Under and I can't wait to start making this recipe again.
teemee August 7, 2013
Every time I make this, there isn't a drop left. Thank you so much for posting this recipe, we absolutely love it!
Ms. T. August 8, 2013
Thanks for the kind words--so glad you like it!
mward September 19, 2011
This is such a great way to have corn...
DAVILCHICK September 17, 2011
I was in a rush so I cheated and bought Trader Joe's frozen. Totally yum and easy. Thanks Ms. T!
Ms. T. September 18, 2011
Thanks--glad you liked it! And good to know that frozen corn is an option--several people have asked about that.
SEW September 6, 2011
java&foam August 30, 2011
amanda and merrill were right about this one, i totally found myself sneaking bites of it in the kitchen before i took it out to my guests. its addictive and you cannot stop. thanks for sharing this great idea Ms. T!
adorrain August 29, 2011
Are you kidding me??? This is amazing. Absolutely amazing. Thank you for this perfect August-in-the-midwest recipe. I can't wait to bring this to a potluck and be the star.
Ms. T. September 3, 2011
Ha, this made me laugh. No joke. Glad you liked it :)
deanna1001 August 26, 2011
YES!!!! This was divine.
mzmecz August 26, 2011
My husband loves corn but I do not. The caramelized onions were the ingredient that drew me in. Happily, very happily, we were both delighted with the result and will prepare this dish all summer long.

Thanks for a lovely contribution to harmonious living at our house.
ttfn300 August 22, 2011
Made this last week (with some slight variations) for a BBQ and it was a hit!
Ms. T. August 22, 2011
Glad it was a hit. What your variations? I love to hear about those.
Bevi August 22, 2011
I made this for dinner last night. It was wonderful! I cut the recipe by one third because I had 4 ears of corn. It was addictive, a great combination of flavors, and the crisp pancetta
was the star of the dish. I think this combination could be made with either raw corn or grilled corn as well.
Bevi August 22, 2011
And I just made another batch for a neighbor who has the "cilantro tastes like soap" gene, so I made a substitution of parsley for her. It was good - I prefer using cilantro - but at least makes this recipe accessible to the "no cilantro" crowd.
Ms. T. August 22, 2011
Glad you enjoyed it! My friend Sandra--whose recipe inspired my version--makes it with grilled corn, and our friend Chris--whose recipe inspired Sandra's--makes his with raw corn, so round and round we go :)
Ms. T. August 22, 2011
Ha ha, yeah, I have some anti-cilantro friends too (I love them anyway), and I have substituted basil before. Not bad, but you can't beat the cilantro!
AntoniaJames August 22, 2011
Fresh marjoram would be perfect in this, if you don't want to use cilantro. It's corn's best friend, though many people don't realize it. Use just the tiniest amount at first, adding more to taste, especially if you're picking your marjoram leaves off of a plant that's been in full sunlight/heat all day; the flavor of raw marjoram can be intense, especially under those circumstances. I was planning on making this tonight, and have just decided to try it this way! ;o)
Bevi August 22, 2011
Majoram - thanks for the tip, AJ!
Rust Q. August 22, 2011
Made this tonight and we love it. Think it could also be good with a finely chopped Serrano pepper mixed in
Ms. T. August 22, 2011
Mmm, that sounds like a nice way to add a little heat. That would probably be good with grilled corn to take it in a Southwestern direction.
ktcita August 23, 2013
As well as the chill, a little preserved lemon is delicious. It was an accidental combination when I mixed this salad with the Moroccan Carrot Salad with Harissa (also on Food 52) which has harissa paste and preserved lemon. Btw. I love this corn salad. Thanks Ms T.
Ms. T. August 22, 2011
Thanks for the feedback--I'm so glad to hear that people are trying, enjoying, adding new twists and passing it on :)

@ yasminny: duck bacon sounds like a fantastic substitution! Where do you get duck bacon, I'd like to try that.

@ Lori Hahn: oooh, arugala and cherry tomatoes sound like a great compliment.
Yasmin K. August 21, 2011
I love this recipe! I substituted duck bacon for pancetta and it worked very well. Addictive said my husband. Thanks for sharing Ms. T!
Miss_Karen September 28, 2020
Where the heck do you get duck bacon? I could use that in like...everything!
Yasmin K. September 28, 2020
D’artagnan sells it.
jenniebites August 21, 2011
mmmmm, the onions carmelized in olive oil AND balsamic? they are amazing. i have a large bowl in front of me right now. i will be sure to pass it on.