This is the time of year my parents’ hospital throws its annual picnic at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Employees and their families descend on the park to mingle, listen to live music, dine on catered fare and explore the park after hours.

I looked forward to this outing all year for two reasons. A chance to ride the zoo train for free and glimpse the animals as they settle in or come out for the night was the first. The other was a true taste of summer — corn on the cob, grilled over coals in its husk, served steaming hot.

The characteristic aroma drew me in from the parking lot. Bright yellow and so juicy that drips ran down my arm, you needed to act quickly if you wanted an ear. Everyone knew how good the grilled corn was and would funnel to that vendor first, grabbing as many ears as their hands could hold.

Can it get any better? Yes, it can.

I may be the last person to try the version of Mexican street vendors. Hot from the grill, husks peeled back, the ears are brushed with mayonnaise so that chile powder and cotija cheese adhere to the kernels.

I wrapped my hand around the charred husks, took the first taste, and when the edges of my mouth started to tingle, I fell in love. The flavor combination is unexpected and delightful — unlike any other I’ve tasted. Not something you expect to get in a mouthful of grilled corn. Sweet and fresh corn with a salty tang in the cheese and mayonnaise, the chile heat and an extra zing from the lime juice.

A diversion from the everyday corn on the cob that’s worth its fuss.

Mexican Grilled Corn on the Cob with Chilies and Cheese [serves 4]

Printable recipe.

4 ears corn, husks left on

1/4 c good mayonnaise [homemade, if possible]

1 c freshly grated Cotija cheese [substitute feta or even Parmesan]

1 t chilli powder

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

4 lime wedges

1/2 c finely chopped cilantro, optional [we were out — next time will definitely add!]

Soak corn in water for at least 10 minutes before grilling, to prevent them from burning. Drain well. Meanwhile, preheat grill to high.

Lightly oil the grates and grill corn in husks, uncovered, turning often, until slightly charred, about 15 minutes. Remove the corn from the grill, and carefully [HOT!] pull back husks and silk using a couple paper towels in both hands. Return the corn to the grill and continue cooking, turning often, until corn is slightly charred and becomes bright and glossy, about 5 minutes.

Off the grill, wrap the corn husks in a paper towel to keep your hands clean and cool. Brush each ear with mayonnaise and sprinkle it, to taste, with cheese, chilli powder, salt, pepper and, if using, cilantro. Serve with lime wedges to squeeze over the corn.

Adapted from “Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm.”

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