As we’re approaching the transition from summer to autumn, fresh corn is still available and I’d like to share this traditional dish from South America.
It’s not only delicious; it pairs very well with EVOO.
Humita (“oo-mee-tah”) or huminta (the real native Quichua word) is a very old dish in the Andean countries. Corn had an important role in pre-Columbus America, and this is one of those dishes people from Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, and the northwest of Argentina have been eating for centuries. It’s a close relative to Mexico’s traditional tamale dish.
More recently in history, the Spanish colonialists introduced olive trees in some of those countries.
The first olive tree in South America was planted in Peru in the mid-XVI century. Presently, Chile, Argentina, and Peru are important producers of EVOO, and in Argentina, a good deal of the production takes place in the same area where this dish originated.
Corn is one of the crops that have become highly controversial in the United States. This is due, partly, to its large presence as a subsidized mono-crop, which has brought all sorts of consequences, economical, agricultural, and nutritional (the latter especially because of the abundance of corn’s cheap byproduct, high fructose corn syrup). If you are interested in more on that subject, I highly recommend the documentary, “King Corn”, which manages to be fun, non-judgmental, and informative.
Another controversial aspect of corn is that it became largely a genetically modified crop. At Pacific Sun, we hold differing views about GMOs, and not even scientists agree if these practices are harmful for our health or are a positive development.
Being a truly complicated subject, my position is to subscribe to the Slow Food motto that food should be good, clean, and fair. In most cases, this excludes pesticides, which have a negative impact on the environment, soil, and water sources. GMO corn has been altered to resist heavy pesticides, such as Roundup, and in the case of BT corn, the pesticide is already part of the plant. Once again, a complicated subject with different possible takes on it.
Organic corn can’t be GMO as the regulation has established. That would be my personal choice for this dish, or rather, a non-organic, non-GMO corn grown by small growers, available at farmers markets.
There are different ways in which humita can be served: in cornhusks, in empanadas (turnovers, very typical of my native Argentina), in a bowl, or as stuffing for baked squash or potatoes.
Perhaps this occasion will be your introduction to Spanish pimentÃ³n, a smoked paprika with lots of character, and an indispensable ingredient in Spanish cuisine. I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it. Opening the little cans pimentÃ³n comes in and smelling the rich perfume is an experience in itself.
There are many variations of humita according to each region, province, or country (some are made with milk, with eggs, without pumpkin, etc.). The recipe I chose is from Tucumán, Northern Argentina and it’s best served in bowls.
10 fresh ears of corn
2 lbs of pumpkin or butternut squash
1 red bell pepper
1 large yellow onion
10 basil leaves
Mexican quesillo or any fresh cheese
Sauté the onion, the tomato and the bell pepper in olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and Spanish pimentÃ³n or paprika.
Grate the fresh ears of corn and add to the sautéed ingredients.
To add texture to the dish, you can save same whole grains of corn.
Mix and bring it to boil. You need to stir the corn so it does not stick to the pot.
Cook the pumpkin separately and when done, puree it and add to the corn paste.
Keep cooking another 10 minutes, always stirring.
Serve in a clay bowl.
Put the cheese, cut in loafs, on top
Garnish with the basil leaves
Drizzle with olive oil
Pacific Sun’s Tehama blend will add to the body of the dish and its bitterness will contrast the sweetness of the corn nicely, adding complexity and depth to the resultant flavor.
Possible addendums: a very small touch of nutmeg or cumin.
If grating the corn is too much trouble for you, another option is to cook the corn grains along with the other ingredients and, before placing the cheese on top, to blend it. Humita should always be creamy in its texture.
On behalf of the Pacific Sun Olive Oil team,