October 5, 2010
Today you get a tidbit of Argentinean history along with your tidbit of food:
In 1879, the forces of Tucuman-born future oligarch of Argentina General Roca wiped out most of the indigenous peoples that inhabited the Pampa. Such was the nature of conquest–'new' lands being colonized by to extend land expansion meant death or enslavement for native peoples–what amounted to a genocide of Mapuche tribes. Roca's campaigns left the country with a 97% European population, and most of the land went into the hands of himself and his friends–a power that led to his election as president.
Sadly, so many indigenous traditions during campaigns such as Roca's are lost, but then, a few survive–and one of the things that most often carries on are recipes–because they are created from what is readily available in the area. Argentina in the 1870s was pretty inhospitible for European immigrants, and the popularity of such native foods like squash, pumpkin and corn were due to the dearth of good quality greens, which is really the only way that recipes like this have carried on.
But rather than give you more history that can be tough to swallow, I give you this–a recipe for traditional Humitas en Chala, one of the few very traditional recipes that has survived all these years, passed down from the Andean Incas and Mapuche tribes. In a way, it is their inheritance, since this recipe has gained such popularity over the years that it's practically a national dish (though there are variations throughout South America).
And I don't think it's a coincidence that this delicious bundle, filled with hot corn pudding spiked with roasted piquillo peppers and topped with a dollop of goat cheese, is wrapped up like a little gift. Because that is just what it is: a little present from the ancients, something valuable passed down through the generations. Now go ahead and open it up–it's one gift you won't want to return!
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Humitas en Chala con Queso de Cabra
Corn Pudding Tamales with Goat Cheese
Humitas en Chala is not as intimidating as it looks or sounds, especially if you follow the step by step photos below. These tamales can easily be prepared and frozen, in a freezer bag, for about 2 months, and then steamed or steamed and then frozen and reheated by steaming or in the microwave.
makes about 2 dozen tamales
8 ears fresh corn, in their husks
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup milk
4 roasted piquillo peppers, chopped (you can also use roasted red peppers)
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
6 oz. soft goat cheese (I used Chaverie brand)
Special equipment: Cotton string, steamer basket
Chop the ends off of the ears of corn (you can use a scissors for the top end, and a heavy knife for the other) so that the leaves are easy to remove. Carefully remove the leaves of the corn husk and reserve. Remove and discard the silk.
Using a box grater (an important step–results will not be the same if you cut the kernels off and use a food processor) grate the ears of corn over the large holes on the grater into a bowl. Slide a knife down the side of each cob to squeeze out any extra starchy juice.
Meanwhile, combine the butter and olive oil in a medium sized non-reactive pot. Heat over medium high heat, and add the onion, sauteing until translucent but not brown. Add in the grated corn and its juices, stirring and heating until thickened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the milk, and heat through. Continue to stir until milk is absorbed and humitas mixture is thick. The consistency you're going for here is a thickened, pudding-like one. Add salt, taste for seasoning, and stir in the piquillo peppers and the crushed red pepper. Remove the humitas from heat, and let cool completely.
When the humitas has cooled (this may also help to thicken the pudding), start your assembly. Put a large pot fitted with a metal colander or steamer basket on the top (see below) halfway full of water. Heat the water to a boil.
To assemble each tamal, place one husk leaf on the counter and another on top of it, making a cross. Put a dollop (a large spoonful) of humitas filling in the center where the two husks intersect. Top with a spoonful (teaspoon-sized) of goat cheese. (see below) Then fold the husk on top over the filling, and fold the second husk around that one, making a neat little package. Tie with a length of cotton string. (I used about a foot per tamal).
When you have completed about half a dozen, place the tamales in the basket, and cover with the lid. (see photos above) Keep the water boiling and steam the tamales for 15-20 minutes, until soft and heated through. Remove the tamales and repeat with the remaining batches. It may be necessary to add more water and heat to a boil if you run low.