Maize, Zea Mays L, pronounced (meiz); which is known in many English speaking countries as corn is a grass domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The Aztecs and Mayans cultivated it in numerous varieties throughout Central and Southern Mexico, to cook or grind in a process called Niztamalization. Experts have established that modern maize evolved from teosinte (God’s corn), or Zea mays ssp. Mexicana, although some botanists continue to argue that it evolved from an early MesoAmerican maize variety called Chapalote. Even the timing of maize origins has been questioned. The earliest known ears of corn were tiny – only a few inches long. The origins of maize begin on the Pacific slope of the modern Mexican states of Oaxaca, Tehuacán, and the Valley of Mexico. The earliest primitive corncobs discovered in Mesoamerica were obtained from specimens recovered within a cave near Oaxaca.
The Columbian Exchange was a dramatically widespread exchange of animal, plants, culture (including slaves, communicable diseases, and ideas between the Eastern and Western hemispheres. This exchange of plants and animals transformed European, American, African, and Asian ways of life. New foods became staples of human diets, and new growing regions opened up for crops. Due to its worldwide distribution and relative lower price to other cereals, the maize has an ample uses than any other cereals. In many developing countries the maize is a major staple food and the consumption percapita is very high. Ground, yellow cornmeal can be used to make tamales and Atoles (thin porridge) or baked items. It is fortified with iron, calcium, vitamin A and B vitamins. There are reportedly hundreds of varieties of tamales throughout Mexico, Central and South America. They key variations are what is in the masa or dough (corn, potatoes, rice), what’s in the filling (meat, fruits, nuts). Masa simply means dough in Spanish. Once formed into masa, the dough is patted by hand into the familiar tortilla shape or used as dough to be shaped around tamales or other foods. In order to produce any one or more of the aforementioned maize-based foods or beverages, maize must be reduced to a paste or flour. The resulting by-product was known to the Mexica-Aztecs as nixtamal, and the process for rendering the maize kernels into a paste has since come to be known as nixtamalizacion. Mexican tamales are packets of corn dough with a savory or sweet filling and typically wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves. The packets are steamed and eaten traditionally served with Atole (masa drink).
Tamales colorados (“red tamales”) owe their name to the tomato that give them their color, developed with corn or rice masa and are stuffed with tomato recado, raisins, chili, chicken, beef or pork. Tamales negros (“black tamales”) are darker and sweeter than their red counterparts due to the chocolate which is added to them. Other black tamales are not sweet but are simply made out of blue/black corn. Tamales dulces (“sweet tamales”) are tamales that are explicitly sweet and contain fruits and nuts (such as raisins and almonds) and may not contain meat. Tamales de elote (“sweet corn tamales”) do not use the typical masa but instead are made out of sweet corn. These usually contain whole kernels of corn in the masa and do not generally contain meat.
Traditionally the fat of choice was fresh lard. This will vary with the recipe but some will use lard, some butter or vegetable shortening, or a combination of two or more of these. If you use lard, use only fresh lard and if possible, get freshly rend pork lard from your butcher. Some of the dough recipes will use baking powder for lighter tamal corn dough. The ground corn is most commonly mixed with water, chicken broth and even sometimes milk. The individual recipe will dictate the proper liquid. Salt is almost always added to the dough to enhance the flavor of the corn.
6 to 8 ears corn (4 cups of kernels)
1/4 cup chopped scallions, white part only
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup cornmeal, or more if needed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
6 ounces Chihuahua, mozzarella, or Muenster cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon brandy
Kitchen twine, cut into 15-inch lengths
2 cups water
Bring a large part of water to a boil. Cut through the corncob at the stem end where the kernels start and carefully remove the husks. Set aside the largest for wrapping and blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes to make them more pliable. Remove from the water and drain on paper towels. Cut the rest of the husks into strips for tying or to cover the humitas before steaming.
Remove the silk from the corn and rinse. Cut the kernels from the cobs, adding the milk scraped from the cobs. Reserve the cobs for later use. Place the corn and scallions in food processor or blender and pulse until finely ground. Add the butter, egg yolks, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, sugar, cheese, and brandy. Pulse until well incorporated and smooth and transfer to a bowl. The mixture should be thick but not runny. Add more cornmeal, as needed. In a seperate bowl or using a stand mixer, whip the egg whites to form soft peaks. Carefully fold the whites into the corn mixture.
To assemble the humitas, place two husks on the worktable, slightly overlapped. Place a few spoonfuls of corn batter in the center of the husks. Fold bottom edge over the mixture, fold down the top half, then fold in the sides to form a packet. Tie with string or corn husk strips. Repeat with remaining batter.
Place the cobs in the bottom of a large saucepan. Add the water until cobs are almost covered. Cover the cobs with the remaining husks. Place humitas open side up over steamer. Cover with remaining husks. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Steam until the humitas feel firm to the touch, about 30 minutes for small and 45 minutes for large. Add more boiling water if needed. Remove from heat and serve with ají criollo. Leftovers are great for breakfast and can be reheated or pan fried. Makes 12-16 humitas.
2 ½ cups of corn sliced
Cream cheese ½ stick
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
4 Chile poblanos, sliced
¼ onion, finely chopped
Pinch of Salt
In a processor grind the corn kernels along with the eggs, cream cheese, baking powder and sugar. Butter a medium pan, then sprinkle with flour and remove excess. Add to corn mixture slits poblano, onions and season with salt. Pour into pan and bake at 180 ° C for 35 to 40 minutes depending on the mold. Serve with tomato sauce.
2 bunches dried corn husks
1 1/2 cups butter
1 1/2 cups rice flour
2 1/4 pounds fresh masa or masa prepared with masa harina
1 cup rice flour
1 1/2 cups water
red food coloring
1 teasoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 cup raisins
1 cup finely chopped almonds
1/2 cup sweet cream
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix the rice flour with the masa, adding water until the dough is well mixed. Add the beaten butter-sugar mixture to the dough, beating after each addition until the dough is light and fluffy. Add red food coloring if desired. For the filling, mix the cinnamon, sugar, raisins, almonds and sweet cream. Fill, wrap and steam following the directions for basic tamales.