After deciding to make humitas today we went to the local market to buy choclo. Choclo is a Peruvian version of corn on the cob, but the kernels are general much larger than the sweet corn we get in the states. Humitas are very similar to tamales. Actually, no one has been able to give me a definitive answer as to how the two differ. Traditionally the humitas have cilantro in the mash which makes them green whereas the tamales can have meat, olives, and eggs in the mash. However, you can find recipes for humitas that don’t include cilantro and tamales recipes that do.
Today we bought choclo from an elderly gentleman who comes in to our local market once a week from the jungle. (He is often the only one who has grapefruit; probably my favorite fruit.) Today he was also selling ears of choclo for 70 centimos (about 20 cents each). I told him what I was making and he began selecting the younger and smaller ears telling me they were better for humitas. I asked for 12 ears, but by the time he finished filling our bag we had 16. This may be why. He opened a few of the ears he rejected to show me how few of the kernels that had matured. The photo here shows one he did not reject. He told me the unseasonal rain had ruined much of the crop, and this was the result of too much rain during the growing of the choclo.
The process for making humitas is a bit labor intensive, but the results are delicious.
1 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
8 ears of corn
salt and pepper
1/2 cup milk (I use soy), optional
1/2 t dried red pepper flakes
1 t cumin
1-3 T aji amarillo paste (yellow pepper paste)
1/2 lb. of queso fresco
2-3 egg white, whipped until it forms peaks
1. Saute onions until soft in olive oil. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2. Cut around the base of corn cobs and gently remove the husks whole. Grate the kernels off cobs.
3. Mix in onions, aji paste, queso fresco and spices. Add milk if the mixture is too thick. The mash should be a bit runny. Chill mixture until firm. I suggest chilling it overnight. I get impatient and use it while it is still a bit runny. This makes for more mess, but the results are still quite delicious.
4. When you are ready to fill the corn husks, line the bottom of a large pan with the cobs left after grating the kernels. Add water to just cover the cobs. Put the empty husks in and bring to a boil. Steaming the husks makes them more flexible and easier to work with.
5. Lay two of the widest husks side by side; narrow ends at the top and bottom and overlapping a few inches at the center. Spoon 1/4 cup of the corn mash into the center. Fold in the sides to cover the filling. Then fold in the top and bottom to make an enclosed rectangular package. Tie crosswise with string. (To be totally “correct” you can make strips of the corn husks, tie them together to make a strip long enough to go around).
6. Place a layer of corn husks over the cobs in your pot. Check that the water level is still just above the cobs. Add humitas and then cover these with more husks. Steam humitas for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Keep an eye on the water level so the pot doesn’t boil dry.
The humitas keep well in the refrigerator for several days. As labor intensive as they are to make, I usually make a large batch.