Maize, 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 nixtamalization. Later the crop spread through much of the Americas. Between 1250 A.D. and 1700 A.D. nearly the whole continent had gained access to the crop. Any significant or dense populations in the region developed a great trade network based on surplus and varieties of maize crops. After European contact with the Americas in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, explorers and traders carried maize back to Europe and introduced it to other countries through trade. Its ability to grow in distinct climates, and its use were highly valued, thus spreading to the rest of the world. Maize is the most widely grown crop in the Americas with 332 million metric tons grown annually in the United States alone.

Nixtamalization typically refers to a process for the preparation of maize (corn), in which the grain is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and hulled. In the Aztec language Nahuatl, the word for the product of this procedure is nixtamalli, it is a compound of nextli ""ashes"" and tamalli ""dough"". This process is indispensable for the use of corn as food because without it the nutrients niacin and lysine are not released, which in a corn intensive diet leads to a malnutrition illness called pellagra.

The term maize derives from the Spanish form of the indigenous Taino word mahis, which means sustenance. The Greek word zea means life, therefore the scientific name of corn, Zea mays, means life's sustenance to refer to the importance given to its cultivation by pre-Columbian societies. Maize originated about 9000 years ago in what is today the state of Oaxaca in southeastern Mexico, most of the scientific evidence points to a process of hybridization of wild species of plants carried out by indigenous populations.

Throughout Latin America corn can be found in many forms: corn on the husk (jojoto, elote, choclo), fresh corn kernels, fresh corn dough (masa de maiz), corn flour, corn meal, corn starch and canned corn kernels. There is an enormous variety of recipes with corn as the main ingredient, here I will give you some that are very simple and very common throughout Latin America.



LOCAL NAMES: Maiz, elote, choclo, sara, milho (brazil)


Fresh masa (dough)

corn flour, mix with water and you get masa

corn starch, the best thickener

  PROCESSING: Fresh corn is processed by simply scraping the kernels with a knife, then kernel can be ground for cooking. Dry corn has to be boiled in lime watern to make it tender for grinding into a usable dough (masa) for further cooking. 
STORING: Fresh corn kernels do not keep long, they can spoil easily unless they are freezed. Dry corn kernels can keep a long time in a cool dry place, to keep bugs away you place black peppercorns or hot chilies in the grain.

CORN CAKES: This is the most traditional form of corn bread throughout Latin America they may be called different names, in Colombia/Venezuela they are called Arepas; in Panama Tortillas, in El Salvador Pupusas; in Mexico Gorditas; but they are all very similar, a round flat cake of varying thickness made from corn dough (masa) and cooked over a hot flat pan to develop a crust and bake, sometimes they are deep fried. Once they are cooked they are stuffed with all kinds of things, from a simple butter and cheese, to very complex stuffing such as chicken and avocado salad, they are Latino fast food. They are usually shaped by hand but there is an electric cooker for the home called Tosti-Arepa that will shape and cook them.

MANDOCAS: This a is corn version of a donut which are very popular in the city of Maracaibo, Venezuela. You need 2 cups of prepared corn masa, 1 ripe plantain slightly cooked in boiling water, 1 teaspoon of salt, 4 tablespoons of brown sugar (raspadura, panela), 1 teaspoon of anise seeds, 4 tablespoons of coarsely grated white cheese, any of the local brands will do. Place all ingredients in a bowl and knead until they are well blended and divide in 16 more or less equal round balls; wet your hands and shape each ball into a long piece about as thick as one finger, join the tips to make a round shape and deep fry until golden, keep warm over absorbent paper and serve to eat with a slice of white cheese.

FRESH CORN PANCAKES: These are made with fresh corn kernels which are ground using a corn mill or with a food processor, you process 4 cups of fresh corn kernels, the kernels should be coarsely ground so that the mash will have a thick texture; add 1 teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar and mix well; over a hot and well greased pan drop 1/2 cup of corn mash and spread with a soup spoon to create a round shape, when it sets turn over to cook other side, it should be a dark golden color. Serve warm with a piece of white cheese, you can spread butter, marmalade, honey or even cream cheese on top. These are usually referred to as Tortillas de Maiz Nuevo, in Venezuela they are called Cachapas. You may add 1 egg to the mash to make a richer mixture.

CORN AND COCONUT PUDDING: A very simple and tasty dessert, in Venezuela is called Majarete and in Brazil Canjica de Milho, it requires the coconut milk obtained from the flesh of the coconut, not the water contained in fresh coconuts which should not be used in this preparation. The coconut milk is obtained by liquefying the flesh with a enough hot water and pressing it through a cheese cloth. Canned coconut milk can be used instead of fresh. You need 1 cup of prepared corn dough (masa), 4 cups of coconut milk, 2 cups of brown sugar (raspadura or panela), 1 teaspoon of salt, 4 tablespoons of cornstarch (maicena), 1 tablespoon of cinnamon powder. In a heavy pan place 3 cups of the coconut milk and the brown sugar stir over medium heat to dissolve all the sugar; in a blender liquefy the corn dough (masa), the cornstarch with the remaining cup of coconut milk; bring the sweetened coconut milk to boil and slowly add all the liquefied corn dough, keep stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until you get the texture of a thick marmalade, while hot pour into a shallow mold and shake to level and let cool completely. To serve unmold and spray with cinnamon.

1 comment:

  1. So, for the cachapas (corn pancakes). Can I use a blender if I don't have a food processor? Can I add any liquid to take some stress off the blender a little bit?