Ingredients, Peruvian Cuisine, Traditional Food

Fresh Corn Cake, Sweet or Savory, a Peruvian Tradition

Sweet Corn Cake (Hebert Huamani Jara)Sweet Corn Cake (Hebert Huamani Jara)

Corn is to the Americas what plankton is in the sea. It is the basic food, the staff of life from north to south. There are other foods, and certainly in the Andes the importance of potatoes cannot be overstated, nonetheless there is nothing like corn.

It is one of the most consumed foods in the Andean valleys and coasts. It is also very important to the culture of the people going back into the mists of time. Many indigenous people still treat corn as if divine. Whenever we eat it, spoken or not, we are returning to those traditions of our ancestors.

Corn is very important in the cuisines of American countries, since it is a basic ingredient and enters into all kinds of preparations. From it can be made many dishes and it also can accompany many other foods.

In particular, from north to south one finds corn cakes, corn breads, and corn pies. They can be sweet or savory, and sometimes are even filled with a rich stuffing. They can be made from dried corn or corn meal, as is the case generally in the United States or they can be made from fresh corn, as tends to be the case in the Andes, where a distinction between maize and choclo is made, the first dried and the second sweet and fresh.

A pastel de choclo, or corn cake, is traditional throughout Peru. In Cuzco it tends to be sweet, a wonderful accompaniment for coffee, tea, or some other hot drink at breakfast or in the afternoon. Nevertheless, you also find savory pastel de choclo, although it is not as common.

Fresh Sweet Corn from Cuzco (Photo: Wayra)
Fresh Sweet Corn from Cuzco (Photo: Wayra)

In any case the recipes require you find soft, tender and young kernels of corn from which to make up your cake. The corn is removed from the cob and then ground. In many cases, for the savory pastry, a spicy filling is prepared from ground meat. To the corn, as a result, are added ingredients such as milk; oil, butter or lard; basil; hot peppers; boiled eggs; olives; and such.

Every family has its own recipe for making this delicious dish and its own preference for savory or sweet. These also become typical of different regions. In Both Bolivia and Chile the savory pastel de choclo with a meat filling is claimed as typical even though one variation or another of the dish is found throughout the Andes.

The savory pastel de choclo can seem to a person from Cuzco to be similar to a tallarín al horno (a baked fettuccine) because of the covering it has or maybe even a kind of pastel de papa, a Peruvian version of what in English is called shepherd’s pie. Nevertheless the wedding of corn and other ingredients makes a dish that is unique and unforgettable.
You can choose the recipe you like and have fun making up many versions of this dish, sweet and savory. Below are some links for recipes should you wish.

Here are three savory, Peruvian recipes in Spanish.

Savory Peruvian pastel de choclo

Las Recetas de Mamá, pastel de choclo (salado).

Gastón Acurios récipe for savory pastel de choclo without filling.

In English, here is Nigella Lawson’s take on the savory Chilean version.

Here is a récipe for sweet corn cake in English:

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