During the summer months, I’m always trying to find creative ways to use fresh corn. Having grown up in Norway in the 70s and 80s, we really didn’t have access to this fabulous produce. Norwegians use canned corn a lot—in salads, stews, and even tacos! (yes, I know). This is why it’s always a luxury and delight for me to bask in fresh corn on the cob; the flavor is so sweet and juicy and the bright yellow color brightens up any dish.
When I think of corn, I often think of Mexican cuisine, and I’m fortunate enough to be married to a Mexican-American chef who shares my passion for cooking with local, seasonal and fresh ingredients. Having grown up spending time in the kitchen watching and helping his grandmother cook, through my husband I’ve fallen in love with authentic, Mexican cuisine.
The other day we made uchepos–these are tamales with a fresh corn filling, a specialty of central Michoacán, a state in Mexico. Fresh corn is puréed and combined with a little masa harina or maseca, a dry corn dough used to make fresh tortillas.
The mixture is then steamed inside corn husks and served as is, with tomatillo salsa, or alternatively salsa roja with some (vegan) sour cream or cheese.
Depending on how plump and fresh your corn is, you may need to adjust the amount of masa harina you add to the mixture. You don’t want it to be too dry, but also not too runny. Also, it’s important you don’t purée the corn too much but pulse it carefully, leaving some bits of corn to keep a good texture. You can see what it should look like here:
This dish is proof that the simplest of dishes can pack a ton of flavor, and be incredibly satisfying, transporting you to the region of where this food is from.
We also chose to serve the uchepos with a side of my special black beans, but you can enjoy them alone with the salsa no problem.
The sweetness of the corn is a fabulous match to the spicy salsa, and I recommend either a Pet Nat, other bubbly or a cold beer to enjoy with these!
UCHEPOS (Fresh Corn Tamales)
Makes about 24 tamales
6 medium ears of corn with all leaves attached
½-1 cup (1.25-2.5 dl) masa harina
½ tsp baking powder
¼ cup (4 tbsp) softened vegan butter or vegetable shortening
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
Carefully peel off the husks without tearing. Soak the husks in a large bowl of warm water. Rinse them, then warp in a damp kitchen towel, and set aside.
Rinse the corn, remove the silk from the corn and with a knife, chuck the corn on the cobs and place them in a bowl.
Process the corn in a food processor to a coarse puree, pulsing about 10-12 times. Transfer back to the bowl. Mix in the remaining ingredients, and beat well with a wooden spoon, alternatively, add the corn puree and the rest of the ingredients in a stand mixer and beat until combined.
Place a corn husk on a working surface, and for each tamale, put about ¼ cup filling on the inside curved part of the leaf near the wide end. Fold in the two sides, overlapping to cover the filling. Fold the narrow end toward the wide end. Lay seam side down on a plate. Cover with a damp towel, repeat until all are filled. You can check out this quick video on how we did it.
Put about 3 inches of water into a large steamer, or as I do- use a bamboo basket if you have and place it in a large sauté pan with water. Line the steamer with the extra corn husks, then stack the tamales, folded end down on the husks.
Cover with more corn husks, and put on the lid. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a medium bowl. Steam the tamales about 30-40 minutes or until dough pulls away from the husk. Be careful not to let the steamer boil dry. You can place a coin on the bottom of the steamer and if it rattles you know the water has dried up.
Serve the tamales with either a tomatillo salsa (recipe follows) or salsa roja and vegan sour cream. I also made some black beans and served with the tamales too.
RAW TOMATILLO SALSA
½ lb (about 250g) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1 small Sweet onion like Vidalia, roughly chopped
1 large garlic clove
1 jalapeño or serrano chile, finely chopped with seeds
Large handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice from 1 lime
Salt to taste
Coarsely chop the tomatillos, throw them in a food processor along with the other ingredients, and pulse until you have a chunky salsa or a salsa to the consistency of your liking. Season with extra lime juice and salt if needed.