Among the vast array of fruits and vegetables this tropical volcanic paradise offers, the center stage is still occupied by the same sacred food of the Maya, Inca and Aztecs: corn, the cornerstone of the native holy trinity.
Evidence suggests that corn, believed to have originated in the Mexican plateau and Guatemalan highlands, has been cultivated for more than 7,000 years. Fossilized pollen grains of maize found in drill cores of lake sediment beneath Mexico City are believed to be 80,000 years old or more.
Today, corn or maize has evolved into a massive worldwide industry that provides raw materials for food preparation in flours, cereals, syrups, oils, starches, sweeteners and many other items.We are used to seeing corn as the typical component of a Mexican taco or burrito, or in Costa Rica as a gallo or the unmistakable tortilla de maíz in that classic beans-and-rice dish gallo pinto.
The Maya and Aztecs ground corn kernels on stone mortars to create a type of flour to be mixed with water to become masa. Probably grainy and chunky in form, early tortillas most likely resembled their closely related counterpart, the chorreada, a thicker corn pancake that was wrapped around anything at hand.
Literally meaning “squirted out,” chorreadas represent a simple yet sophisticated way to eat fresh corn, sometimes with nothing added to it. Commonly found in traditional Costa Rican restaurants, a chorreada is nothing but freshly ground corn sautéed as a pancake or crepe. In Tiquicia, it is traditionally served with sour cream and is considered a side or an appetizer to a larger meal.
When traveling through the Costa Rican countryside, on a stop for a snack in a classic soda or roadside café, you will likely see chorreadas on the menu, made from either white corn or the more flavorful fresh yellow corn. Sometimes specified as sweet chorreadas, they are traditionally served with honey or syrup to accompany coffee.
Savory ones are served with sour cream, fresh cheese or a sausage or bacon-style meat. Though inexpensive and easy to eat, chorreadas can be taken to a more complex level by treating them as a base for sumptuous and rich crepes.
The untapped possibilities of this “squirted” food item go beyond the common approach of Ticos and other Mesoamerican cultures. New Costa Rican cuisine – as well as southwest and Nuevo Latino styles – has transformed corn into an array of delicious combinations ranging from corn tamales to salsas, stews, drinks and even desserts.
Although chorreadas are traditionally served as a breakfast or coffee-break item, they can easily be turned into a delicious main course for lunch or dinner by combining their richness with other tropical delights, and even fruit sauces. Take a basic batter and add almost any flavor you prefer, and it will most likely be a hit at any table.
Stuffed Sweet Corn Chorreada
This recipe involves the use of fresh sweet cob corn, pejibayes (peach palms), smoked cheese and fresh mushrooms, all topped with a refreshing citrus salsa. Try experimenting with the filling; from meats and poultry to cheese and vegetables, any combination you enjoy in a crepe will be a success when included in this a-maize-ing pancake.
We will make the dish in three stages by making the chorreadas first and putting them aside, then making the filling separately and finally blending the fresh salsa. Everything comes together when we are ready to serve. Chorreadas and their fillings may be refrigerated for two days or frozen for up to a month. The salsa will stay fresh in the fridge for up to two days.
Chorreada batter (makes five chorreadas):
6 ears of fresh sweet corn on the cob
1/2 cup yellow corn meal or corn flour (masa)
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for frying
Remove the kernels from the cob with a sharp knife and combine in a blender or food processor until smooth. In a bowl, mix the blended corn with the corn meal or masa. Salt and pepper to taste. Coat a wide skillet with oil and heat to medium. Spread about 1/2 cup of the mixture as you would with a pancake, and cook for a minute or two (turning once) until golden brown. Keep chorreadas warm by wrapping in a towel until needed, or let them cool and refrigerate for later use.
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/2 lb. cooked pejibayes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup smoked Gouda cheese, coarsely grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. mesquite liquid smoke
1 tsp. chipotle sauce
2 tbsp. olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large skillet over high heat, add the oil and sauté garlic, mushrooms and pejibayes for three minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. Add coriander, cumin, liquid smoke, chipotle sauce and lemon juice. Stir and remove from heat. Transfer to a bowl and combine with the cheese. Adjust flavors and put aside.
2 ears of sweet corn on the cob, kernels removed
2 ripe avocados, cubed
1 green onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Juice of two lemons
2 tsp. chipotle sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Toss all ingredients gently in a non-metal bowl and let marinate for at least 15 minutes.
To serve: Heat up the chorreadas and filling separately. Fill each chorreada with about 1/2 cup of the filling and fold over. Top with fresh avocado-corn salsa and serve at once. (Makes five servings.)