There are endless things to be said about the wonders of food in Peru — the fresh, versatile, cheap  ingredients, the irreplaceable ají amarillo and rocoto chile peppers, the fusion of countless culinary traditions, the universal passion for sharing good home cooked food, the rise of gourmet peruvian restaurants …  but for now I just want to talk about this dish.  Pastel de choclo. More or less translates to “Corn cake.” The concept is simple, more like a kugel than a cake, made from ground fresh corn.  But when it’s well done, oh! the texture! the perfect sweet spicy mushiness, like a fresh and slightly undercooked cornbread, with an intense savory filling.  Heaven in your mouth.  I’m not exaggerating.

In order to make an authentic Pastel de Choclo, first you need real choclo.  Imagine corn on the cob, but paler in color, less sweet, and monstrously large. Then you need ají amarillo, the yellow chile that is the core of many Peruvian dishes.

Recipe:  Pastel de Choclo, my way

Ingredients:

Corn batter:

1/2 c. minced onion

1/2 c. pureed ají amarillo

6 fresh choclos, corn kernels cut off the cob and ground in food processor or blender  (i like to blend it with the next ingredient, the milk)

1 c. evaporated milk (which really gives a richer flavor than fresh milk)

3/4 c. sugar (I use brown)

150g. grated parmesan cheese

1 egg

salt, pepper

Prepare batter:

In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of oil (olive or vegetable, as you like), sautee onion and ají amarillo for 5 minutes.  Add ground choclo and evaporated milk, season with sugar, salt and pepper.  Over low heat, stir constantly with wooden spoon as it thickens for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, pour batter into heat resistant bowl.  Add half of the parmesan cheese and the egg, mix well. Set aside.

Filling:

** The typical filling for this dish includes minced onion, garlic, minced ají amarillo, chopped steak or ground beef, black olives, raisins, and hard boiled egg. I’ve chosen to make a vegetarian version because I prefer it that way.  A simpler vegetarian filling would be slices of queso fresco or the cheese of your choice and sliced black olives.

For my filling, I used:

1 cup finely diced eggplant

1/2 cup diced red pepper

4 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tbl. tomato paste

1 package button mushrooms, sliced

A small handful of black olives, finely chopped

A generous pinch of capers, finally chopped

Sautee eggplant for one minute, add red pepper and eggplant, cook until softened, 10-15 minutes.  Add mushrooms and tomato paste, cook 5 more minutes.  Salt to taste.  Add olives and capers at the end, cook one more minute and remove from heat.

Prepare Pastel:

Spread half of the corn batter in a baking dish (I used a 10 inch ceramic baking dish — a large Pyrex would do nicely too, or any casserole dish).   Spread the filling evenly, sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Cover with the rest of the batter.  Bake at 180 C for about 45 minutes.  Enjoy!

An alternative is to use the corn batter as a filling for stuffed peppers.  SO GOOD.  You can spice it up with chopped green onion, olives and oven-roasted tomatoes, with cheese, or really anything you like.

I’d be interested to see variations of this made with good ol’ american yellow corn.  It would require less sugar, I imagine.  Let me know how it goes!