Appearances CORN be deceptive
It was the month of July. My girl was just a bub. My cousin’s pen pal had decided to visit and stay with her. Every day they would take her to some new part of Goa and this time she asked me if we would like to join.
I jumped at the chance cause unlike my cousin who was brought up in Goa I was from Bombay, a city girl, and Goa was an occasional summer holiday destination. Though I always visited Goa with my parents in the summer I had only recently come to love the tranquility and beauty of Goa when all the tourists would disappear and Goa seemed to be all mine.
So we all jumped into the car and I was excited that my daughter was on a little adventure with me too. As we reached one of the higher points in Goa I had barely an hour to take in amazing views on the hill before we saw the dark clouds creep in. All we had for cover was one tree. Drenched we giggled with joy. Most of us didn’t have the pleasure of being soaked since we were kids.
As we all huddled back into the car the shower disappeared as quickly as it appeared. We decided to roll down the windows to somewhat dry ourselves off and head home. A few miles into our drive was when the smell of corn wafted through those car windows. My cousin hit the brakes. “Who wants some corn?”, she yelled. We all did of course except for our dear little visitor who was wisely cautioned not to eat off the streets of India. And as we all settled down to eat one, our American friend politely asked us if she could have a bite. Let’s face it, you can’t resist warm buttery corn when the weather is just begging you to have one. Freshly roasted over a fire, rubbed with a little lime, and chilly she was instantly converted and proceeded to eat two, spice, and all.
Now let me add here that it wasn’t like I hadn’t eaten roasted corn before but it was like the heavens came together that day to leave one perfect happy little memory in my brain. Sometimes food memories are so simple yet they bring so much joy. Just like drinking kadak chai in college from little glasses on the street, or gobbling that delicious vada pan as an adult on the way back from work. Now every winter in Dubai, I always treat my family to some butter, chilly, and lime roasted corn and it never fails to bring a smile to all our faces.
How corn was used in the past.
To the American Indians*, Peruvians, and Mexicans corn was their life. Corn was not only sacred but it was very important. Besides it many ritual and medicinal uses it was the food that the mighty Sun granted them. Nowadays we eat the corn and generally toss the husk but the people of the past always used every bit of the corn, just like we use every bit of the coconut tree in India.
The husk was used to cook food in, or wrap leftovers, or even as, a form of toilet paper. It was even used to make shoes, masks, mats, and dolls. The hairy strands were used to make the doll’s hair and also drunk as tea to pass kidney stones. The cob was the body of the doll or used to make toys. It was also used to start a fire, flavour broths, as fodder, or used as a stopper for their gourd flasks. Corn was a part of their snacks, bread, and everyday food.
So what must we learn from this?… is the question.
Nowadays we tend to use and discard our raw food for its one purpose but the indigenous people always had ten or more purposes to one thing. Waste was never even an issue. So always ask yourself – what else can I do with this before I discard it.* and as the natives said find ten uses to one thing.
How corn is used today and a little history.
So most of us have eaten corn. If we haven’t eaten it, we have used it.
Corn does not exist naturally in nature. It is because of thousands of years of human intervention and cultivation that it survives even today. It is believed to have been cultivated from a wild grass called ‘teosinte’ some 10000 years ago. This was very different in appearance to what we know as corn today. This corn was experimentally cultivated till it was soft enough for humans to consume. Not only did this cultivation depend on humans but humans in these regions depended on corn.
Corn is also known as maize (meaning sacred mother/giver of life) throughout the world. It’s ancient cultivation shifted from the Mexicans to the American Indians, through America, to Peru, and finally throughout Europe. Now, most of the world consumes it in some form. There are many heirloom varieties of corn and they come in colours ranging from white, yellow, blue, red, orange, cream, pink, brown, purple, and black. Then there are marbled and mottled varieties too.
Boiled, roasted, tamales, stews, cornmeal/ polenta. Corn is used in many dishes worldwide. On the other hand, it is used to feed cattle and other animals and unfortunately, it all went haywire when more than half of America’s and bathe world’s fast food and drinks (high fructose sugar) were and are made of corn. Corn starch is used to make tyers, batteries, crayons, etc. Corn oil soaps, insecticides, etc. It is used to produce a wide range of things from paint, cosmetics, textiles, bourbon to yogurt.
This has now converted the cultivation of corn into an environmental problem as overconsumption, clearance of land to meet consumption, and its use always has dire consequences, besides affecting the people that consume it.
It is therefore very important that we pay attention to what we buy and consume and where we buy it from. Buy more of the heirloom and not genetically modified varieties so that the farmers are encouraged to continue to grow these varieties. Besides which science has already proved that these are much better for our gut, and therefore the answer to our health in general.
The three sisters.
Corn was never planted on its own in the past, but always with beans and squash. Just as we must work as a community to build, give, and protect each other, so too corn was first planted as the main sister.
In the gardening journal, My Arabian Al Manakh, Laura Allais describes it beautifully. ‘ The corn would grow taller to assist the beans and squash. The beans used the corn as support and released the necessary nitrogen required by the corn. The squash with its large leaves shades out the weeds and provides compost to the soil.’
Have you ever dreamed of eating something truly Japanese but very Goan? No? 😅 Well, this is what happens when you do some mad experimentation in the kitchen. This bite-size beauty is inspired by the Japanese Karroke but looks more like the Goan beef croquette. It is mildly flavoured so that the corn shines and is not overpowered by spices. Optionally you could warm some butter with a pinch of rosemary and add this to the mashed potatoes.
1 tbsp butter.
1 finely chopped white onion
1 tbsp plain flour
1/2 cup corn
1/2 cup milk
A pinch of grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
2 medium-sized potatoes, boiled /salted /mashed/ buttered
A handful of grated Cheddar Cheese
1 beaten Egg
Breadcrumbs to coat
Add the butter to a warm pan. While the butter browns pour yourself a glass of Beer*. Add the chopped onions. Fry until slightly brown. Add the plain flour and cook it well for a minute, stirring it around continuously till it loses that raw edge. Add the corn and fry until well roasted. Pour in the milk and stir continuously.
Turn off the flame and add the salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg. Transfer this to a bowl and leave it to cool in the fridge for a while.
While it cools boil the salted potatoes until tender, drain and put them back on the flame to quickly dry them out.
This is a neat Japanese trick they use to make sure that all the ingredients are dry. Mash the boiled and dried potatoes immensely with some butter. Add the warm potatoes to the corn mix. Quickly grate in a handful of cheddar or optionally you could even stuff them with pieces of mozzarella. Mould them into whatever shape you prefer. I shape them to look like the Goan beef croquette.
Dip them individually into the egg and then into the breadcrumbs to coat. If you have sourdough crumbs at this point it is a bonus as sourdough lends unbelievable flavour as a crumb coat.
Deep fry them in a cast-iron kadai on a moderately high flame. A cast-iron kadai needs very little oil, helps to fry food evenly, and retains the heat much longer. Besides which it is very good to cook cast iron once in a way if you are anaemic as it ups the iron content. Once evenly browned place the croquettes on a paper towel to help drain off the excess oil.
Serve them hot, and eat immediately.
*Goes nicely with beer. Especially on a hot summer day.
*Did you know that a corn cob will always have an even number of rows and that it is produced everywhere on earth except Antarctica? It is said that more than 60 percent of what we eat today was developed by the American Indians.