Herbs and Plants
Of The Southwest
As the first of the traditional Native American “Three Sisters” grown so successfully together, Indian Maize corn is arguably the most important of the Indian gifts from the New World to the Old World. Many Native American people, from the Maya to the Hopi, refer to themselves as “The People of the Corn”. It is uncertain exactly when corn made its way from Mesoamerica to the Southwest, but it was a staple of Native American diet by the time of Christ. Corn is a very special gift, indeed. Rice requires a semi-tropical moist climate, and wheat prefers a northern temperate climate, but some type of corn can be grown in almost every environment. The Indian gift of corn was initially scorned by the Old World, and even today is used mostly as animal food in Europe. But the impact of corn on the European diet was great, as this new food could be produced for almost all domestic animals, thereby greatly increasing the supply of meat and dairy products for these people.
Native American cooks learned to add a lye solution of water and wood ashes to corn in order to soften the thick hull, making hominy, or drying and grinding it to make “grits”, considered a southern staple, and dropped balls of corn dough into fat to make the first “hush puppies” but these are originally an Indian food. These Indian dishes, along with masa flour made into tortillas, tamales, posole stew made from hominy, and Pueblo piki bread, and even the Native American dish of succotash (corn and lima beans) remain favorites today in the Southwest and Mesoamerica, while all of United States munches on corn on the cob and popcorn!
Many Europeans consider our yummy “corn on the cob” to be horse food, and that we are barbarians to eat it! Phooey on them! While corn on the cob is delicious just with butter and salt, try this Southwestern variation: add a tad of garlic salt and chili powder to your melted butter, and listen to your taste buds sing! Many people way overcook their corn on the cob, with resulting loss of flavor and increase in “chewiness”. For the best corn on the cob, buy fresh picked corn only, and cook it immediately. Bring water to a rolling boil while you are cleaning the ears, and pop them in for 3 minutes only!
A traditional Native American food, hominy is dried field corn kernels with the hull and germ removed.It is soaked in lye water until it becomes puffy and tender. The important thing to remember, when cooking with hominy, is to rinse it thoroughly, until the water runs clear, for the best taste. When dried and ground, hominy is called grits. Hominy, with added pork, chicken or beef and chilis, is the star attraction for many holiday feasts of "posole" in the Southwest.The recipe that follows is a Christmas tradition in my family.