Thick, creamy and subtly sweet with just a hint of spice, humita, a traditional dish from Northwest Argentina, definitely qualifies as comfort food. Made with grated corn, onion, tomato and red bell pepper, humita may be prepared in one of two ways: en olla (stewed) or en chala (wrapped in corn husks and boiled). Unlike many of the Argentine recipes that I have featured previously, which can be traced to contributions by the nation’s Spanish and Italian immigrants, the origins of humita are rooted in the indigenous cuisine of the northern provinces.
As with many traditional dishes, numerous variations abound for the recipe for humita en olla. One of the classic versions from the provinces of Tucumán and Catamarca tends to incorporate grated squash. The catamarqueños (residents of Catamarca) typically prepare humita along with other traditional specialties during Holy Week (Semana Santa) festivities. The recipe presented here leans toward the version prepared in the provinces of Salta and Jujuy.
A simple yet satisfying dish, humita en olla doesn’t contain much in the way of exotic ingredients, but it does require patience to make, as the preparation is somewhat labor intensive. Shucking and grating 15 ears of corn is no small task! So, invite some friends over to help, and reap the rewards together as you sit down to a hearty bowl of humita en olla.
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. ají molido (or substitute crushed red pepper but use a smaller quantity)
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
15 ears of corn with large kernels
1 tsp. sugar
salt and pepper to taste
7 oz. queso cremoso (or substitute mozzarella cheese), cubed
6 fresh basil leaves
Select 15 ears of corn. For the best results, use the freshest corn possible with large, plump kernels. Shuck the corn and carefully remove all the silks. On the largest holes of a box grater, grate the corn into a large bowl. Scrape the corncobs with a butter knife to remove the remaining milky liquid from the kernels.
Heat the vegetable oil and butter in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot. Sauté the onion and bell pepper until soft and lightly browned. Add the paprika, ají molido and tomato, lightly sautéing the ingredients. Add the corn, sugar, salt and pepper.
Cook the corn mixture over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and scraping the bottom of the pot (every 5 to 10 minutes). The humita will stick and burn if not watched carefully. Add the basil and cheese and readjust the seasoning as needed. Cook for approximately 30 more minutes, continuing to stir every few minutes. The humita is finished cooking when it is thick and creamy (the consistency will be similar to that of thick oatmeal).
Serve piping hot with crusty bread and a simple salad. The humita tastes even better the next day!