Today marks the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere, the day when the sun's position directly over the equator makes the hours of light and darkness equivalent. As fall approaches, the equinox is an occasion for celebrating the harvest and the abundance of good fruits and vegetables we've enjoyed throughout a long, productive summer.
We cleared the last tomatoes, squash and corn from the garden and ploughed the plot in preparation for fertilizing and re-planting next spring. The row of yellow corn (choclo) grew to an impressive height of three meters (bringing to mind Carl Sandburg's high, majestic "Laughing Corn") and yielded several bushel baskets full of fat cobs. We shared the crop with our neighbours and the Catholic nuns who run an orphanage in Rama Caida. With six remaining ears I made humitas, a traditional Latin American dish which consists of a ground corn filling wrapped and steamed in a husk.
The standard method for making humitas involves grating or grinding the corn by hand, but I like to cut the kernels off with a knife and use a food processor to speed up the work. Basil and onions are added to the corn mash which is then fried with butter until the mixture is creamy and thick. Our South American corn tends to be drier and less sweet than North American varieties, so the addition of a little milk and sugar helps to make the right consistency and improves the flavour. The filling is spooned onto the center of the boiled husk and the edges are folded in at the sides to create an envelope. A thin strip of husk is used to tie the humita securely before placing it in the steamer for 20 minutes.
There are many variations of the humita recipe, some using eggs and cheese or hot peppers. This simple version makes a delicious side dish for lunch or dinner or can be eaten with bread at breakfast. We served our humitas with ham and fresh tomato slices and paired the equinox meal with Cafayate Torrontes 2009.
Produced by Bodega Etchart in the province of Salta, this wine is rich with floral aromas, a mouth full of plum, apple, citrus and pineapple, and a smooth finish. The Torrontes grapes are harvested from 25 year old vines grown on 120 hectares of land near Cafayate. The area has a luxury wine resort, Vinas de Cafayate which offers comfortable accommodation, a gourmet restaurant and superb views of the surrounding vineyards and mountains. A bottle of Cafayate Torrontes costs 13.50 pesos at Vea supermarket.