Tagged corn

Fried Corn Empanadas

The most important ingredient when making anything with harina de maíz, is not the flour itself, but the water. The most common mistake in using it, is in making too dry of a dough, resulting in overly lacy edges cracked edges and dense, chewy and flavorless tortillas.

This is a mistake I’ve made myself, having in the past worked only with freshly made masa. Being dehydrated fresh masa, clearly, the key to coaxing the flavor out of harina de maíz (instant corn masa flour, or maseca), is all in adding enough water.

Working with harina de maíz, or instant corn masa flour:

Use the hottest water you can tolerate to hand mix the dough. The dough is easy to mix, and while using a mixer is always acceptable, in this case, it is unnecessary.

Dissolve the salt into the water before mixing, to aid in absorption.

The dough should have enough moisture to stick to your hand, but cleanly separate. It should be able to roll smooth and flatten without excessively separating at the edges.

If too much moisture is added the dough will not cleanly separate from the plastic used to line the tortilla press.

Dough made from corn flour will dry out very quickly. Maintain it covered with a damp kitchen towel. It is helpful to work a small amount of water into portions before shaping by dampening the hands lightly and kneading in. It is also helpful to work quickly.


Tortilla Press.


Making the empanadas:

As these empanadas will be fried, it is best for them to be rounded on both sides.

To do this, hold the tortilla in the non-dominant hand. Place the filling in the center, and fold closed. Use the dominant hand to pinch the edge close.

Unlike wheat flour based empanadas, empanadas de maíz do not take a decorative edge well, as the dough lacks the tensile strength. The edge may be trimmed with a fluted rotary cutter (Sur La Table sells an excellent one), or pressed with a fork.

Use more oil than seems necessary when frying, as some will be absorbed during the cooking process.



Empanadas de Maíz

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
  • 2 cups harina de maíz (instant masa corn flour or maseca)
  • 13 fl. ounces warm water, more as needed
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • Approx. 3 cups of desired filling

Dissolve the salt into the hot water.

Place the instant masa corn flour into a bowl and make a well i. Pour the water in, working it into the flour. Mix very well, until the dough feels smooth, and separates cleanly from the bowl.

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap or a very lightly damp kitchen towel, and allow to rest for 10 to allow for full hydration.

Divide into 8 even portions, approximately 2″ round in size. Roll smooth. If the dough begins to dry out quickly, wet palms and work into each portion immediately before pressing.

Flatten with a tortilla press lined with thick plastic sheets or parchment paper. To flatten, place in the center, press lightly, rotate the tortilla 180º, and press again.

While holding the tortilla in one hand, still on the plastic or parchment paper, place approximately 1/3 cup of filling in the center. Close the tortilla, distributing the filling while forming the half-moon shape. Press the edges closed.

To prevent drying out while working, cover with a lightly damp kitchen towel.

Fry the empanadas in enough oil for them to float. Cook until golden brown on each side. Drain on paper towels.

How To: Pinole from Scratch

Ready made pinole isn’t difficult to find, but making it from scratch is a rather enjoyable experience.

Though blue corn is most popular for pinole, any dried corn suitable for popping can be used, no matter what the color. The steps for pinole are simple: toast and pop the corn, and grind to a fine powder. Sweeten and spice lightly if desired. This particular method, of popping before grinding, seems to be particular to the northern state of Sonora, or so my reading has lead me to believe. While not necessary, it does impart an lightness and sweetness to the corn that simply toasting and grinding does not.


Heirloom corn popcorn for pinole.


Nothing more than that; yet the process also requires some patience, as grinding to a fine powder does take some persistence.

Resist the urge to make this in a large quantity. The 1/4 cup or so of popping corn used for this recipe yielded approximately 4 cups of fluffy pinole, or more than I am likely to use quickly. The corn used was an heirloom popping variety purchased at my local farmers market. To find heirloom popping corn online, I would again point to Rancho Gordo, or to Native Seed Search.     


Heirloom corn pinole.


Though an air popper could be used to dry pop the corn, doing so would eliminate the wonderful toasted flavor gained during the process.

Enjoy this video of Señor Ricardo, producing pinole with his family, and donkey, in Huasabas, Sonora, Mexico.

Pinole - Toasted Corn Flour

  • 1/4 cup popping corn
  • 2 tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon


Place a 3 quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the corn kernels and cover the pan. Shake the pan occasionally while toasting. Once the corn begins popping, remove from the heat, and continue to shake the pan until the popping stops.

Once completely cooled, working in small batches, grind the popcorn using a blender (or if fortunate enough to have a grain mill at home), mixing in the brown sugar and ground cinnamon during the process.

Mix the ground corn well to evenly distribute the sugar and cinnamon. Store in an airtight container, refrigerating for longer shelf life.


Use your pinole to make an atole, or cookies.

Coricos Sonorenses – Sonoran Corn Cookies

Mexican pastry recipes are typically written in comically large quantities. A kilo of flour for everything. Half a kilo of lard. 100 empanadas or 500 cookies later, you’re done. The size of these recipes speak volumes of the Mexican love for baked goods. Thankfully, through the magic of the metric system, these recipes are easy to scale down to a more manageable size.

Coricos are not one of Mexico’s best known pastries, due perhaps to their regional nature and their simplicity. They are mostly eaten in the northern states of Sonora and Sinaloa, and consist mostly of instant corn flour, sugar and lard. They’re only slightly sweet, and their corn flavor is softened by milk. They could be described as a baked atole. These simple cookies pair perfectly with a cup of sugary milky coffee.


Coricos Sonorenses. Sonoran corn cookies.


Coricos Sonorenses - Sonoran Corn Cookies

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 125 g (2/3 c) lard, room temperature
  • 110 g (1/2 c) granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Zest and juice of 1 or two limes
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 250 g (2 cups) instant corn masa flour (maseca)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 c whole milk, slightly warm
  • 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

With a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the lard until soft. Add the sugar and mix until well incorporated. Follow with the egg, lime juice and zest. With the mixer running, slowly add the dry ingredients. Once the flour has been fully incorporated, add 1/3 of a cup of warm milk.

Mix until the dough comes together and begins to separate from the bowl. The consistency should be soft, and just slightly tacky, but not enough to stick to a clean surface. If necessary, mix in more milk, one tablespoon at a time.

Rest the dough for 30 minutes, well wrapped, to allow the flour time to hydrate properly. Divide the dough into smooth portions about 2 inches in size. Working on a clean surface, roll into a smooth tube of approximate 1/2″ in diameter. Curl into a donut shape, overlapping by about 1/2″ and flattening to seal. It is helpful to use a round cookie cutter as a guide.

Brush with egg wash, if desired, and bake at 350ºF for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden and firm but yielding to the touch.

Chileatole con Calabaza – Corn Porridge with Acorn Squash and Chile

Atoles are likely not for everyone. There is something strange about drinking corn dough, flavored with chocolate, coffee or fruits, and sweetened with piloncillo or brown sugar. Even having grown up with them, the strong corn flavor can be an acquired taste.

Though they are mostly sweet in nature, the chileatole is the savory, and spicy, member of the atole family. The corn-dough thickened soup (or beverage, depending on how you think of it), is flavored with dried or fresh green chiles, and can contain meats, seafood, vegetables or cheese. Like everything else in Mexican food, it varies by region. In the coastal state of Veracruz, red chileatole with shrimp and crab is more typical. The state of Puebla prefers a green atole, given its color by epazote and serrano chiles.

Is it a strange soup? Absolutely. But it is warm, comforting, and a perfect vehicle for the puree of gently roasted fall squash. While the recipe calls for acorn squash, any variety of hard cold weather squash will do, or even sweet potatoes, if they are more readily available. The chile is cooked separately from the soup to allow for each bowl to be seasoned to taste. The heat of chiles can never be trusted.

Corn Porridge with Acorn Squash and Chile (Chileatole)

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Medium
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  • For the soup:
  • 1 acorn squash, approximately 3 pounds
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup instant corn masa flour (maseca)
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 8 ounces queso fresco or oaxaca cheese, large diced
  • For the chile:
  • 4-6 ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 1 small white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dry thyme
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seed
  • 1 cup chicken stock or water

Cut the acorn squash in half and remove seeds. Roast, cut side up, at 350°F for approximately 40 minutes, or until easily penetrated with the tip of a knife. Scoop out the flesh once cool enough to handle, yielding approximately 2 cups. Place the pureed squash in a blender, add four cups chicken stock, and puree till smooth. Pour into a saucepan, add the corn kernels, and bring to a simmer.

Whisk the instant corn flour into the remaining two cups of chicken stock until completely smooth. Allow the mixture to rest for at least 10 minutes, so it may fully hydrate. Add to the saucepan, whisking continuously. Season with kosher salt to taste. Simmer until the soup has thickened considerably, enough so it may hold a floating spoon in it.

While the soup cooks, place the ingredients for the chile in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Gently cook until the chiles and onion are soft. Puree in a blender until completely smooth. Pass through a fine mesh strainer if desired for a smoother chile, though this is not necessary.

Serve very hot, with cheese and chile added to taste. For an even more satisfying meal, sauté pulled chicken till golden brown in olive oil and butter and add to the soup.

Corn Tamales

Tamales in my family, are always what can be only be referred to as ‘bien dados,’ a phrase with no literal translation but that can only mean large, chunky, well proportioned, will not leave you hungry. If you have to eat more than two or three of these tamales, they are decidedly not bien dados.

Making corn tamales with American corn is a much different experience than when using Mexican corn, requiring more time and work. The corn is smaller, sweeter and filled with moisture. The husks are usually useless, and there is usually no point in reserving them to wrap the tamales. Usually.

Heirloom corn grown in Saratoga County, New York.
Heirloom corn grown in Saratoga County, New York.

Thankfully, heirloom varieties of American corn haven’t forgotten how to be proper corn. They’re still slightly too sweet and too wet, but occasionally, with careful cutting rather than forceful pulling, the husks will still be large enough to once again wrap the corn it originally contained.

To deal with the excess of moisture in the corn, plan ahead and allow the corn to drain for a few hours and press out any excess moisture. Mixing in a bit of maseca (or corn masa flour) will absorb any remaining moisture and help bind the ground corn.

This is a recipe for which I do not recommend under any circumstances using frozen corn, as it would simply have too much moisture to it and would be a wasted effort.

Reserved corn husks.
Reserved corn husks.

Corn Tamales

  • Servings: 12-14 each
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • 12 ears of corn
  • 1 pound butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup maseca, if needed
  • 8 ounces queso fresco or oaxaca cheese
  • 4 chiles verdes (anaheim peppers)
  • Reserved husks or dried corn husks as needed


If the corn has husks large enough to use as wrappers for the tamales, approximately 8″ wide and at least as long, cut all the way around the base of the ear with a sharp knife. Peel off the husks, stacking and pressing them flat to ease working with them. Cover loosely with a damp kitchen towel and refrigerate until ready to use.

If the husks are not usable, tear away. The silk of the corn can be reserved and dried if desired. Consumed as tea, corn silk has many health benefits.

Working over a large shallow container lined with a clean kitchen towel, hold the corn vertically and carefully cut away the grains. Cut deep into the corn, even cutting into the cob itself, which holds a lot of flavor begging to be taken advantage of. Depending on the size, each ear of corn should produce approximately one to one and a half cups of cut grain.

Use a food processor or meat grinder to coarsely grind the corn.

Roast the peppers under the broiler or on a grill lightly charred. The skin on anaheims is very thin and can burn quickly. Sweat the peppers in a covered container at room temperature until cool enough to handle. Remove the skin, stem and seeds from the peppers. Cut into 1/4″ strips, or rajas.

Cut the cheese into 1/4″ by 2″ long pieces.

Whip room temperature butter until very fluffy, approximately 5 minutes, mixing in the baking powder. Mix in the corn, seasoning with kosher salt to taste, and combining well. If the batter should have the consistency of cake batter. If too runny,  add in the maseca one tablespoon at a time, mixing in completely before adding more, as needed.

If using fresh corn husks, rinse well with hot water. If using dried husks, rinse well under running water and soak in boiling hot water for approximately 15-20 minutes, or until soft and pliable. Drain before using.

To assemble the tamales, hold a corn husk at the widest part. Spread an approximately 1/4″ thick layer of the corn mixture on the husk, measuring around 7″ wide by 4″ high. Place cheese and pepper strips in the center of the tamal and fold to enclose them. It is usually necessary to use more than one husk to completely enclose the tamal.

Corn tamal with chile verde rajas and queso fresco.
Corn tamal with chile verde rajas and queso fresco.

Place a steamer basket inside a deep pot just big enough to hold the tamales and line with a layer of corn husks. Be sure there are at least 2″ of room to fill with water between the pot and the steamer basket. The tamales will cook best if standing vertically in the pot without too much overlap between them so they cook evenly. Cover the top of the tamales with more corn husks and cover the pot.

Cook over medium heat for approximately 40 minutes. Tamales should feel set yet still soft when done.  

Be very sure to not run out of water in the pot. Scorched corn husks absorb an acrid burnt smell and taste. Not being vigilant about your water level means all the effort in making the tamales will be completely wasted. Keep a kettle of warm water handy in case it is necessary to add more water.

Allow the tamales to cool for ten minutes before eating. If you can wait that long.

Mexican Grilled Corn, Hold the Mayo

Mexican food is undeniably popular in the United States, yet this popularity irks me on occasion, brings a twitch to my eye and makes me wish it was perhaps just a little less popular.


Because unfortunately it is often the simplest of foods which are the most popular. Street tacos no bigger than two bites. Chilaquiles, a food originally of leftover tortillas and whatever else was on hand. Chips and salsa, something that just barely resembles Mexican food. Even my beloved Sonora (Hermosillo) Dogs, and guacamole – these are foods I love, but Mexican food deserves recognition for it’s more complex foods; things like mixiotes, the wide range of moles and pozoles enjoyed throughout the country, fish soups which would make a bouillabaisse quake in it’s French bowl.

I’m irked by this ‘street food’ popularity, and yet I am just as guilty or fueling that fire.

Again, Why?

Perhaps I wish to remember these foods the way I knew them, rather than the way they are being interpreted today. Strange words for me to say after arguing the uselessness of trying to pin down the authenticity of Mexican cuisine. Even as I take this  nostalgic food trip, I’m pushing myself to share more of the depths of Mexican food than I have in these pages – I couldn’t think of a more pleasant or satisfying challenge I could present myself with.

This version of Mexican grilled corn, or elote loco, is how I would have eaten it while growing up in Hermosillo in the ’80s; though at home corn would have been eaten lightly steamed and seasoned a bit more sparingly, with lime, butter and salt.

This corn was more of a treat, eaten at one of the kiosks found in Hermosillo selling primarily draught root beer along with the grilled corn. Root beer wasn’t common throughout Mexico at the time, yet the city of Hermosillo, and perhaps other northern Mexican cities though I can’t say for sure, had a certain infatuation for root beer. Not the over-sweet syrup-in-a-box root beer sold there now. This was deeply dark keg root beer, served on frosted glass mugs with a thick foam head.

This type of root beer has become such a rarity, just as finding grilled corn served as it was then, covered with cultured cream and queso fresco, rather than the version popular both in Mexico and the U.S. now days, of mayonnaise and cotija. The dish is lighter and less greasy without the slathering of mayonnaise, which is admittedly cheaper than cultured cream, and stable at room temperature for much longer, easy to see why mayonnaise is preferred over cream by street vendors.


Mexican Grilled Corn

  • Difficulty: easy
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  • Fresh corn, shucked, stem left intact
  • Limes, quartered
  • Butter, room temperature
  • Sea salt
  • Cultured cream (preferably Mexican cream or crème fraÎche)
  • Queso fresco, crumbled
  • Hot sauce

The corn is best grilled over a hot charcoal fire until well charred. It’s not ‘get some grill marks’ kind of cooking, it’s get some smoke and color on that corn cooking. But if a grill isn’t handy, nothing wrong with using the broiler with a rack placed very near the heat element.


Rub the corn well with a lime quarter, pressing the juice into the corn. With a pastry brush or knife, cover the corn well with room temperature butter. Season well with salt. Top with cultured cream, followed by queso fresco, and a good amount of hot sauce.

Eat, with a side of root beer or not.