Steamed Corn Dumplings
A spicy sweet delicacy
Xipili called the children in from the field and began placing carefully folded corn husks in a basket above the steam pot. The hot vapour stung the tips of her fingers and she gave them a quick shake before turning the sand-glass over to count time. Too long in the basket and they'd burn; too brief, they'd be mush. After hours of preparation this would be a fine time to ruin everything.
These dumplings are made with the most basic and abundant staples available in the Pachuco Jungle. The most notable of these is corn meal, made from maize, which is a ubiquitous sight at Pachucese tables. To be sure no citizen of Pachuco, rich or poor, goes a day of his or her life without eating maize in some form or another.
- corn husks
- 1 1/2 cups amber raisins
- 4 1/2 cups corn meal
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 3 3/4 cups water
- 12 ounces butter
- 1 1/2 cups sweet bean paste
- 1 cup toasted pine nuts
- Soak corn husks in water. 2 hours. Remove from water: drain, rinse, dry.
- Place raisins in a small bowl. Soak in hot water. 20 minutes. Drain and rinse.
- Combine corn meal (lime-slaked), anise, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add water and knead by hand until dough is moist.
- Blend butter and sweet bean paste in a large bowl with knives and masher. Gradually add dough to mixture. Continue blending until smooth, soft dough has formed. Add raisins and nuts. Cover and let stand for at least 1 hour.
- Place a reed basket over a large pot and fill the pot with enough water to reach the bottom of the steamer. Cover and bring the water to steaming simmer.
- Lay corn husks out lengthwise across. Shape 1/3 cup of dough lengthwise in the center of each husk, leaving about a 1/2-inch border at the bottom.
- Close left side of husk over the top and roll to the right as if rolling tobacco plugs. Fold the top of the husk (the empty, tapered edge) back over the filled husk to close.
- Arrange dumplings upright in the basket with the open ends facing up. Cover and steam for 1 1/2 hours. Dough will firm, husk will pull off in readiness.
Corn dumplings, spicy and sweet, are served as a welcome delicacy at all tables and can be introduced either as an appetizer or as a pleasing desert course. More rustic folk eat their dumplings by hand straight from the husk. Others with more delicate sensibilities unwrap the husks and discard them before serving.
There are as many variations on this recipe as there are kitchens in Pachuco City. Every variation is unique, but all savour of the same unmistakable flavours of Pachuco: spicy but not severe; sweet but not cloying. The dish recalls the aromas of the jungle, redolent with fragrance and toothsome charm.
Since dumplings in the husk are conveniently portable, corn dumplings are often given at farewell ceremonies for travelers embarking on long journeys. Such gifts are frequently wound with brightly coloured ribbons of remembrance for the traveler. Pachuco bravos embarking upon long jungle expeditions have been known to save these ribbons and tie them into their distinctive hair braids for the duration of their sojourns.
In order to sustain their maize-rich diet, the Pachucese slake corn flour and soak corn ears in lime solution, a process passed down for generations. According to the Story-Keepers, this practice of liming the corn was taught to the Pachucese by the sun god Ormaz after the Thunderbird broke open the Black Sky and renewed the fertility of the earth for agriculture. Neglecting to properly follow this simple divine teaching eventually causes a maize-eater to sicken. He grows weak with fatigue; his tongue turns black; and his skin blisters in sunlight, a sure sign his disobedience has displeased Ormaz.