For our simple Thanksgiving meal I wanted to make a corn based dish as a nod to the long and interesting history between corn and The Americas. Corn or maize was native to the Americas. It is thought to have been domesticated by the people living in the region of present day Mexico about 8000- 10,000 years ago. It was originally a wild grass plant and the natives of this region cultivated and developed it or in other words domesticated it for their consumption. From this region it spread to the rest of the American continent and to Europe through trade contact and exploration around 15th century and from there to the rest of the world. Today the U.S. is the biggest producer of corn.

Corn is believed to have been on the menu of the first [officially recognized] Thanksgiving. The pilgrims who left England in 1620 to flee religious persecution in their native England harvested their first corn crop in America in 1621 with the help of native Americans who taught them how to cultivate it. Thanksgiving was basically a harvest festival of giving thanks to having a successful crop in the ‘New world’.

Incongruous as it may sound, my mother used to make ‘Corn au gratin’ way back  when everyone else around us was eating traditional South Indian fare. So it was an easy dish for me to pick for our meal. W W N A D [ what would Native Americans do] if they had to make this dish in their time. Use buffalo milk, probably corn flour to bind the gratin and kept it simple. I used 1% milk + buttermilk, Masa flour, salt and pepper and cooked it in an oven instead of a pit in the ground. So here is my ode to the corn.

Corn au Gratin

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup milk [I used 1% milk]

2 tablespoons Masa flour [see Food Notes] or substitute flour

2 cups of mixed white and yellow frozen corn kernels

1/4 cup buttermilk

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Melt the butter in a pan over medium flame. Add the milk and the Masa flour and whisk continuously till it thickens, about 3-4 minutes. Turn the stove off. Add the corn, salt, pepper and buttermilk. Incorporate everything together. Pour into a baking dish and bake in a 350 degree oven for about half an hour to 40 minutes till the gratin is bubbling nicely. Turn the oven off and turn the broiler on and broil the gratin till you get nice black spots on the surface. Remove and let it sit for a few minutes before serving. You can skip the broiling step, but I think it gives the dish great visual appeal.

Stove Top Version

You can also make a stove top version like my mother used to. Just continue cooking once you’ve added the corn till it is cooked through. You may need to add a little bit more milk so it dosen’t get too thick. Wait for it to cool down, it will set nicely. We used to spread it over toast.

Food Notes

Masa is flour made from corn that has been treated with lime. The native Americans learned to treat corn this way in order to make more readily available, some of the amino acids that would have otherwise been inert to the human digestive system.  Another way they learned to compensate for the lack of these amino acids in untreated corn was to combine it in their diets with beans, fish, amaranth etc  to get the complete range of amino acids required for a balanced diet [See here for more on protein for vegetarians]

Thanks for dropping by

Best, S.

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