Pastel de Choclo (Baked Corn & Quinoa Cake)
Pastel de Choclo is a traditional South American dish. Here it makes an appearance as a delicious healthy and vegan version. Of course, being South American, the traditional recipe includes meat, and frequently chopped-up hard boiled eggs as well. The traditional version also calls for large white corn, which is a blander type of corn than the typical yellow. It is also less readily available to most people who are not in South America. (You can use white corn if you want to try it. It will disintegrate into the dish more. I prefer the flavor of yellow corn, and I also like that it retains some structure while everything else gets so soft.)
The inspiration for this recipe came from a great little vegan restaurant in Salta (in Northern Argentina), called Chirimoya. Other than the fresh juices that they serve, there’s no set menu. Each day, for lunch and dinner, they post 4 or 5 dishes on the chalkboard to choose from. Not only is the food fresh and healthy (and vegan!), but the daily variety is very welcome. Most restaurants in Argentina serve the save menu for lunch and dinner… forever.
About a month ago I had their Pastel de Choclo for the first time. I was so impressed that I decided I had to make my own. So with general notes from the chef, a little research online, and few attempts in the kitchen we now have a new favorite dish in our house.
This is totally vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, grain-free (quinoa is more vegetable than grain), and soy-free. Yet completely scrumptious and satisfying. I don’t often cook with corn, but it is corn season now and the perfect time to use it. (February here is the equivalent of August in the Northern Hemisphere. Just add 6 months to calculate!)
The translation of 'pastel’ would be like a pudding. But this is firmer than that. It’s more of a baked casserole, or ‘cake’. You can cut a piece and it will retain it’s form, even while hot.
Most of the time spent in making this dish goes into preparing the corn and cooking the quinoa. I definitely prefer fresh corn cut off the cob, but you could also use fresh frozen instead. The rest is mostly baking time. If you don’t already have leftover quinoa on hand in the fridge, get it started boiling first thing. By the time you are done prepping the veggies it will be ready. Quinoa only takes about 20 minutes to cook on the stovetop and it can go into the mixture piping-hot.
I am thinking that this recipe would also make a great brunch. Once of these days I might prepare it the night before and then cook it in the morning, making little indents in the top and adding whole eggs at the end to bake as it finishes. If I had a bunch of ramekins, I might make even them individual servings.
As usual, I like a little avocado on top of mine ;) My husband also adds a little tabasco. Fresh mild salsa would go well here too. Not much else is required. If there’s any left, keep it covered in the fridge for easy leftover lunch.
Recipe for Pastel de Choclo (Baked Corn & Quinoa Casserole, Vegan Adaptation)
Makes one full 9x12 pan with 8 individual servings.
Ingredients (listed in order of use)-
1 small red bell pepper- diced
1 medium onion- diced
3 cups +/- fresh corn- cut off the cob (about 6 ears, or use fresh frozen)
2 cups cherry tomatoes halved (or diced tomatoes if needed)
3 cups cooked quinoa (hot or cold)
1 cup corn flour (not polenta, very very fine, see here)
1 small can tomato paste (about 1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
10-15 large basil leaves- finely sliced
10-15 green olives- chopped (with pimientos is fine)
Heat oven to 350F (175C).
If you are cooking the quinoa from scratch, start it now. Wash and rinse well, then cover with an equal amount of water to dry quinoa. I usually add a bit of salt and olive oil. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered 15-20 minutes until all of the water is absorbed and the grains are fluffy and the little quinoa spirals have come out. (If there’s extra water at the end, just uncover, turn up the heat, and cook it off of for a minute or two.) Fluff with a fork and keep covered until ready to use.
Meanwhile, wash and dice the red pepper and onion and place both in the 9x12 baking dish. Shuck the corn. Cut off the bases. Stand on end and cut the kernels off the sides. Add the corn kernels to the baking dish with the red pepper and onion. Toss with 2-3 tablespoons olive oil.
Bake 15 minutes, uncovered.
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, or dice regular tomatoes. (I prefer cherry tomatoes for the flavor and texture as they cook into this dish, but I realize they aren’t always available.)
After 15 minutes in the oven, add the tomatoes to the baking red pepper, onion, and corn. Bake another 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, place the corn flour, tomato paste, sliced basil leaves, chopped green olives, cumin and salt. Add the cooked quinoa and combine well. When ready, add the veggies that have been in oven. Mix everything together thoroughly.
Grease the same baking dish you just used with some olive oil (2 tablespoons or so). Press the corn and quinoa mixture evenly into the pan with a large spoon.
Cover with foil and bake 35 minutes.
Uncover and bake another 15 minutes until the edges are just starting to get a little crispy.
Remove from the oven and let cool enough to handle. Serve it hot, or close to room temperature, with toppings of your choice. Recommended: Fresh avocado slices and a touch of tabasco, for those who like a little heat.
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