Navajo Kneel-Down Bread

This is less a bread than a fresh-corn pudding, in which the pulped kernels bake slowly, enclosed in fresh corn husks. The recipe in Traditional Navajo Foods and Cooking calls for shaping the pulp into small cakes, two inches by five inches, before placing them between husks split open and flattened. The husks keep the corn both sweet and moist in the baking. But just as most of us are not going to follow tradition and grind our kernels on a metate or catch the mash on a clean goat skin, I find it easier not to make individual cakes but one large cake from the mash. The mash does not require husks for baking in a casserole in a modern oven after the corn has been pureed, but husks make an attractive package in addition to providing flavor. I’ve added some cooked jalapeño peppers and sour cream because I like the extra bite and creamy texture, but these are simply my small modern variations on one of America’s oldest cornbreads.

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Ingredients

  • 8 ears fresh sweet corn in the husk
  • ¼-½ cup canned jalapeño peppers, drained and minced
  • salt to taste
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • pure ground chili pepper to taste

Method

Chop a slice from the bottom of each ear with a cleaver so that you can remove the husks easily and stand the ears upright for cutting off the kernels. Remove husks and save. Discard silk. Place cob upright, cut end down, on a cutting board or wide soup plate and cut kernels straight down with a sharp knife. Purée kernels in a food processor, grinder, or blender to make a slightly chunky pulp.

Tear ends of husks slightly to help uncurl them. In a shallow casserole, overlap husks to make a solid layer. Mix corn pulp with the peppers and add salt if desired. Spread pulp 1-inch thick on the husks and cover with a top layer of husks. Seal top of dish with aluminum foil. Bake at 350° for 1 hour.

Remove foil and top layer of husks. Ladle sour cream in a mound in the center of the dish and sprinkle with chili before spooning out portions.

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