With Easter approaching I thought I would share a dish from Paraguay that has a special status on the Lenten table, when eating meat is strictly forbidden. Paraguay is the only country in South America that has two official languages -Spanish and Guarani. Many of the old dishes like this torte, are Creole and are known by their name in both languages, since 90% of the people speak both.
The Guarani name for this specialty is Mbaipy Abatí, which means Dry Corn Polenta, and Sopa Paraguaya in Spanish. The only explanation I have as to why this torte or cornbread is called sopa (soup) in Paraguay is that the corn mixture that goes into the oven is almost soupy. Sopa Paraguaya is the most popular specialty in Paraguay. It is the traditional dish served at weddings, holidays and special occasions. On Good Friday, especially in the rural areas, it is the standard fare in every home. The classic Sopa Paraguaya does not have fresh corn in it; although some cooks add it for a lighter texture and flavor. The cheese generally used in Paraguay is a fresh cheese that is not available in this country. The usual substitute is a combination of farmer’s cheese or ricotta with any Mexican white cheese.
2 medium onions chopped, about 2 cups
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 egg yolks
4 ounces Chihuahua cheese, shredded
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup cooked corn kernels, coarsely chopped in blender or food processor
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk mixed with 1 tablespoon vinegar)
1-1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
4 egg whites
1. In a small saucepan combine onion, water and salt; bring it to a boil and simmer covered for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. In the large bowl of an electric mixer cream butter. While beating add yolks, one at a time; mix in cheese and corn. Fold in onions with its liquid and then cornmeal, a third at a time alternating with buttermilk.
3. Beat egg whites until they hold soft peaks, then carefully fold into cornmeal mixture. Transfer to a well- buttered and floured 2-1/2 quart casserole or rectangular baking pan and bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes, cut into squares and serve. This torte is at its best when eaten right out of the oven, but it is also good reheated. I usually freeze the leftovers and reheat in the microwave. This cornbread is great for breakfast with a good cup of coffee. Serves 8
NOTE: More Paraguayan recipes can be found in The South American Table, By Maria Baez Kijac.