Seasons’ Eatings: Kiveve (Pumpkin Polenta)
by Marc Duquette
Pelham, NH – Over the last two weeks RecipeRelay has featured Mexican inspired dishes. First there was Jessie’s Fall Harvest Chilaquiles then Lauren’s rich and flavorful Sopa de ajo (garlic soup). This week, we are going to travel a bit further south to the South American country of Paraguay. This is where my brother-in-law comes from and where his family still lives today (Nestor, say hello to everyone). As an adventurous cook, I periodically attempt to re-create the dishes he remembers from home. Over the years we’ve mastered one dish–creamy Kiveve (pronounced “key-vay-vay”), a sort of “pumpkin polenta” that is popular and traditional in Paraguay. For this dish I will relay the queso fresco from Lauren’s recipe and I will continue the fall squash theme by using a sugar pumpkin. In this post, I will show you how to enjoy Kiveve in three ways: as a vegetarian entrée, as a side dish, and as a dessert.
As a general rule, we don’t hear much about the country of Paraguay. Although the country is making great strides in recent years, Paraguay remains the poorest and most underdeveloped country in South America; a landlocked country bordered by Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. Nestor’s family lives in Asunción, the capital and largest city in Paraguay. Growing up, Nestor’s mother would make Kiveve three to four times per month serving it exclusively as a mid-afternoon (post lunch) dessert. Other published recipes of the region call for Kiveve to be served as a side dish to accompany grilled meats–a huge part of the Paraguayan diet. If you’ve ever eaten at a Brazilian Churrascaria, then you have a fair sense of the food culture of Paraguay.
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Kiveve is a very simple dish for which you probably have most of the ingredients on hand: milk, cornmeal, onion (we’ll skip the onion in the dessert version), salt, and sugar. The only thing missing is a pumpkin and some queso fresco. I have not been able to find a local, organic equivalent for the queso fresco so I picked that up at the local grocery store. Queso fresco is a wonderful, mild, fresh cow’s milk cheese. It has the crumbly texture of feta but is much less salty with a taste reminiscent of ricotta. For the pumpkin, I took a short drive to H.E. Smith and Sons Farm in neighboring Hudson, NH. The place is old and rickety but I love coming here. In the spring for fresh flower and herb plants, in the summer for great produce, and today, for a pumpkin or two (or four as was the case). In Paraguay the pumpkin, called “andai” (pronounced “an-dye-eee”), is not necessarily the bright orange orb that we are so familiar with; its color varies from dull green to deep reddish orange and its shape from smooth and round to knobby and crook-necked.
In this recipe I am using homemade, organic cornmeal. I came about the process of making homemade cornmeal quite by accident at the end of last year’s abundant corn season. By late August or so we had consumed enough fresh corn for the season however the CSA corn kept coming. I didn’t much feel like eating these later season ears with large and mealy kernels. So the ears sat in the kitchen untouched. After a few weeks I noticed the kernels drying out nicely. That’s when I came up with the idea of turning these into cornmeal. I peeled the ears and set them in a sunny location for another week or so until the kernels were completely dried out. Then I removed the kernels from the cob. At this point you can store the kernels whole for grinding later or you can grind the corn immediately which is what I did. I ground my first jar of cornmeal in batches in a small electric coffee grinder. Today, I use the dry grain attachment for my Vitamix® blender. I find that the homemade cornmeal has a much deeper and fresher corn aroma and taste than store bought cornmeal.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 50 minutes.
Yield: 6-8 servings
(see bottom of recipe for the dessert option adjustments)
- 1 Kilo (about 2 1/4 pounds) pumpkin (one small to medium sugar pumpkin is about perfect)
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt (Kosher or sea salt)
- 1 tablespoon organic cane sugar
- 1 cup fine cornmeal
- 160 grams (about 1/3 lb) queso fresco, crumbled
- For the vegetarian option described below:
- 1 bunch of collard greens
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Heat oven to 375F. Cut pumpkin in half, brush cut side with oil, and place cut side down on a rimmed cookie sheet or roasting pan. Add about 1/4 inch water to the pan and roast the pumpkin about 40 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft and easily pierced with a fork.
- After a few minutes of cooling, scrape the soft pumpkin out of the shell and place in a food processor or blender or mash by hand. If using the blender, add the milk to aid the processing. Process until pureed.
- In a heavy bottom pot, heat the oil, then add the minced onion. Sauté a few minutes until the onions are soft, golden and translucent. Lower the heat and add the milk, salt, sugar and pureed pumpkin stirring to combine.
- Gradually sift in the cornmeal while continuously stirring. Continue stirring for ten minutes until cornmeal is cooked and dish if fully heated and thickened. If the mixture is too thick at the start, add a small amount of milk or water to the pot as needed.
- Add the crumbled cheese, removing from the heat immediately. Stir until blended.
As a side dish you can serve this warm alongside grilled meat. As a vegetarian option, I sautéed an” in-season” vegetable—collard greens—with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and served this on top of a warm, generous spoonful of kiveve. The third option is as a dessert and this is how we generally enjoy the dish.
For the dessert version follow the recipe but skip the onion (Nestor does not remember his mother using the onion) and increase the sugar to 3 tablespoons. After cooking, chill the dish overnight. To serve, spoon into a bowl and top with a splash of cold milk. When I make a batch, I generally enjoy it for breakfast so I guess that’s the untraditional option number four. Give this a try and let me know what you think.