Whole roasted on table with colorful blue plates.
Credit: Photo: Andi Murphy; Food Styling: Bonni Pacheco; Prop Styling: Bonni Pacheco

This Corn Husk-Baked Squash Brings Food Memory to Life for an Indigenous Community

published Nov 1, 2022
Corn Husk-Baked Cushaw Squash with Morita Chile Sauce

This rich, smoky squash recipe with dried morita chiles is the result of the steam created when wet juniper and husks come into contact.

Serves6 to 8

Prep45 minutes

Cook50 minutes to 1 hour 25 minutes

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.

Cooking outdoors, and in the earth itself, is a true labor of love. The smell of freshly dug soil, the sound of an axe splitting cedar wood, followed by the crackling of the fire and fragrant smoke. The hours of building up the coals and finally the foundation, the layers that will flavor your foods! The juniper boughs and roasted corn husks that have been soaking in water waiting for this moment followed by the harvest or hunt. 

Being a land-based people, with a deep history of our kitchen being the land itself, how do we find ways to replicate our food in a modern context? How does one bring the earth into the home kitchen, and in what ways does this re-creation alter our connection to our homelands?

No matter if we’re cooking in the ground or the kitchen, how we weave our food memories into sustenance for those at our table should be a mode of transportation into the landscape that formed us. The way we cook informs our eaters about the cultural legacy that created our foodways, and becomes an invitation into our culinary cosmology. 

Credit: Photo: Andi Murphy; Food Styling: Bonni Pacheco; Prop Styling: Bonni Pacheco
Karlos cooks a squash wrapped in corn husks in a pit at 4th World Farm.

In the case of this squash dish, I’ve reimagined a dish I cook in the ground as a one-pot Dutch oven recipe that you can make at home. To make it, you line the pot with corn husks, then layer in apples, onion, garlic, and squash blossoms. Next up is the star of the dish: the squash.

At home, I have the privilege of using Nuchu Kavaachi, a squash most prized by the Ute People. A few years ago, while I was teaching at Taos Pueblo, I was gifted a bag of their seeds. I have since begun growing them here at the farm and realizing their magic. Into the cavity of the squash goes oil, sumac, sunflower seeds, and Morita chiles. After adding corn stock to the pot, the dish is enclosed in the husks, the lid goes on, and the pot goes into the oven for about an hour.

When cooking this dish in the ground, the moment you remove the husks is something very special. The scent of coals, earth, and husk all brought forth on hot steam give way to remembrance. There is no way to replicate that exact experience in a Dutch oven, but the baked squash is still very impressive — and very delicious.

To finish the dish, you scoop the sunflower seeds and chiles into a blender, then add the apples, onion, garlic, and squash blossoms. Add some more corn stock and blend into a silky, smoky sauce. Cut the squash into slices and use the sauce as a dip.

Corn Husk-Baked Cushaw Squash with Morita Chile Sauce

This rich, smoky squash recipe with dried morita chiles is the result of the steam created when wet juniper and husks come into contact.

Prep time 45 minutes

Cook time 50 minutes to 1 hour 25 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 20

    dried tamale corn husks

  • 4

    fresh corn cobs or 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

  • 4

    medium green apples, such as Granny Smith

  • 1

    small yellow onion

  • 5

    squash blossoms (optional)

  • 4 to 6 large cloves

    garlic

  • 1

    small cushaw squash (4 to 5 pounds)

  • 2 tablespoons

    sunflower oil, divided

  • 2 tablespoons

    ground sumac, divided

  • 1 teaspoon

    coarse or flaky sea salt, plus more as needed

  • 1 cup

    roasted sunflower seeds, preferably unsalted, divided

  • 2

    dried morita chiles

Instructions

  1. Toast and soak 20 dried tamale corn husks: Working with 1 husk at a time, hold over the flame of a gas stove turned to medium low or an outdoor grill until lightly toasted, a few seconds on each side. Place in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Add enough water to the baking dish to completely cover the husks. Let soak for 30 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, if making the corn stock, place 4 fresh corn cobs and 3 cups water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer until reduced by about half, about 25 minutes. Pour the broth through a strainer into a medium heatproof bowl or liquid measuring cup and discard the contents of the strainer.

  3. Arrange a rack in the bottom third oven and heat the oven to 400ºF.

  4. Arrange most of the corn husks in a circular pattern in a 7-quart or larger Dutch oven with the wider end of the husks in the middle of the pot and the pointed end pointing up and over the sides of the pot by about 2 inches, overlapping them and making sure the bottom and sides of the pot are completely covered.

  5. Prepare the following, placing each in the Dutch oven as you complete it: Halve and core 4 medium green apples. Cut 1 small yellow onion in large dice. Trim the stems from 5 squash blossoms if desired. Top with 4 to 6 large peeled garlic cloves.

  6. Prepare the following, placing each in the Dutch oven as you complete it: Halve and core 4 medium green apples. Cut 1 small yellow onion in large dice. Trim the stems from 5 squash blossoms if desired. Top with 4 to 6 large peeled garlic cloves.

  7. Pour 1/4 cup of the corn stock or low-sodium vegetable broth into each squash cavity. Fold the corn husks over the squash, using more husks as needed to completely cover.

  8. Cover and bake until the squash is knife tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes. Uncover and scoop the sunflower seeds and chile into a blender. Transfer the squash to a cutting board. Transfer the remaining ingredients, except the corn husks, to the blender. Pour any juices left in the pot into the blender.

  9. Add 1/2 cup of the corn stock or low-sodium vegetable broth to the blender and blend until smooth and silky, about 2 minutes. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. Transfer to a serving bowl.

  10. Cut the squash crosswise into 1-inch thick slices or large cubes and use the sauce as a dip.

Recipe Notes

Cushaw squash substitute: Acorn or butternut squash can be used in place of cushaw.

Storage:
Leftovers can be refrigerated in airtight containers for up to 4 days.