Posts Tagged ‘blue corn’

Kitchen Staples: Cornbread with more corn

Like any Southerner and lots of other people, I’m an ardent fan of cornbread. I’ve probably tested dozens of cornbread recipes in my life, but I keep coming back to my favorite one, which uses about half cornmeal and half white flour. Since reading The Resilient Gardener, I’m making some moves toward utilizing more staples that I could eventually produce for myself. I don’t grow field corn currently, but I might in the future, and besides, I reason that using a higher percentage of corn might give a purer corn flavor. Certainly, the less white flour we eat the better, and the cornmeal that I buy is whole-grain. I would also add that if there’s one thing we do really well in the US it’s grow corn, so growing better types and using them in better ways is not a bad idea on a national as well as personal level.
Right now I’m experimenting with lots of different cornmeals, and they offer a range of flavors, colors, and antioxidants, but my husband loves the cheerful sunny color of yellow cornbread, so that’s what I chose for my first experiment in more-corn cornbread. I use a fine meal ground from flour corn, and this type of cornmeal definitely tastes better with some sugar in the recipe, but leave it out if you insist.
I must say that I really liked the flavor and texture and it rose nicely. I was afraid that I might get a corn-brick, but the texture was only slightly more dense than my usual recipe. Try it. My next cornbread recipe will be all-corn, and I’ll keep you posted on how it comes out.

Mostly-corn Cornbread

3 cups fine yellow cornmeal- whole-grain meal ground fairly recently is important to the flavor.
1/2 cup all-purpose white flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder (our altitude is about 5000 feet. Down lower, you might need twice this much leavening)
4 tablespoons sugar (see below)
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
4 eggs
3 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and put a 12″ cast-iron skillet in to heat. You could also use another type of pan if it’s heavy and will hold heat. Mix all the dry ingredients in one bowl. In another bowl beat the eggs enough to blend them and stir in the buttermilk. When the oven reaches temp, take out the skillet and throw in the butter cut in pats. It will melt quickly and proceed to burn if you don’t have everything else standing ready. Stir the wet ingredients rapidly into the dry ingredients. Don’t worry that some smallish lumps remain. Pour the batter immediately into the skillet and put it back in the oven. Bake until done, testing with a cake tester or knife blade to be sure the middle is finished. Remove from the oven, and have a rack ready. Invert the pan and the bread will fall out onto your waiting oven-gloved hand. Now invert the bread again onto the rack, so it ends up right side up. Now it can cool a little without the bottom crust, which you took pains to make crisp, getting soggy. Eat in bliss, with butter and good raw honey.
Regarding the sugar, my favorite with corn is a specialty sugar called Heavenly Sugar. I get it at my local Co-op. It’s a whole-cane juice product like sucanet but without the strong flavor, and it perfectly accentuates the flavor of good cornmeal.
The Resilient Gardener is a book that I can’t seem to shut up about. Anybody interested in the issue of personal food security should read it. Here in the Southwest, where corn and squash are traditional crops well-suited to our climate, it’s especially relevant. I am continually impressed with the asides that suddenly make sense of something I’ve puzzled over. For instance, I’ve often wondered why some cornbread tastes bad to me with sugar in it, and some tastes bad without it. Ms. Deppe points out that flour corns taste better with some sugar, and flint corns taste better without it. Simple, really, as long as you have real knowledge of your ingredients.

Addendum: I’m trying this recipe with a lot of different cornmeals, because it lets the flavor of the corn be foremost and it’s surprising what flavor differences there are. Below is the same recipe made with fresh blue cornmeal. The good part is that it’s very flavorful, with a deep earthy taste, and packed with fiber and antioxidants. The bad part is, well, it’s, uh, blue. ¬†You will have to decide for yourself whether that bothers you. I’ll be interested to see how red and purple cornbread turn out..

Vegetable Dinners: Black Bean Cakes, and notes on cornmeal

The famous nutritionist Marion Nestle once claimed that she could tell anyone in a sentence how to improve their health and nutritional status: “Eat less, move more, eat more fruits and vegetables.” Around my house we love to fill our plates with vegetables, so no problem there, but lately I’ve been experimenting with ways to add more dried beans to our diet. This coincides with my aquisition of a solar oven, but in this recipe the beans don’t even have to be cooked. You can soak them for 24 hours, or you can use drained cooked black beans if you have some handy. These patties make a substantial main course and are a good main dish for occasions when you have vegetarians and/or vegans over for dinner.

Black Bean Cakes

Start with one cup dried black beans. Soak in a quart of soft or filtered water at room temperature for 24 hours. If you can’t give them the full soaking time, use 2 cups of cooked drained black beans instead.
About a cup of fine cornmeal (I like finely ground blue cornmeal, which helps keep the color dark)
1 small bunch each of epazote and cilantro, or 1 large bunch cilantro
1 teaspoon lightly roasted ground cumin
2 medium or three small shallots, very finely chopped
2 limes, one juiced, one cut in wedges or slices
salt to taste
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chiles
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
about half a cup of olive oil

Drain the soaked beans very thoroughly. They should now be about 2 cups in volume. If using cooked beans, drain very thoroughly. Whichever kind of beans you are using, let them sit in the strainer for at least half an hour, because you want them as dry as you can get them. Now grind them finely in a food processor. MIx in a small handful of chopped epazote or, if you couldn’t find epazote, a large handful of chopped cilantro. Mix in the chopped shallots, cumin, chipotle, the juice of one lime, and about half a teaspoon of salt, and taste for salt. Add more if needed to make the mixture taste properly seasoned. Make it a little tiny bit on the salty side, because you are still going to add more dry ingredients. Heat about a quarter cup of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When almost ready to cook, process in half a cup of cornmeal mixed with the baking powder. Check the consistency; if it’s possible to mold it into cakes, you’re ready to go. Otherwise, add more cornmeal until it can be molded (with difficulty) but is still very soft. Sprinkle cornmeal on a piece of waxed paper and scoop out heaping tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the paper. When the oil is good and hot, carefully lay the cakes in the hot oil, patting a little with fingers or a spatula to make them no more than 1/2 inch in diameter. Be careful, they’re fragile, but you don’t want to add more cornmeal unless strictly necessary because they can get dry and tough if you add too much. You can also skip the waxed-paper step and spoon the mixture directly into the hot skillet, spreading it out with the back of a damp spoon to make the cakes about 3/8″ thick. Let them sizzle at least 3-4 minutes, then when you’re sure that a good brown crust has formed on the bottom side to hold them together, carefully turn with a narrow spatula and cook on the other side until done. You can keep them warm in a 200 degree oven while you fry the second batch. The main “secrets” are to keep the dough on the moist and fragile side, get the oil hot enough, don’t omit the baking powder because it does improve the texture, and wield your spatula with caution to turn them without breaking the cakes around them. .

Once cooked, you can decide how to serve them. They are fine naked on a warmed platter, garnished with a large handful of cilantro leaves and wedges of lime as shown above. A squeeze of the fresh lime juice is important to the flavor, in my opinion, and I pick up a few cilantro leaves to add to each bite. My favorite garnish (vegetarian but not vegan) is some very good olive oil mayonnaise with a little extra lime juice and a lot of chopped cilantro stirred in. They can also be served with warmed small corn tortillas and guacamole, and a little heap of crumbled cotija cheese on top is a delicious tangy addition; the vegans at the table can just omit it.

The beans and blue cornmeal are both full of antioxidants, blue cornmeal is a whole-grain product, and beans have beneficial phytosterols as well as lots of fiber and other desirable nutritional factors. But I only eat things that taste good, and these cakes taste good.

Notes on cornmeal: a lot of cornmeal on the market is very uneven in grind, and any meal containing large particles will leave unpleasant hard fragments in your finished cakes. I buy a blue cornmeal made locally and ground to flour fineness. If you buy yours at the store, I suggest sifting it to get the largest chunks out, or whir it in the blender for a few minutes to grind it more finely. I would avoid the Bob’s Red Mill “medium grind” cornmeal: it seems to be a mix of the company’s fine grind and polenta grind, and can leave tooth-cracking particles in your bean cakes or cornbread. Seek out a better product.

Kitchen Staples: Blue Corn Pancakes

I’ve written before about the wonderful blue cornmeal that’s available at the Los Ranchos Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. A local couple, the Molinas, grow the blue corn, shell the kernels off the ear, then (this is the important part) roast the kernels to bring out their flavor before grinding them to a flour-fine meal. I feel rather proud of having discovered this cornmeal because you can’t tell from any distance that they have it. Their small and unassuming booth is recognizable by the display of rocks that Oracio has picked up over the years. If you try to use another blue cornmeal, make sure it’s ground very finely, and if it has chunky bits in it, grind it again in the blender. Then toast the meal lightly in the oven until it has a light toasty smell, making sure not to burn it or let it darken. Personally, I buy it at the market and let Oracio and Lourdes do the work. It makes pancakes that will light up your weekend morning.

1 cup blue cornmeal, very finely ground
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon agave nectar or light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1-2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup melted butter
3 real free-range eggs
clarified butter for frying (I seldom bother to clarify mine, but you have to fry more carefully with unclarified)
butter and maple syrup

Mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar if using together in a mixing bowl. Get your cast-iron skillet or other big heavy skillet heating over medium heat at least 5 minutes before you want to start cooking. Beat the eggs, the melted butter, and 1 cup of buttermilk together lightly. If using agave nectar instead of sugar, add it to the egg mixture. When the skillet is hot, mix the wet ingredients quickly and roughly into the dry ingredients, and add enough of the second cup of buttermilk to make a pourable batter. Film the skillet with clarified butter, pour in about a third of a cup of batter, and spread it out a little to make a pancake. Cook on the first side until the upper side shows little holes from the leavening, then flip skillfully and cook the other side until done. Slather with the best butter you can get, repeat to make a stack, and serve with real maple syrup.
A pancake is a very personal thing, and any recipe will need adjusting to your preference. I like the batter a little on the thick side and I can only judge this by eye, so I don’t measure the buttermilk after the first cup, I just mix enough in to make the texture right. I cook the first side until it’s lightly browned, as shown above, and then cook the second side to about the same color. I prod them a little with my finger to test for any uncooked dough in the center, but if you haven’t been doing this for a few decades, you may need to cut the first one open to make sure you’re cooking them through. I don’t cook over high heat because the outside gets too brown before the inside cooks through. I hate chunky inclusions of any kind, like berries and fruit. I like real maple syrup and don’t eat any other type. Other cooks say that thin batter is good, that browner is better, that oil or lard or bacon grease are the best cooking mediums, that honey is better than syrup, and I understand that some people are so lost to decency as to put cheese, chocolate chips, or big hunks of fruit in pancakes. Suit yourself. That’s the joy of cooking at home.
By the way, it is possible and even fun to cook with two skillets, or with a big griddle, and get pancakes on the table more quickly.