Every culture has its quintessential comfort food staple dish, and my peripatetic career has exposed me to many of them. In many Asian countries, rice is part of virtually every meal. In Kenya, ugali (corn meal mush) rules, as does motoke (plantain mush) in Uganda. Italians are comforted by their pasta, while many Middle Easterners and Indians delight in flat breads. And we natives of the American South do crave our beloved cornbread.
I don’t make cornbread every night, as did my grandparents, and I’m not a purist about the ingredients I use for it either, as they were. I frequently use non-traditional flavorings in the cornbreads I bake, such as in this recipe, which was inspired by the bold taste of Indian-style green masala. The combination of fresh green chilies, cilantro, and spices does much to perk up and add a new flavor note to homey cornbread.
1 1/4 cups stone ground, fine cornmeal, white or yellow
1/2 cup unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
(optional, but preferred) 1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup scallions and half their greens, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro (coriander greens, dhania, etc.), chopped
1-3 jalapeño (or if you prefer extra heat, serrano) chilies with seeds, chopped
1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
1/4 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
1 1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup melted butter
- Brush an 8- to 9-inch cast iron frying pan or cornbread pan (see above examples) with vegetable oil and place in the oven. Preheat both the oven and the pan to 400 degrees F. A preheated baking pan, preferably of cast iron, is essential for crusty cornbread.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, coriander, cumin, and optional sugar (if the latter is used). Stir in the scallions, cilantro, chilies, garlic, and corn until well blended.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, egg, and melted butter. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and gently stir until the batter is just blended but still slightly lumpy.
- Remove the preheated baking pan from the oven, immediately spoon in the cornbread batter (it will sizzle), and return the pan to the oven. Bake for approximately 15-18 minutes or until the cornbread is nicely browned and a straw inserted in the center comes out clean. Serves 4-8.