>> Monday, January 26
My mom grew up in America's south and southwest, and her cooking has always maintained a hefty southern tang. From Mexican-inspired dishes like enchiladas, black bean soup, chili, and tostadas, to classic American dishes like baked yams, chicken-fried steak, barbecued ribs, and sour bean salads, guests at her table have never gone unsatisfied with her simple, hearty cooking. And mind you, rarely was there a meal that didn't involve one of her heavy old cast-ion skillets. "Girl's gotta get her iron," she likes to say, "and that's not exactly what comes out of teflon."
She and I both started eating gluten free around the same time, and I slowly moved towards veganism-this meant a lot less of those favorite meals I had always had-fried wheat noodles with yeast and soy sauce, homemade gluten-meat, and beef stew. For a while we nibbled sadly at what was sold to us as gluten-free rice bread, and chased the crumbly mess with warm rice milk hot chocolate, reminiscing about the days of baking muffins together early in the morning, and catching the first whiff of rich molasses buns on rainy evenings Dark times, that's all I can say.
The Renaissance bloomed when we realized that what we needed were not necessarily imitations of gluten-containing products, but naturally gluten-free things that we could enjoy just as they were. Suddenly, cooking was magic again. And one of the most magical things of all was just a skillet flip away: Mom's cornbread.
This particular cornbread is so moist and decadant you could treat it like a cake if you wanted to. In fact, when I first made it for Dani and his roommate, they were amused at the name "cornbread" as what I had clearly just made was a corn cake. Elaborating on this idea, it is easy to create a sweet cornbread (ahem, "cake") by adding a bit of molasses, sugar, lemon and poppyseeds, or apples, ginger, anis, and cinnamon for a rich spice cake. Similarly, the simple flavor of the base recipe can be brought more to the savory side with garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes, basil, thyme, rosemary, fresh corn, beans, chili powder, curry, or black olives. This is one versatile little loaf, and so easy you may well find yourself with an empty skillet before dinner's finished.
Mom's Skillet-Baked Cornbread
(The original recipe has been adapted to be vegan as well as gluten-free)
- 2 cups total flour (at least 1 cup of polenta/coarse corn meal, and the rest in your choice of flour. I like to do 1 1/2 cups polenta and 1/2 cup rice or chickpea flour)
- 3/4 cup milk (almond is fantastic)
- 1/3 cup oil
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp raw sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C)
- Mix all dry ingredients together in a bowl
- Mix in the milk a little at a time until you have a very thick, not-quite-pancake-batter consistency.
- In a medium cast-iron skillet*, heat the oil over a low flame until just bubbling (not smoking!), tilting the pan to coat the sides and bottom.
- When bubbling, pour the oil into the batter and combine quickly.
- Pour everything back into the same skillet* and put it in the oven
- Immediately reduce the heat to 325 F (160-165 C) and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick in the center comes out mostly clean (extra moist is ok!)
* If you don't have a cast-iron skillet, as many people don't, you can heat the oil in a sauce pan and pour the finished batter into a gratin form or bread loaf pan. If you use a loaf pan, keep the heat lower and cook a little longer so it has a chance to cook in the middle.
There are SO many variations possible with this recipe! here are a few:
Before beginning, grind 2-3 tbsp flax seeds and let sit in a glass with 1/4 cup hot water for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When it is thick and viscous, add it with the milk and continue as before.
Puree tomatoes, basil, and garlic and substitute for the milk. Slice up black olives and add to the batter. Garnish the top with salt, pepper, rings of sliced onion and Italian herbs-thyme, basil, marjoram, etc.
Richer, Fluffier, Generally more Fantastic Cornbread
substitute soy yogurt or silken tofu for most or all of the milk. Add a splash more milk if needed to get the right consistency.
To dry ingredients add 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp anis, and a pinch of cardamom. Grate in 1 apple when adding the milk (reduce the amount of milk to make up for the fruit's moisture, and/or use yogurt instead of the milk), and add 1-2 medium apples, chopped in slices. Increase sugar or add 2 tbsp molasses/agave nectar.
Substitute soy yogurt or silken tofu for some or all of the milk. Add the juice of 1 whole lemon, and the grated rind if organic. Add 3 tbsp poppyseeds and agave nectar or other sweetener.
Morning-After Carrot Bread