Cornmeal is a staple of breakfast spreads everywhere, usually in the form of a muffin or bread laden with sugar and occasionally as a heaping bowl of grits slathered with butter and cheese. These classic dishes are totally delicious and filling, but they’re not always the healthiest options on the breakfast table.
Here’s the thing: cornmeal can be a part of a healthy diet. In fact, Weight Watchers highlights cornmeal as one of its Most Valuable Ingredients because of its high fiber content, low point value and low cost. Cornmeal is also gluten free and can be used for everything from hot cereal to pizza. Check out some of these fantastic tips and recipes, and turn humble cornmeal into a kitchen superstar.
Some Simple Rules for Cooking Cornmeal
- Follow the ratios for liquid to cornmeal as stated in the recipes. This is essential. As you get to know cornmeal, you will be able to play with it a bit more, but this is an ingredient where you need to know the rules before you can break them.
- Proceed with caution when making substitutions in cornmeal preparation. For recipes such as polenta pie, I have been able to use water in place of milk in a pinch, but other substitutions haven’t been quite as successful.
Ready? Great! Let’s go!
Cornmeal is a great option for those days when you can’t even think of eating yet another bowl of oatmeal. I’ve been eating hot cornmeal cereal, also called harina de maiz or polenta, for ages. I love this recipe for Breakfast Polenta with Honey and Yogurt. I tried substituting water for milk on this one, but mixture did not properly set up, and lumps quickly formed. As someone who has made harina de maiz many times, I was annoyed by the setback. However, I am not one to give up on a meal. I whisked it well to reduce lumps and stirred in some of the lemon topping from This Rawsome Life’s Lemon Bars recipe, which I introduced you to in my article about dates and figs. The banana thickened the mixture nicely and gave the harina de maiz a delicious sweetness, while the lemon added a nice tang. I also added a few pinches of brown sugar to really bring out the lemon flavor.
TIP: Do NOT walk away from cornmeal as it is cooking on the stovetop. This is not a time to multitask. Prepare to whisk, whisk, whisk! Your arms will get a workout, but you will be rewarded with a smooth, creamy cereal.
Pizza and Pies
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am more than a little obsessed with all things pizza, so I had to try this clean eating Polenta Pizza from Serious Eats. I prepared the crust as directed and topped my creation with Eggplant Caponata I made using The Kitchn’s recipe and a quick homemade spinach almond pesto inspired by the parsley walnut pesto topping from the original pizza recipe. The result? A flavorful crust that held up nicely to a sizeable mound of salty caponata and became even more delicious as the pesto soaked into the cornmeal. This recipe is vegan, but I figured a slice of provolone on my pizza wouldn’t hurt.
A similar recipe for a rustic cornmeal dish that mimics another one of my comfort food favorites, lasagna, is Baked Polenta Pie from Two Peas and Their Pod. This mighty meal is packed with vegetables and is inexpensive to make, but the real treat is how adaptable it is. When the only vegetable I had in my fridge was spaghetti squash, I roasted that bad boy and used those tender, sweet strings to top my pie for a warm, gooey, dish that beautifully merged sweet and savory flavors.
TIP: Both of these meals are even better as leftovers!
Arepas are corncakes that are popular in many Latin cultures, and with good reason: they are damn tasty. The fine folks at Food52 have made arepas even better with a phenomenal Vegetarian Arepas recipe. Magic happens when that dough hits the griddle, creating a simple, delicious vegan cake that tastes great topped with black beans as the recipe states, but you could go with a slice of cheese or a scoop of tuna salad if you’re not following a vegan diet. Try Bumble Bee’s Tuna and Avocado Salad, which also has an accompanying arepa recipe.
TIP: Let the arepa brown properly before flipping, which will develop the toasted corn flavor that gives the cake its kick. Much like a typical pancake, it’s a lot easier to remove the arepas from the pan once they develop that crust.
Cornmeal is a fabulous pantry staple, so try these recipes! Tell us: what are your favorite cornmeal recipes?