Cornmeal cakes with black beans

By Jessica – May 22nd, 2014

When Jeremy and I first moved to Brighton, one of the things sorely missing from the culinary scene was decent Mexican food. There was the odd overpriced restaurant or uninspiring takeaway, but nothing that really satisfied my craving for a messy burrito with some spicy salsa. Fast forward 14(!) years and Brighton has pretty much reached peak burrito. At the time of writing, I can think of about 9 food establishments off the top of my head that are dedicated largely or solely to burritos, many of them doing properly tasty food.

And yet, even in Brighton, sometimes when you really want a burrito you just can’t have one—or maybe you could have one, but the time and effort to get one is beyond what you’re willing to invest at that moment. This recipe is a product of one such moment: I had just spent two weeks tacoing my way through Texas, Arizona and southern California, and I wanted to continue that trend back in Brighton. It was lunchtime. There were burritos just a 10-minute walk away from me, but there was also a thunderstorm rolling in. Just as I was preparing to set out on my burrito mission, the deluge hit—and since my mission target was a burrito place with no indoor seating, I called the whole thing off and trudged to my own kitchen to stare listlessly into the cupboards.

A can of black beans. A bag of cornmeal. Hmm. An avocado on the counter, and some ripe tomatoes. Jalapeños in the fridge, and a larder full of staples: onions, garlic, cumin, chili powder. All the elements of a Texish-Mexish meal of some sort. But what sort?

The cornmeal pancake sort!

Cornmeal cake with black beans

A quick bit of Googling turned up a cornmeal pancake recipe by the ever-trusty Mark Bittman. His recipe appealed for its simplicity: no flour, no eggs, no fiddling around, just quick-soaked cornmeal loosened with milk and griddled with a bit of oil. Perfect, especially with an added pinch of chili powder and handful of grated cheddar. I zested up the canned black beans with sautéed onion, garlic, jalapeños and spices and spooned them over the warm corncake, topping everything with fresh chopped tomato and avocado, a soft dollop of thick yogurt, and a final dash of chili powder. And I was so surprised by how something so fast and easy could also be so pretty and tasty that I knew I wanted to share it with the world. So here’s the recipe (such as it is), in all its rough-hewn glory:

Serves 2 for lunch

Mix the cornmeal, salt, and optional chili powder. Stir in 3/4 cup boiling water and let the cornmeal absorb it for 5 to 10 minutes as you prepare the beans.

Heat a dash of vegetable oil in a frying pan and sauté the onion for a few minutes, until it begins to soften. Add the garlic, jalapeños, cumin, chili powder and salt and stir until they’re fragrant, then add the black beans and cook everything together for a few minutes. Taste for seasoning and set aside in a bowl.

Now get back to your corncakes. When the cornmeal has softened, thin it somewhat with about 1/4 cup milk, pouring the milk in a bit at a time until the mixture turns into a thick batter. Stir in the cheese if you’re using it. Wipe out your bean frying pan and heat it again over medium heat with a splash of vegetable oil. When it’s hot, spoon in the batter to make two pancakes (American-style pancakes, not crepes). Cook the cakes on one side until the edges and bottom start to brown, about 5 minutes, then flip and cook another few minutes until they’re cooked through. It’s okay if they’re a little soft and crumbly.

When the cakes are cooked, slide them onto a plate, top them with the beans, tomato, avocado, sour cream and a dusting of chili powder for prettiness. Sit, eat, and enjoy.

Beans and chilies

P.S. I made these strictly with what I had sitting around in my kitchen, which is probably different from what you have sitting around in your kitchen. If you’re vegan, or you can’t eat spicy food, or you hate avocados, or you have fresh corn or peppers that you need to use up, then you can easily adjust the recipe accordingly. The super-simple cornmeal cakes would make a great base for any number of toppings.

P.P.S. I was so excited with my lunch that I wrote this post as I was eating the corncake in question (take a bite, type, take a bite, type). Just as I was finishing it, the storm passed and the sun came out. If I had waited about half an hour, I could have gone out and gotten my burrito after all.

I’m glad I didn’t wait.


Muuuuy Deliciosos" Gracias por compartir esta receta

# Posted by Alexandra Haro on

Looks delicious! Just to clarify: is cornmeal the same as polenta?

# Posted by Rich on

Hi Rich, polenta and cornmeal are the same thing at heart - ground corn - but polenta cornmeal is generally medium to coarsely ground, while the cornmeal for this recipe (and for cornbread) would ideally be fine to medium. I reckon you could use polenta cornmeal here without too much trouble, but I might use a splash more water and soak it a bit longer to make sure the final corncakes aren’t gritty.

# Posted by Jessica on

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