Cornbread & Black bean salad

I’ve just returned from Mexico.

Having first crossed the border into Tijuana in January 2001 and feeling sure the tourist hassling markets, donkeys painted to look like zebras and souvenir bottles of worm pickled tequila was all Mexico had to offer, I’m ashamed to admit my expectations were low. Curious but low nonetheless.

I was very wrong. In fact I’m certain Mexico has stolen my heart.

I’ve eaten some of the most delicious food – from dining in organic salad bars in the ever trendy district of Condesa in Mexico City, to sampling street food in the insanely bustling markets of Merida. I’ve eaten countless avocados peeled on boat trips to visit some of the most breathtakingly magical islands, and tasted some of the most delicious swordfish ceviche and tuna carpaccio, while watching pelicans fish for their supper.

Naturally I had to get back in the kitchen as soon as I could, to test out some of the flavours I’d sampled. One ingredient you can’t avoid in Mexico is corn; ground into flour for tortillas and tamales, it’s also used in drinks and, of course, in its natural state – steamed and charred for a crunchy sweetness.

With a friend coming over for lunch and to admire my collection of ceramic ‘day of the dead’ skulls and vibrantly colourful Mexican wrestling masks (!), I just had to cook up a Mexican feast, using corn as the key ingredient. What better lunch than a cheesy chilli cornbread and black bean salad?

The cornbread recipe is borrowed from Jamie Oliver, however I’d recommend ramping up the heat with extra chillies. Caramelised onions and corn add a sweetness to the bread, while the perfect pairing of chilli and cheese adds extra depth of flavour. Served with a zesty and crunchy black bean salad, this brightly colourful lunch is a great slice of freshness, summer and comfort all in one. The black bean salad is borrowed from Jenn Segal, however I’ve adjusted some of the quantities to lessen the salt and increased the zesty lime.

 

Cornbread – serves 8

2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 corn on the cob – steamed then sliced along the core to cut off all the kernels

4 large eggs (preferably free range or organic) , beaten

325 g coarse cornmeal or polenta

250 ml full-fat milk

1 teaspoon baking powder

6 tablespoons plain flour

pinch of sea salt

pinch of freshly ground black pepper

140 g freshly grated mature Cheddar cheese

3 fresh green chillies, 2 of them deseeded and finely chopped, the other finely sliced (personally I’d add another deseeded and finely chopped chilli in here)

Olive oil

Preheat your oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas 6, grease and line a 22cm loose bottomed cake tin.

Fry the sliced onions gently in a little oil for 15-20 minutes, until caramelized, golden and sticky. Meanwhile steam the corn on the cob for 10minutes and once steamed allow to cool slightly so you can handle it.

Hold the cob upright and carefully run a small knife from the top of the corn to the bottom, cutting all the kernels off. Add these to the pan with the onions and cook for a further 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

In a bowl, mix your eggs, cornmeal, milk, baking powder, flour, a good pinch of salt and pepper and most of your grated cheese. Beat until well mixed, then stir in the cooled onion and corn mixture plus the 2 (or 3) finely chopped chillies.

Pour mix into tin and sprinkle the chilli slices on top, then pop the cornbread into the oven to bake for 35 minutes.

About 10 minutes before it’s ready, pull it out, sprinkle over your remaining Cheddar and return it to the oven.

Once ready, let it cool for 15 minutes, then turn it out on to a wire rack or serving plate, cheesy side up.

Best served warm, but if you are making it in advance it’s easy to heat up a few slices in the oven or a dry pan.

 

 

Black bean salad – serves 8

2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained

2 corn on the cob – steamed then sliced along the core to cut off all the kernels

2 red peppers, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 shallots

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

2 tbsp sugar

9 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp lime zest

2-3 fresh limes – juiced

a good handful of chopped fresh coriander

2 avocados, chopped

Combine all ingredients except for the avocados in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and chill for a few hours (or overnight preferably – it gets better the longer it marinades).

Just before serving add the chopped avocado and toss gently, to avoid the avocado going mushy.

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