A recipe challenge to help you get whole grains into your mouth,
not just your kitchen.
My friend Amy has been on a grain trip for the last few years, a pretty wild ride from what I’ve seen. Through it, we’ve been talking a lot about our baking habits, her love of pancakes and grains and farms and farmers, our slavery to our vegetable gardens and greedy need to preserve every last morsel we harvest, the wild joy of free food (aka foraging), and my personal addiction with cupcakes. So when she invited me to go head to head in the kitchen, challenging each other on the whole grain frontier, I imagined something akin to Fight Club with groats. Grain warrior fantasies aside, I knew I could never whip her in the kitchen arena, but I thought it would be fun to cook our favorite meals together, virtually, anyway. She would be upstate and me down. We would use lots of interesting whole grains, share our insights, write it up, and slap ourselves on the back with self praise.
When I got ready to start my first challenge I checked my pantry to see what ingredients I had, of the whole grain kind. A sack of Heckers whole wheat flour, a box of Quaker yellow corn meal, and a small bag of Uncle Ben’s brown rice sat on the shelf, hemmed in by a dizzying selection of not-so-whole-grain ultra-refined flours and flour extractions. Not a great start…my predilection for all-purpose revealed. Amy had confessed that she needed this push to get whole grains off the pantry shelf and onto her plate, my challenge was clearly to get them in the front door. Meanwhile I was determined to complete my first recipe right out of the pantry, just as I had found it. If I couldn’t make whole grain cooking work with everyday ingredients what was the point?
My sister and I had been discussing cornbread over the holidays and I wondered if I could be happy with a whole grain version of our mom’s traditional Southern recipe. So to get the grain challenge started I threw together a batter using a 50-50 mix of flour and corn meal, substituting whole wheat for my usual all-purpose. I was tempted to leave the baking soda at 1 teaspoon, but to make sure the whole wheat produced the crumble I love I settled on 2 teaspoons. Amazingly the pan of bread not only looked golden and beautiful, just like my mom’s, it tasted great, too. I had my first whole grain recipe under my belt.
Basking in the glory, I still had a nagging worry that although it was certainly whole grain, just making a pan of whole wheat corn bread wasn’t entirely in the spirit of our challenge. I went foraging in the fridge and found I had lots of black-eyed peas left over from New Years Day, part of my Southern first day ritual. So I got the idea of putting the peas into a corn batter and frying them like fritters. I’ve seen recipes for black-eyed pea fritters before but they were deep fried balls of raw peas, and I saw these more like a spicy hush puppy with cooked black-eyed peas in the center.
I made a batter for now-famous (in my mind) whole wheat corn bread and added a couple scoops of drained peas. I had undercooked the peas a bit on purpose, so they weren’t mushy at all, nice and firm. I added chopped scallions and chopped jalapeño pepper for a little kick. In an attempt to be healthy I decided to pan fry my first batch in olive oil. The results were okay, but a little too much like a big soggy crab cake, not at all like a hush puppy. I realized they needed to be deep fried, something else very close to my Southern heart. For the second batch I bought stone ground organic corn meal and this time added more peas to the batter, more scallions and much more jalapeño pepper. I fried them in about three inches of peanut oil at a rolling boil, until they were golden brown and cooked through. Second time hit the mark. They tasted like a spicy hush puppy with bits of crispy fried black-eyed peas on the crust and soft peas inside. I served them with a puréed green sauce made from green onions, lime juice, olive oil, a splash of vinegar, and lots of culantro, an herb similar to cilantro that is available in Hispanic grocers in my area. Next time I might try them with a spicy pepper sauce like a sambal, or go whole hog Southern and have them with a plate of collard greens. They all sound good to me.
RECIPE: WHOLE GRAIN BLACK-EYED PEA FRITTERS
Makes 18-24 fritters depending on size
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup stone ground corn meal (medium grind)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup veg oil or shortening
1 small bunch scallion, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped, more if you can take it
1 1/2 cups black eye peas, cooked firm, not mushy, drained
Oil for frying
Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl and blend well. Add buttermilk, beaten egg, and 1/4 cup oil. Stir just until dry ingredients are completely incorporated into the liquids. Fold in scallions and jalapeño. Add peas last, folding just enough to distribute throughout mixture, taking care not to mash them.
Add about 3 inches of frying oil to pan and heat to about 375 degrees, just so a small drop of the batter starts to sizzle as soon as it hits the oil. Using a teaspoon, add balls of batter to the oil, just a few at the time, don’t overcrowd them. Fry till golden on one side, flip them with a slotted spoon, and let them finish frying until completely golden. At this point they should also be cooked on the inside. Use the slotted spoon to lift them out of the oil, letting the excess drain back into the pan, and transfer to a platter lined with paper towels. Continue frying in small batches until the batter is finished.
RECIPE: Southern-Style Whole Wheat Corn Bread
Makes one pan corn bread
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup yellow corn meal
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil or shortening
Combine dry ingredients, mixing well. Add in buttermilk, egg, and oil. Stir just until dry ingredients are completely incorporated into the liquids. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat heavy-weight skillet with oil or shortening, and heat skillet on the stovetop, but don’t let smoke. Add batter to hot skillet and reduce heat. Cook for two or three minutes on stovetop and transfer skillet to 400 degree oven. Cook until top of bread is golden brown and firm, about 18 to 20 minutes. Cool for a few minutes in pan and then turn out onto cooling rack.