Monday, July 20, 2009

Meatless Monday: Pan-Roasted Corn-and-Cumin Corn Bread

Over the past month, I've been reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, which discusses the "politics, perils, and pleasures of eating." I'm about 2/3 of the way in now and have learned a lot (despite Pollan's clunky writing style) about industrial vs. self-sustained farming and the ubiquitous of corn in our American diet. I started the book on a flight to the Midwest, which was interesting timing because we spent 4 days of our trip on my inlaws' farm. Their type of farming falls in line with what Pollan would consider industrial farming - i.e., bad for the environment and for consumers' health. It was awkward to be reading about crop chemical run-off getting into the water reserves as my father-in-law tried to downplay officials' warnings about high algae counts in the nearby lake. (He wanted to take us out on his boat.) Part of me wanted to recommend the book to him (I mean, why not? He suggested The Dawkins Delusion to us!), but I thought better of it because there are parts of the book I find offensive and am sure he would too - e.g., this quote from a farmer who practices self-sustaining farming:
"Part of the problem is, you've got a lot of D students left on the farm today. . . . The guidance counselors encouraged all the A students to leave home and go to college. There's a tremendous brain drain in rural America. Of course that suits Wall Street just fine; Wall Street is always trying to extract brainpower and capital from the countryside. First they take the brightest bulbs off the farm and put them to work in Dilbert's cubicle, and then they go after the capital of the dimmer ones who stayed behind, by selling them a bunch of gee-whiz solutions to their problems."
I don't think my father-in-law would take kindly to being referred to as "dim." He and my (college-educated) brother-in-law are very smart people and farm their land intelligently and responsibly. My mother-in-law is one in a line of farmers (or farmer's wives) who also happened to be valedictorians of their classes, and she and her husband produced two PhD sons. These people should not have to defend their intelligence and Pollan should be ashamed for perpetuating the stereotype of the "country bumpkin."

. . .

In any event, it was also funny to be in the Midwest reading about the evil's of industrial corn farming at the same time that the first few ears were ripe enough to pick and eat. People, there is nothing better than eating such fresh, sweet corn. And, when we returned to California, we found more fresh corn in our CSA box. How could I bring myself to eat corn without feeling guilty after everything I'd just read? Easy. The corn at my in-laws' house and from my CSA box wasn't the industrial type of corn that travels hundreds of miles or goes through a mirade of processes to turn it into different chemical compounds. I was eating it directly:
"To eat corn directly (as Mexicans and many Africans do) is to consume all the energy in that corn, but when you feed that corn to a steer or a chicken, 90 percent of its energy is lost - to bones or feathers or fur, to living and metabolizing as a steer or chicken. This is why vegetarians advocate eating 'low on the food chain'; every step up the chain reduces the amount of food energy by a factor of ten, which is why in any ecosystem there are only a fraction as many predators as there are prey."
This is what I decided to make from some of the corn we got in our CSA box - a great side for any Mexican dish or chili:

Pan-Roasted Corn-and-Cumin Corn Bread

As can sometimes happen, I made a big blunder when putting the ingredients of this recipe together and somehow managed to forget to add a key ingredient - flour! Yikes! I also didn't have an 8-inch pan that was safe to go from the stove to the oven, so I was spreading the corn bread mixture out a little more thinly in an 11-inch pan. The result was something less like bread and more like . . . well, I don't know really. It was thinner, certainly, and a little crispy. And, you know what? I REALLY LIKED IT! Oftentimes, messing up a recipe can lead to disastrous results (like the time I mistook the powdered sugar for the flour when making turkey gravy for Thanksgiving - Ooh Nelly, yes, it was as bad as it sounds), but every so often, you get lucky. Yay for happy accidents!

So, feel free to make your own corn bread as the recipe suggests or to skip the flour as I did. If you cook it like I did, though, you'll just want to leave it in the oven for less time. I think I took mine out at the 15-minute mark. Whichever way you choose to make it, I think you'll like the results. The roasted corn and cumin work well together to create a different flavor than you experience in your typical corn bread - not drastically different, but just different enough to be refreshing, I think. Yum.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

Other Meatless Monday posts

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