I'm biased towards Latino food. There's just something about those flavor combinations that keep me coming back for more. Maybe its those charred, spicy peppers, or that fresh green cilantro, but nothing says comfort to me like some south- of-the-border flavors. And with these February winds whipping around, I want my food to remind me of someplace warm, ideally with a margarita nearby. Enter Tamale Pie. Made with locally grown cornmeal, meats, and eggs, this spin on the Mexican classic has plenty of homegrown Illinois flavor, but one bite will send you dreaming of palm tree hammocks and ocean breezes. Wash it down with a pitcher of margaritas and you'll forget all about this Illinois winter. And even better, it's healthy enough to keep you looking trim for that real tropical vacation you've got planned.
1 cup locally grown cornmeal (Mine was purchased from Beth Rinkenberger of Garden Gate Farm)
¾ cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (farm fresh is always best!)
1½ cups buttermilk (I hate buying buttermilk for one recipe because I never use it all and the rest just sits in my fridge going to waste. Good thing its easy to make a buttermilk substitute at home. Just add a tablespoon or so of vinegar to a cup of milk and let it sit for a minute. It will begin to curdle somewhat, and ta-da! you've got buttermilk.)
1 can enchilada sauce (this could be made homemade as well with that tomato sauce you canned last summer: homemade enchilada sauce)
2 cups shredded pork, chicken, or beans (for a vegetarian option)
1 pepper, 1 zucchini, 1 onion (or your favorite vegetables of choice)
1 tablespoon taco seasoning
2 tablespoons chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, optional but highly recommended.
Preheat oven to 400. Lightly grease a 9x9 pan or a 10" cast iron skillet.
In a large bowl, mix together your cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt baking powder and baking soda.
In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, applesauce, eggs, and buttermilk. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture, and stir just until combined. Your batter will be lumpy - that's okay! Pour the batter into your baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes.
While the cornmeal bakes, dice your veggies and throw them into a hot skillet with a little bit of oil. Sautee for 1-2 minutes. You don't want to cook them all the way through as they'll finish cooking in the oven. You just want to brown the edges a little.
Combine shredded meat or beans with taco seasoning and chipotle peppers.
Remove pan from oven after 20 minutes and reduce heat to 350. Poke holes with a fork all over the top of your cornbread (it won't be quite set in the center). Pour enchilada sauce over the crust.
Sprinkle veggies over the top of the crust, followed by the meat and/or bean. Top with shredded cheese. Cover dish with foil, and return to oven for an additional 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted. If your cheese isn't quite melted, remove foil and bake for another 5 minutes.
Allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.
Serve with fresh toppings of choice.
And while you're enjoying that Tamale Pie, here's some more food for thought. What one crop do you think of when you think of Illinois? Chances are you said corn. You can't drive down the high-way without staring at miles of fields stretching into the horizon. But think for a second about the last time you bought cornmeal from corn grown in Illinois. Chances are, it was never. Cornfields cover the state but yet we rarely see it on our table. Why is that? Most Illinois corn is not raised for immediate human consumption. In fact, a large portion goes into feeding livestock or making ethanol, while another large portion is exported or processed into products such as high fructose corn syrup. Not exactly the most beloved of ingredients. However, as the demand for locally grown and wholesome ingredients grows, thanks to concerned and educated consumers, a few farmers and foodies across the state have started looking at growing grains in a new light. Why import from other states and countries when we can grow it here ourselves? Growing corn to make cornmeal is an obvious choice, but wheat, oats, buckwheat, rye, and sorghum can all thrive in Illinois and are suitable for all sorts of bread and bakery products as well. And in fact, a new group, the Grand Prairie Grain Guild, hopes to get the ball rolling on Illinois grain for restaurants and grocery store shelves. You can read more about this pioneering group here, or ask to join their facebook page in order to learn more about recipes, local grain mills, and where to find local grains for yourself.