Crispy cornmeal cakes and chard with chickpeas, olives and roasted red peppers

Corn cakes and chard

Corn cakes and chard

My favorite version of A Christmas Carol is from 1951, starring Alistair Sim. It captures the humor and the heart like no other version, and it captures the darkness as well. Visually, the play of light and shadow is beautiful, and it reminds us that the story of A Christmas Carol has a lot of darkness at its core. It’s despairing and macabrely funny, though it ends with an impression of warmth and hope. I’ve always found this scene powerful; it doesn’t shy away from the poverty and need that’s all around Scrooge, that he helps to cause with his business:

The children are ignorance and want, and they are the children of all mankind. This struck quite a chord with me this week. In these days following the horrible massacre of schoolchildren in Connecticut, which it’s impossible not to think about this season, it seemed as though all of us became parents. Everybody in the country, whether we have children of our own, whether our children are young or grown, we all became parents, we all became moved, responsible, hurt. And maybe that’s the way it should always be: we should always care for one another like we’re all children, which, of course, we are. And we should all take responsibility for ignorance and want. I was joking, yesterday, about finding the definitive meaning of Christmas. Of course, there is no one meaning, it has a different meaning for each person that observes the day, and even for those that leave it alone with indifference or with a bah humbug. I’ve been thinking a lot this season about children, and time passing, and I hope that I can fully understand this as my meaning of Christmas. I was so cranky and impatient this morning with my over-excited boys. I had so much catching up to do after a weekend of working, and the puppy-child cacophony left me feeling stressed and bewildered. But I don’t want to be like that, any more. Christmas is about the returning of the light. Days getting longer and brighter. I want to use that light to capture time as it’s passing, and imprint it somewhere inside of me, so that I recognize the beauty of my boys’ excitement, and their understanding of Christmas. So that I can keep it all year long, like Scrooge kept Christmas. That’s my Christmas wish.

Welladay!! I guess I’m feeling more serious than I thought! Let’s talk about food instead!! These little corn cakes were so tasty! I made a light, flavorful, eggy batter using only cornmeal, which gave it lots of depth and texture. And I fried them in a little olive oil. The mix of chard, chickpeas, roasted red peppers and olives is savory and delicious, warm and juicy and meaty. And very festive, all green, red and gold!

Here’s another track from my new favorite Christmas album…Jimmy Smith’s Silent Night.

CRISPY CORNMEAL CAKES

2 1/4 cups cornmeal
1 1/2 cups milk
4 T butter
1 t sage
1 t smoked paprika
lots of black pepper
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3 eggs
1 cup sharp cheddar

Warm the milk in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. When it starts to form little bubbles on the edges, add the butter, and stir until it’s just melted.

In a small bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients, and stir to mix.

Pour the dry ingredients in a steady stream into the milk, beating the whole time, until you have a smooth, thick batter. Turn off the heat but continue to cook and stir for about five minutes, so that it thickens and looses it’s raw cornmeal taste.

Let cool a few minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then stir in the cheese. Spread the batter in an even layer about 1/2 inch thick on a buttered tray. Cool in the fridge for about an hour.

Warm some olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat (to a depth of about 1/3 inch).

Using a spatula, mark out a piece of batter about 2 inches by 4, and scoop it up and drop it gently in the oil. It won’t come out in a perfect slab. Cook till browned and crispy on the bottom, after a few minutes, then flip to cook until the other side is browned and crispy. If the oil starts to smoke, turn down the heat a bit. I could cook two at a time. Keep them in a warm oven until ready to eat.

THE CHARD

1 large bunch chard, washed, stems removed, roughly chopped
1 large red pepper, roasted, skinned, seeds removed, roughly chopped
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t sage
1 t basil
1 t rosemary
1 t red pepper flakes, or to taste
dash balsamic
salt and plenty of pepper

Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and all of the herbs, and stir and cook until the garlic starts to brown. Add the roasted peppers, olives and chickpeas, stir and cook for a minute or two. Add the chard and a few tablespoonfuls of water, and cook until the chard is wilted and bright. Stir in the tomatoes, and continue to cook till they’re just a bit soft. Season well with salt and pepper.

Spoon over the corn cakes to serve.

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One thought on “Crispy cornmeal cakes and chard with chickpeas, olives and roasted red peppers

  1. Ooh! I do believe I have all the ingredients for those corn cakes right here – I could make them on Boxing Day, when I always feel a little mournful. Plus I’m giving up carbs for the new year, so I obviously need to eat all I can till then.

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