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A Bag or Two of Cornmeal, 5 Dinners

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Put time into dinner now, and you can make it last forever -- or at least the whole week. Welcome to Halfway to Dinner, where we show you how to stretch your staples -- or your seasonal produce -- every which way.

Today: Cornmeal is about so much more than polenta. QueenSashy, longtime Food52er and the voice behind Three Little Halves, shares 5 recipes that will make a cornmeal convert out of even the most adamant abstainer. 

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Very few of us can say no to a bowl of warm polenta or crunchy cornmeal-coated chicken or fish, but my dad is a notable exception. Growing up during World War II and eating nothing but polenta for five long years, he swore to never taste it again. "There is no dish that could make me eat cornmeal," he used to say.

For many of us, cornmeal is synonymous with polenta and fried chicken, and our culinary imaginations do venture far beyond that. I, too, was guilty as charged, at least until I decided to prove my dad wrong. A couple of dishes later, Dad is a cornmeal convert and we have enough new family favorites for a weeklong cornmeal feast -- without saying polenta more than once. Here are the 5 recipes that get us through the week:

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Spiced Chard Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuits
This cobbler will reward you in many different ways. The creamy sautéed chard inside is warm and comforting; the spices bring a dash of adventure; there is a touch of heat, should you decide you are up for it; and the golden biscuits on top are the star of the dish (especially if you invest in a set of glamorous cookie cutters like stars, leaves, or even flowers!). But most importantly, the biscuits are a magnet for kids, enticing even the tiniest members of mankind to eat their serving of chard without blinking once.

More: The best cornmeal makes for the best dishes.


Cornmeal and Vegetable Financiers
For more elaborate occasions, these cornbreads are the perfect companion to stews, chilies, and soups, but on a regular weeknight, they make a delicious dinner on their own (I like to eat them accompanied by a glass of kefir). You can easily substitute any of the vegetables with something else: peppers, peas, julienned carrots, or cornichons -- the possibilities are endless.

More: Use extra cornmeal to make Cheddar and Black Pepper Cornbread.

Creamy Polenta with Sautéed Apples, Mushrooms, and Calvados
Okay yes: This is a bowl of polenta, but a week of cornmeal dinners would not be complete without one. Plus, the sauté of apples and mushrooms gives the good old polenta a nice makeover, while the kiss of booze seals the deal.

More: Craving polenta for breakfast, too? Try this Blueberry Almond Breakfast Polenta.


Cornmeal-Crusted Smashed Fried Okra
Cornmeal and buttermilk batter has that wonderful capacity of transforming proteins and vegetables into something more exciting. Believe it or not, my absolute favorite cornmeal-crusted food is okra, the funny little vegetable so many love to hate due to the characteristic "goo" it releases when cooked. It turns out that smashing okra makes the goo go away, leaving nothing but wonderful okra flavor encrusted in golden cornmeal goodness. 


Cornmeal and Manchego "Flatbreads"
It takes only 15 minutes of work and about 35 minutes of baking, and voilà! Out of the oven comes this distant cousin to baked polenta. It’s thin and savory -- crispy on the outside, yet fluffy on the inside. When you serve it with sliced fresh tomatoes or a bowl of arugula and a glass of red wine or a cold IPA, you’ll have a wonderful rustic dinner that practically makes itself.

Cornmeal and Manchego "Flatbreads"

Serves 4
 
3 1/2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely ground cornmeal
3 tablespoons butter plus 1 tablespoon for greasing the baking dishes

4 to 6 ounces aged Manchego, finely grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by QueenSashy


Tags: halfway to dinner, everyday cooking, weeknight dinners, cornmeal, polenta, corn