Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Cornmeal

Corn often gets a bad reputation for several reasons – it’s associated with genetically-modified crops, it’s hard to digest, and it has a high starch content. Here’s a little known fact about corn – it’s a whole grain.  Which means it’s high in fiber and can help you feel full and satisfied for a long time.  It’s also a good source of iron and the B vitamins. 

Although corn is a grain, most people consider it to be a vegetable; it may be higher in calories than most veggies, but it’s a smart, low-calorie choice in the “whole grain” world.  I am not a huge fan of whole corn (although I do like to eat it on the cob during the summer, when it’s at its peak), but I do like cooking and baking with cornmeal.  Cornmeal carries almost the same nutritional benefits as whole corn, and it’s much easier to digest, since the corn has been ground thin.  It comes in several different colors and varieties and is a staple of many different ethnic cuisines.  The following recipes showcase two variations on cornmeal, and one of them even sneaks in another Healthy Ingredient of the Week!


Pumpkin Polenta with Black Beans

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 15-ounce can low-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
2 roasted red peppers, chopped
3 cups vegetable stock or broth
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1 cup quick-cooking or instant polenta (Italian cornmeal!)
1 tbsp (or 4 sprigs) chopped fresh thyme
1 cup shredded Manchego or sharp cheddar cheese
salt and black pepper, to taste

1.  Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the olive oil and onions; cook for 3-4 minutes.
2.  Add the black beans and peppers and heat through for 1-2 minutes.
3.  In a large saucepan, bring the vegetable stock and butter to a boil and stir in the pumpkin.  Add the polenta and stir until it forms a mass (about 2 minutes).
4.  Remove pan saucepan from the heat and add thyme, salt, pepper, and cheese.  Season to taste.
5.  Pour the polenta onto plates and top with the bean mixture.
Serves 4.

Adapted from the cookbook Rachel Ray 365:  No Repeats.  New York:  Clarkson Potter/Publishers. November 2005.

Blue Corn Pancakes

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup blue cornmeal
Pinch salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
2 large eggs
1 ½ to 2 cups milk
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fresh blueberries

1.  Preheat a nonstick griddle.
2.  Mix together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
3.  Beat the eggs and 1 ½ cups of the milk in a medium bowl until combined, then stir in the melted butter.
3.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
4.  Gently fold in the blueberries. If the batter seems too thick, add some of the remaining milk.
5.  Ladle approximately 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle for each pancake. Cook until the bottom is light golden brown, flip, and continue cooking for about 30 seconds.

Makes 12 pancakes, or 4 servings.

Adapted from the Food Network 




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