When I think of corn and beans, I naturally think of Mexico, where they – along with chili peppers – form the bedrock of the cuisine. The corn is typically in the form of masa, made into such delights as tortillas, tamales, tostadas and the rimmed masa boats called sopes.
Making masa from scratch isn’t for the lazy. It involves treating dried field corn with slaked lime, washing and grinding. When I tried to do it a few years ago with my sister and brother-in-law in southern Maine, using corn they grew, it took much trial and error – not to mention time – to get the texture right for making tortillas. At home in Washington, I do what so many households in Mexico do, and use instant masa harina. The resulting tortillas don’t approach the ideal, but they’re way better than store-bought.
Even instant-masa tortillas, though, take some dexterity (and practice), which is why when I’m rushed for time I like making something a little more free-form and forgiving. I press masa balls with my hand into flat (but not super-thin) disks, then pan-fry them in a little oil so they get crispy on the edges but stay soft inside. From Jessica Murnane’s new book, “One Part Plant” (Harper Wave, $27.99, 256 pages), I got another idea: to mix the dough first with fresh (or frozen and defrosted) corn kernels, giving them even more color, texture and a burst of flavor.
What to top them with? Choose your favorite combination of protein, cheese, spice and crunchy vegetable, thinking of the ways you might fill a taco or top a tostada. In my mind, though, there’s one must-have: beans.
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Corn cakes with black bean spread
Serves 4 (2 cakes each)
Make ahead: The masa dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days before forming it into the cakes and pan-frying. You may have slightly more bean spread than you need for this recipe. The spread can be refrigerated for up to 1 week; let it come to room temperature before smearing on the cakes.
Find masa harina at Latin markets or in the international aisle of most big grocery stores. Look for frozen grilled corn kernels at Whole Foods Market.
Adapted from “One Part Plant,” by Jessica Murnane (HarperWave, $27.99, 256 pages).
1 cup masa harina (corn) flour, such as Maseca brand (see note above)
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more as needed
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
1 cup boiled, grilled or roasted corn kernels (fresh or frozen/defrosted; see note above)
1 3/4 cups cooked black beans (from one 15-ounce can no-salt-added), drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or more as needed
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika (pimenton dulce; optional)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1/2 cup lightly packed shredded red or green cabbage (may substitute radicchio)
Flesh of 1 ripe Hass avocado, cubed, for garnish
1/4 cup salsa verde, for garnish
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese (may substitute queso blanco), for garnish
Whisk together the masa and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a medium bowl. Slowly stir in the warm water until well incorporated. Stir in the corn; you might need to use your hands to form a dough with a Play-Doh-like consistency. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
Combine the black beans, lime juice, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, cumin and the smoked paprika, if using, in a food processor; pulse until the mixture is almost smooth. Taste, and add more salt and/or lime juice, as needed. The yield is about 1 1/4 cups.
Divide the masa dough into 8 equal pieces and roll each one into a ball. Working with one at a time, place a ball between two pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Use your palm to gently press and flatten each ball into a cake about 4 inches wide and 1/4-inch thick.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil; once it shimmers, add as many cakes as you can fit without overcrowding, working in batches as necessary. Cover with a lid and cook until the corn cakes are browned in spots on the bottom, about 3 minutes.
Turn them over, cover and cook until the second sides are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the corn cakes to a platter. Add more oil, if necessary, between batches, and repeat with any remaining cakes.
Smear each corn cake with about 2 tablespoons of the black bean spread. Top with shredded cabbage, avocado, a drizzle of salsa verde and a little feta, and serve.
Per serving (using 1 cup bean spread and 2 tablespoons oil): 270 calories, 10 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 380 mg sodium, 8 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar