I'm not always the best at "going with the flow, " and I don't particularly consider myself to be easy going. I like order. I like plans. And I like to know what's coming and what to expect. I only like surprises if I didn't know the surprise was coming (as in, don't tell me "I have a surprise for you!" and then make me wait!). Oh, right. I'm also impatient.
Thus, cooking on the fly is not really my thing. Sure, I make up and develop my own recipes, but it's always with a plan in place already, or at the very least, a general idea of what I'm going for. Never do I start cooking dinner without having at least a vague idea of what I want to end up eating.
But maybe I should. Because that's what I did when I created this dinner. I picked up a bounty of beautiful produce that morning at the farmer's market, with no real intention or plan for any of it. I knew I wanted to make a veggie-heavy dinner that night, but that's all the direction I had. So I started by cooking my black eyed peas and chopping some veggies. I thought about making some sort of bean burger with the black eyed peas, a southern vegetable risotto, a hash topped with a runny egg, or a simple veggie-heavy salad. But then I struck gold when I recalled these okra-cormeal pancakes I've had saved for ages. And I thought they'd go well with my black eyed pea salad. I was done! Or so I thought… I'd picked up a wheel of the most amazing aged goat cheese that morning at the market, and I decided to incorporate that as well.
I ended up creating a napoleon of sorts… or rather, stacks of deliciousness if you don't want to use fancy terminology. Buttery, crisp okra cornmeal pancakes, topped with whipped goat cheese and black eyed pea salad… repeat layers. Absolutely incredible, and for sure one of the highlights of my summer cooking. This dinner totally hit the spot, and we were exclaiming and "mmm-ing" with every bite. My picky toddlers even ate the pancakes, okra and all!
So lesson learned: sometimes it's nice to loosen the reigns a bit, and just cook through improv. And while I'm at it, maybe I should apply that same advice to my life. It can't hurt, right?!
Okra-Cornmeal Cakes with Whipped Goat Cheese
cakes adapted from Basic to Brilliant, Y'all; Whipped Goat Cheese from Smitten Kitchen
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2 Tbs melted butter
- 1 1/2 cups water, plus more if needed
- 8 oz okra, stems trimmed, sliced 1/2 inch thick
- 1 jalapeño, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- canola oil, for frying
- 3 Tbs heavy cream
- 4 oz goat cheese, softened
- black eyed pea salad
Line a baking sheet with paper towels or a lint-free kitchen towel, and set aside.
Prepare the batter by whisking together the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Combine the egg, butter, and water in a large liquid measuring cup. Pour into the dry ingredients and whisk until just incorporated. Add the okra, jalapeño, and garlic, and stir to combine, using a wooden spoon (The batter is thick, but not dry. Add water if needed, a few tablespoons at a time).
Heat half of the oil over medium heat in a 12-inch skillet, preferably cast iron. Scoop 1/4 cup of batter into the skillet, and use the back of a spoon or the measuring cup to press the batter into an even layer. Repeat with more batter to make as many pancakes as you can fit into a single layer without crowding (likely 3-4 per batch). Cook until the bottoms of the cake are brown and bubbles begin to form on the tops, about 2 to 3 minutes. Use a spatula to turn the cakes, and cook on the second side, an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the lined baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and repeat with the remaining batter and oil.
Meanwhile, use an electric mixer to whip the heavy cream until peaks form. Add the goat cheese and beat until the cheese is light and fluffy.
To assemble, spread about a tablespoon of the whipped goat cheese on an okra cake, and top that with a spoonful of the black eyed pea salad. Repeat with another okra cake, more goat cheese, and finally a healthy spoonful of salad. Serve.