I owe an apology to anyone who comes here regularly for Middle Eastern recipes- it's not that I haven't been cooking Middle Eastern food, I made taboule just the other day, but mainly it's just those usual staples that I've shared with you here before. Besides, I hope you don't just come here for Middle Eastern recipes, because if that's the case I probably lost you months ago.
But also I was at a conference a week ago where we were discussing the failures of recent American diplomacy in the Middle East. A well-known commentator was criticizing Karen Hughes tenure at the State Department (I should know, I worked under her then), and he described growing up in the Middle East and hearing jazz for the first time on the radio, and falling in love with American blues. He continued that French President Nicholas Sarkozy, when asked about his pro-U.S. views, also talked about hearing American jazz as a kid. The point was that the U.S. does not need to try to sell itself to a specifically Middle Eastern audience (with propaganda like Al Hurra), that we have a culture full of merits that should be selling points on their own. Yes, we need to hire people who speak Arabic and understand Middle Eastern culture, but we also need to hire people who are passionate about American music and art and history.
This got me thinking about a lot of things (like what kind of culture is the U.S. exporting today?), but also about how living in the Middle East taught me just as much about what I love about the U.S. and what I appreciate about where I came from. When I make a new Middle Eastern recipe, I approach it with an academic vigor: I research, I test, I read, I write. But when I go walk around the market on the weekends and think about what I want to cook for dinner, it's those simple-local-fresh things that I want. Not necessarily the foods I grew up with, but those that are sort of indigenous, in a way. Which is why I've got several Middle Eastern recipes in process, but there's fresh corn spoonbread on my dinner table.
Fresh Corn Spoonbread
Loosely adapted from various sources, including Boone Tavern's spoonbread recipe.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
3 cups milk
1 cup white cornmeal
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 large ear of sweet white corn, or 2 smaller ears corn
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs, well beaten
1. Preheat oven 350F. Grease a 9" round souffle dish or small casserole.
2. Working over a medium-size saucepan, cut the corn from the cob into the pan, then scrape the cob with the back of the knife to get any of the corn juices. Add the milk, butter, and salt to the saucepan with the corn and bring the mixture to a gentle boil, stirring so that the butter melts. In a slow steady stream, whisk in the cornmeal. Stir vigorously to incorporate the cornmeal, until the mixture is thick and bubbling, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Add the baking powder and eggs to the cornmeal mixture and stir well. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the surface is nicely browned. Serve immediately.