Growing up in Wichita, Kan., we usually had our Thanksgiving dinner following a hot, humid summer and a mild fall. The holiday provided a much-needed warm meal just before the air got cold and we started praying for snow days from St. Jude Catholic School. Mama’s Mexican spices added an extra layer of warmth — she spiked the soup with cumin, seasoned the potatoes with chili powder, and most importantly, cooked the cornbread dressing with jalapeños.
In its potent combination of sweet and spicy flavors, this Tex-Mex version of Turkey Day stuffing was a staple and family favorite, multitasking as a side dish, dessert, and next day entrée. I was nearly 30 years old when I visited Texas for the first time. I drove across the state and everywhere I went, I saw Mama’s music and mannerisms, which she had unwittingly brought to the Midwest when she left her hometown of Sinton, Texas as a teenager in the 1970s. And I also saw cornbread. With jalapeños!
So my mother was not the sole inventor of jalapeño cornbread? How could this be?!
Although shocked at this discovery, I never saw the bricks of jalapeño cornbread stacked all over Texas as a challenge to Mama’s originality. This is a woman who has always favored “delicious” and “nutritious” over “traditional” or “authentic.” Both self taught and professionally trained, she treats her kitchen like a laboratory where she constantly experiments with new ingredients and techniques. A few years ago, she spent months figuring out the perfect ratio of whole wheat flour to white flour for tortillas, and if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on them today, they’ll also have flax and fennel seeds. In the spirit of her continuously evolving style of cooking, she has recently added sautéed vegetables, lemon juice, and even a little ginger to her beloved jalapeño cornbread dressing. Enjoy, and in homage to Margarita Bermeo, innovate!
Margarita’s Jalapeño Cornbread Dressing
Margarita is not the only Texan who makes jalapeño cornbread, but she’s our favorite. And she adds ginger! We dare you not to love this dressing.
6 jalapeños, veins and seeds removed, minced
1 large red bell pepper, sliced thing
1 green pepper, sliced thin
1 head of garlic, smashed with a pinch of salt (if you freeze it first, it’s easier to smash)
7 scallions, chopped or 1 medium onion, chopped
l can of whole corn, thoroughly drained, or 16 oz. of frozen
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
3 tablespoons neutral oil
1 handful fresh sage leaves, chiffonade
32 oz. vegetable stock
Reserve the sage and vegetable stock. Saute the remaining vegetables in a large, very clean pan with the oil, and let rest while you make the cornbread.
4 cups yellow corn meal
4 cups all purpose flour or bread flour
4 tablespoons of sugar
5 tablespoons of baking powder
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of salt
4 cups of milk
2 lemons, zest and juice
4 large eggs
1 cup of neutral oil
Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine all dry ingredients and mix together thoroughly. Combine wet ingredients in a larger bowl and mix together thoroughly. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet, mixing thoroughly. Check at 45 minutes. If it is getting too dark but the inside is still uncooked, lower temp to 375°F until it is baked through, about 1 hour. Let cool for 1 hour. When you are ready to bake the dressing, combine the cornbread, sautéed veggies, vegetable stock, and sage, mixing well. Add to oiled pans and bake at 375°F until the top is nicely browned and crunchy, about 30 minutes.