Kentucky cooks share their recipes for corn bread salad

swthompson@herald-leader.comSeptember 4, 2013 

Corn bread salad is one of those potluck dishes that is a hit at summer gatherings and tailgate parties when fresh tomatoes are at their peak.

Corn bread salad is the Southern version of the Italian panzanella bread salad, which is made with crusty bread cubes and fresh garden tomatoes. There are many versions of this hearty salad, and we asked readers to send in their recipes, which are good ways to use up those wonderful backyard tomatoes and bell peppers.

Dozens of readers sent recipes, and many are basically the same, but here are some with personal adaptations. Many start with a corn bread mix, such as Jiffy, while others begin with a homemade mixture made in a cast-iron skillet.

Because corn bread salad is best made during the summer, when tomatoes are at their best, Doug Emerson of Lexington prefers heirloom tomatoes, but "any tomato that comes off the field in late August is to die for," he said.

Emerson likes the tomatoes peeled because "my mama always did. I like the effect a lot, but your salad will lack nothing if you use skin-on and pedigree-free tomatoes." Emerson starts the dish with freshly made corn bread.

Kaaren Westlund of Winchester prefers corn bread made from stone ground meal. "That is what really makes the salad," she said.

The recipe is versatile because cooks can use "more or less of a particular vegetable depending upon personal taste and what you have on hand in the kitchen. Also, changing the dressing and the cheese used will change the flavor of the salad. There are so many interesting varieties of ranch dressing in the grocery store now." Westlund said.

Steve Atkins, chef at Hall's on the River in Clark County, said corn bread salad has been on Hall's menu since April. "I have chosen to use the salad because of its Southern heritage and said heritage's 'groove' with what Hall's on the River has always been, to me anyway," he said.

His recipe came from someone Atkins worked with about 10 years ago at another restaurant. "I was totally oblivious to the concept at the time," he said.

Steven Hunt of Salt Lick is a truck driver, and his co-driver is always talking about having corn bread salad at home. "I finally got his daughter to share the recipe," he said. "It was sketchy at best, so when I started on it I adapted it to my taste. It's now a family favorite, and I'm asked to bring it whenever we have a meal at a special occasion.

"First of all, measuring isn't paramount. This is how I make it. Add or subtract to your liking. Bake a pone of corn bread. A 'pone' of corn bread is when you pour the batter into a iron skillet or baking pan and bake it like a cake.

"I mix the corn meal with a mixture of half milk and half buttermilk. I put a couple eggs in it and about a quarter cup of vegetable oil. Just don't put any sugar in it for Pete's sake. Mix it until you have a nice thick batter. Bake it on 450 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is brown. Skim off the top crust. I don't use it. Hollow out the bread from the inside and put it in a bowl to cool. Crumble it up until there aren't any lumps. Fry as much bacon as you want to use to mix in with the corn bread and have some left over to sprinkle on top. I usually fry one pound. Dice an onion, a big tomato or two and a big green pepper or two. Mix these along with the bacon in with the crumbled corn bread and add enough ranch dressing to make the bread moist enough to stick together. Now, you can put what you've got in a bowl or put it back in the bottom crust that's still in the baking pan. I then cover the top with grated Cheddar cheese and the rest of the crumbled bacon and put under the broiler of the oven for just a few seconds to melt the cheese. That's it."

Recipes

Here are some of the recipes we received from our readers

Doug Emerson's corn bread salad

Thin, crispy corn bread:

1 tablespoon lard or unsalted butter

11/2 cups stone-ground cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 large egg

11/2 cups whole or low-fat buttermilk (whole is preferred)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Salad:

11/2 pounds ripe tomatoes (4 to 6 medium)

6 cups roughly torn sturdy fresh lettuce, such as Bibb, butter or Boston

2 cups bitter greens, such as arugula or dandelion greens

1 large Vidalia onion, trimmed, peeled, sliced crosswise as thinly as possible and separated into rings

Buttermilk-lime dressing:

3/4 cup whole or low-fat buttermilk (whole preferred)

5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (optional)

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 cup finely minced fresh basil

1/4 cup finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup finely minced green onions

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

To make corn bread: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a 12-inch skillet with one tablespoon lard or butter, leaving any excess in the pan, and place it in the oven.

In a large bowl, whisk dry ingredients together. In a medium bowl, whisk egg until frothy, then whisk in buttermilk. Add wet ingredients to dry ones, and mix thoroughly. Melt the remaining butter in a small skillet (or your microwave) and whisk it into batter.

While fat in the large skillet is smoking, carefully remove skillet from oven and swirl fat around to coat bottom and sides of pan evenly. Pour batter into skillet; it should sizzle. Bake for 15 minutes, or until top of bread is golden brown and edge has pulled away from skillet's side. Remove from oven and either serve hot, in six wedges, or use for salad.

When ready to make salad, preheat oven to 250 degrees. Crumble corn bread in a single layer on a half-sheet pan and bake until pieces are lightly toasted, about 7 minutes.

If you wish to peel the tomatoes, cut an X in bottom of each tomato and blanch in a large pot of boiling water for 10 seconds. Immediately transfer with a slotted spoon to an ice bath to cool. Peel and chop tomatoes. At this point you may seed them or not. Otherwise, chop tomatoes with seeds and skin on.

Place lettuce, greens, 3 cups toasted corn bread, onion and tomatoes in a large bowl and toss to combine. Drizzle with buttermilk dressing, season with salt and pepper, and toss again. Serve immediately.

To make buttermilk-lime dressing: Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl until combined. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator up to two days.


Kaaren Westlund's corn bread salad

1 pan corn bread made with stone ground cornmeal mix

1 English cucumber cut in half, peeled and sliced

1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced

1 small sweet or red onion, chopped

1 red or yellow pepper

1 container grape tomatoes, halved

2 cups shredded fiesta cheese, or a variety of your choice

1 pound bacon, cooked and cut into bite-size pieces

1 pint spicy ranch dressing, or another flavor of your choice

1 large can corn, optional

1 can black beans, washed and drained, optional

Make corn bread mix according to package directions. Cool completely. Cut corn bread into ½ to ¾ inch cubes. Layer half of each of the ingredients in a clear glass pedestal bowl in the following order: corn bread, cucumber,radishes, onion, pepper, tomatoes, cheese and bacon. Drizzle half the dressing over the top of the bacon layer. Very gently lift the ingredients so they are slightly blended with the dressing. Repeat the above layering, using the remaining half of each ingredient, and drizzle more of the dressing over the bacon. Gently lift the top layer of ingredients to blend with the dressing.

Spread additional dressing to taste over the top of the salad. Cover and refrigerate two hours before serving. Garnish when serving with parsley and a few cherry tomatoes.


Steve Atkins' corn bread salad

Basil-balsamic vinaigrette:

3 ounces balsamic vinegar

6 ounces salad oil

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1½ teaspoons ground fresh basil in oil

½ teaspoon sugar

¾ teaspoon granulated garlic or ¼ to ½ teaspoon garlic powder (never garlic salt)

¾ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon finely ground kosher salt

1 tiny dash ground cumin

Greens blend:

1 part baby arugula

1 part baby spinach

2 parts iceberg, romaine blend

Finely shredded carrots and red cabbage for color

Salad:

2 cups greens blend

2 cups cooked corn bread, broken into large pieces and fine crumbs

¼ cup chopped bacon

½ cup green bell pepper, medium dice (add red bell pepper for more color)

¼ cup sliced or chopped scallions or green onion

½ cup basil-balsamic vinaigrette

Mix salad ingredients together until well incorporated. Always dress salad just before service to minimize wilting. Makes 4 servings.

Presentation of salad is best made as tall as possible. Garnish with fine diced tomato, balsamic syrup, scallions, red bell pepper.

To make vinaigrette: Combine all ingredients vigorously. Vinaigrettes will separate and need to be rewhipped prior to use.

Makes about 1½ cups.


Russ Thomason of Georgetown said he first ate corn bread salad at Spindletop Hall. The salad isn't the most attractive dish on the table, he said, but once you've had it, you keep going back.

Russ Thomason's corn bread salad

16 ounces cooked brown beans

1 can creamed corn

1 pan prepared yellow corn meal corn bread (Jiffy), crumbled

½ red or green bell pepper, chopped

½ onion, finely diced

4 green onions, diced

8 strips cooked bacon, crumbled

Pepper to taste

Dressing (see note):

½ cup mayonnaise

4 teaspoons chili garlic sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon rice vinegar

Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl and gently mix with dressing.

To make dressing: In a jar, blend ingredients. If you like it spicier, increase chili garlic sauce to 8 teaspoons or more.

Note: Instead of using this dressing, you may blend mayonnaise into the salad until mixture is sticky.


Carol McCaslin of Lexington said she came up with this recipe when she was looking for a make-ahead salad for a church potluck.

"My husband loves black-eyed peas and corn bread. I combined two recipes, one from the Food Network and one from Eating Well magazine. This recipe can be made the day before, and it will hold up well. Instead of using typical corn bread I use cornmeal biscuits. It is more substantial and does not get mushy," she said.

Carol McCaslin's corn bread salad

4 plum tomatoes, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf Italian parsley

Kosher salt

1 cup sour cream

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 scallions, minced

Juice of 1/2 lime

Zest of one lime

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

2 cups crumbled cornmeal biscuits or corn bread

2 cans (15 ounces each) black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

1 cup frozen corn, thawed or fresh

8 ounces shredded Cheddar or Mexican-blend cheese

Toss tomatoes, bell pepper, cilantro and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. In Small bowl, whisk together sour cream, mayonnaise, scallions, lime juice and zest, chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

To assemble salad: Sprinkle half the corn bread in a glass bowl or trifle dish. Top with half each of the black-eyed peas, corn and tomato-pepper mixture, then half each of the sour cream mixture and cheese. Repeat layers with remaining ingredients, ending with cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.


Adine Clark of Monticello said her recipe for corn bread salad came from her grandmother. "My Grandma Stephens was a cook who prepared her meals by doing everything by just mixing her ingredients together. I don't recall ever seeing a cookbook in her kitchen. Here is a recipe for corn bread salad that I put together, by just mixing an assortment of what veggies I had on hand.

"I always make a fresh skillet of corn bread, using buttermilk to mix my ingredients with. I use one large egg, about a 1/4 cup of oil and self-rising meal. I never measure, just guess about how much I need for my skillet. Bake at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes."

Adine Clark's corn bread salad

1 cup Tommie Toe tomatoes, halved

1 medium onion, diced

1 green (yellow or red) bell pepper, diced

1 small head lettuce, finely chopped

1 can (15 ounces) peas, drained

1 pan corn bread, crumbled

1 cup sour cream or 1 cup Miracle Whip or Thousand Island dressing

2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided

2 hard-boiled eggs

Toss tomatoes, onion, peppers, lettuce and peas into a large bowl. Mix and toss crumbled corn bread with sour cream, then add to vegetables. Add 1 cup cheese. You want this to be somewhat moist but not wet. It makes it easier to dip from the bowl.

Place mixture into a large salad bowl and top with 1 cup shredded cheese. Slice hard-boiled eggs and arrange in a circle on top of the salad. Serve immediately or refrigerate.


Sara Feller of Lexington said her recipe came from a Bowling Green cookbook. "My daughter Helen used to work for FedEx in Bowling Green, and one year they put together a cookbook called What's Cooking and sold it as a fundraiser for United Way. This recipe comes from that cookbook."

Sara Feller's corn bread salad

1 small skillet corn bread

½ pound bacon, cooked and crumbled

2 sweet peppers, chopped

4 tomatoes, chopped

½ cup sweet pickles, chopped

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup sweet pickle juice

Crumble corn bread into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl, reserving. ½ cup for topping. Add bacon, peppers, tomatoes and pickles. Just before serving, combine mayonnaise and pickle juice, and mix with other ingredients. Sprinkle reserved corn bread on top.


Grace Gayheart of Versailles shares her mother's recipe for corn bread salad, which was on the menu for Gayheart's wedding reception. "My mama is a sensational cook. She can take the simplest ingredients and turn them into something extraordinary, her corn bread salad being no exception. When my husband and I married last spring, I knew that along with her duties as mother of the bride she would also be our chef. I also knew her corn bread salad would be on the menu. Shortly after our wedding I decided to try my hand at making it as well, and she gave me the basic recipe, saying to make it my own. Though I have added a few of my own touches, the recipe is still basic and can change to meet anyone's tastes."

Grace Gayheart's corn bread salad

2 boxes Jiffy corn bread mix

1½ cups mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 package dry ranch dressing mix

1 container grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cucumber, seeded and diced with skin on

1 medium green bell pepper, diced

1 bunch green onion, sliced thin

1 small purple onion, small diced

1 can sweet corn

1 can sweet peas

Prepare corn bread according to package directions. Bake in a cast-iron skillet so the outside will be extra crunchy. In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, black pepper, ranch dressing mix and vegetables. While corn bread is still warm, break it into chunks and combine with vegetables. By mixing it while it's warm, it is able to soak up as much of the wet ingredients as possible. Cover and let cool in refrigerator.

Sharon Thompson: (859) 231-3321. Twitter: @FlavorsofKY. Blog: Flavorsofkentucky.bloginky.com.

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