What does Balkan cooking have to do with Louisiana cornbread?
On the face of it, not much.
Except for this: It was my love for the Cajun accordion--and the Cajun and Creole music, food, and culture of Louisiana--that led me to a deeper appreciation of my own Slovenian heritage and to the even larger world of southeast Europe.
And cornbread happens to be popular in both places.
Then there was the practical reason: Yesterday, I needed to make a side dish for a big post-wedding celebration in our local Cajun-Creole music community. Cornbread seemed like the perfect addition. Naturally, I went back to my never-fail Balkan cornbread recipe as the foundation. My inspiration for that dish was a particularly moist "proja" recipe from Allison, an American blogger in Paris who got it from a Serbian friend. So I added my own little Cajun-Creole touches--and there you have it.
The changes were small ones. Some cut-up red pepper. A Cajun seasoning mix. And doubling the recipe, of course. Traditional cooking is a lot like playing folk music. A recipe, just like a tune, gets passed around, adapted, and expanded.
The recipe below did not disappoint, although it was a little on the mild side. Next time, I might try to make it spicier. More of the seasoning mix, perhaps some diced hot peppers, or a few drops of hot sauce would give it even more Louisiana heat!
Balkan-Inspired Cornbread with a Louisiana Twist
1-1/2 cups polenta or cornmeal
2/3 cup white flour
1 T Cajun seasoning mix (I used Slap Ya Mama)
(additional salt if seasoning mix doesn't include it)
1 cup oil
1-1/2 cups plus 3 T sparkling water
1-1/2 cups plain yogurt
2 cups feta cheese, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
To make it even spicier: Add more of the seasoning mix, some diced hot peppers, or some Louisiana hot sauce!
Oil two 8-inch cast iron skillets, two small ceramic dishes, or one large rectangular ceramic dish (at least 9" x 13"). Sprinkle with a little cornmeal.
Combine cornmeal, flour, salt and seasonings in a large bowl. In a medium bowl mix eggs, oil and sparkling water. Add these wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir well. Add yogurt and stir. Mix in feta cheese cubes, parsley, red pepper, and corn. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm.