Southern Cornbread with a Twist

Gone with the Wind is not my favorite film. Sure Clark Gable sizzles, but Scarlett O’Hara gives me a pain. Similarly, I dig a spicy bowl of gumbo, but while others rhapsodize over a heaping platter of fried chicken, or vie to share recipes for the best grits ever, my mind wanders. It makes me wonder if a gene is missing from my culinary DNA. Isn’t worshipping Southern cooking, well, almost synonymous with loving food?

Happily, I have finally found a dish with Southern roots that I do adore. In fact, I like it as much as Yankee cornbread, the kind made in New England, which is closer to home for me, as a New Yorker, than the Mason-Dixon line. As fits austere New England standards, Yankee-style cornbread is dense and intense, with pronounced corn flavor, a definite contrast to Southern versions, which are sweet, have a fluffy crumb, and are either smoky-tasting from bacon drippings or dripping with butter.

Southerners also modify corn bread, enjoying it in various forms, from fried hush puppies to creamy spoon bread so soft it must be spooned from the pan. The corn treat I have come to love is close to this spoon bread. Made with whole-grain stone-ground cornmeal, it includes whole corn and a nice portion of Vidalia or other sweet onion. One tablespoon of sugar gives it a hint of sweetness, while green chiles add a nice kick.

But what makes this spoon bread truly special is the addition of black beans. Always delicious paired with corn and chiles and as creamy as classic Southern recipes for this beloved side dish, this version of cornbread is substantial enough to serve as a main dish casserole, too. Add a mess of slow-simmered collard greens on the side, and bon appetit, y’all.

Soft Cornbread with Black Beans

– Makes 12 servings.

This makes a moist, almost-pudding cornbread when served fresh and hot. It should be served hot or warm.


  • 3 Tbsp. canola oil, divided
  • 3/4 cup sweet onion, finely chopped
  • Nonfat cooking spray
  • 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 (4 oz.) can chopped green chile peppers, drained
  • 1 cup defrosted frozen yellow corn kernels
  • 1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed and drained, divided


In small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.

Place rack in upper third of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In large mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg and remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Mix in chile peppers. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix with a wooden spoon, being sure to reach bottom of the bowl to combine them fully. Do not over mix. Mix in corn, 1 cup of beans and cooked onions just until combined. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Sprinkle remaining beans evenly over top of batter.

Bake for 30 minutes, until cornbread is golden and feels firm to touch when lightly pressed in center and knife inserted comes out slightly streaked with moisture. Let cornbread sit for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto wire rack. Using second rack, or serving plate, flip cornbread to top-side up. Cut cornbread into 9 squares and serve immediately.

Per serving: 170 calories, 5 g total fat (< 1 g saturated fat), 26 g carbohydrate, 6 g protein, 5 g dietary fiber, 310 mg sodium.

The Author:

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website,

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