WHILE MOST Europeans disdain corn as animal fodder, virtually every gastronomic region in America celebrates it. Boston bakes it in brown bread, Atlanta creates cornbread and Sante Fe puts it in posole.
Chili and cornbread is a meal with the macho-power of steak and potatoes. It's a New World, assertive combination that mocks European subtleties.
The pair combines in many ways. While elementary school students eat soupy chili with southern-style cornbread, Mexican-food fans munch tamales (chili-stuffed cornbread). In the southwest, they might put green chilies, hot pepper sauce and cheese in their cornbread and cowboys are famous for chili thickened with cornmeal.
A perfect partner for a big bowl of chili is also easy to make. Homemade tortilla chips require very little expertise, a minimum of enthusiasm and virtually no appreciation for timing -- they either can be made ahead and held in a tighlty closed container or eaten while still warm. With their tough, rugged, chewiness, these chips are far superior to the store-bought kind, and you can control the salt.
It would be convenient and dietetically responsible to say that one package of corn tortillas will keep six in chips. But diners can usually polish off whatever the cook cares to produce.
To make the chips, cut corn tortillas in six pie-shaped pieces per tortilla. Fill a large skillet with about one inch of vegetable oil and heat to about 375 degrees. Add tortilla pieces -- making sure they don't overlap -- and fry briefly, until they are crisp. Using tongs, remove the pieces to absorbent paper. Continue with rest of the tortillas. Salt as desired and serve.
For those who want more elaborate corn creations, the following recipes might prove interesting. TEX-MEX CORNBREAD (1 8-inch square pan) 1 1/4 cups milk 1 egg 1/4 cup oil 1 1/2 cups Masa Harina 1/2 cup flour 4 teaspoons baking powder 1 tablespoon sugar 1 teaspoon salt 4 ounces monterey jack cheese, grated 4 ounces canned green chilies, chopped
Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Beat milk, egg and oil. Combine dry ingredients and mix briefly. Add liquid ingredients to flour. Stir in cheese and chilies. Spread in prepared pan and bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. HONEY WHEAT CORNBREAD (8 servings) 2 packages active dry yeast 1 1/4 cups warm milk 3 tablespoons honey 2 eggs, beaten 3 tablespoons oil or butter 1 1/2 cups corn meal 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour 1 teaspoon salt
Combine yeast, milk and honey. Stir to dissolve honey. Set aside. Grease a 10-inch, deep-dish pie pan. Set aside. Beat eggs and oil in a large bowl. Combine dry ingredients and add them to eggs with yeast mixture. Stir to blend and spoon into pie pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes. SOUTHERN CORN MUFFINS (1 dozen) 1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground 1 cup unbleached flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 egg 1 cup milk 3 tablespoons melted butter
Grease a muffin tin or line with paper muffin cups. Combine dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. In a small bowl, beat eggs, milk and butter. Add liquid ingredients to dry and turn briefly only to moisten. Don't overbeat, there will be lumps. Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full. Bake for 25 minutes at 425 degrees. PARAGUAYAN CORNBREAD (8 to 10 servings)
This recipe, adapted from Betty Crocker's International Cookbook, is as much a quiche as it is a bread. 1 1/2 cups boiling water 1 cup cornmeal 2 tablepoons butter 3 eggs 1/2 cup milk 1/2 cup cottage cheese 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon cumin 1/4 teaspoon allspice 3 drops hot red pepper sauce 1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese 1 small onion, chopped
Grease a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan. Set aside. Pour boiling water over cornmeal and add butter. Stir to mix well. When it has cooled somewhat, beat in remaining ingredients. Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.