Roast turkey has never been my passion, but I have come to love Thanksgiving.
Adjusting to life in the United States as a young immigrant from Nigeria, I felt compelled to master spoken and unspoken ceremonies surrounding American holidays. But Thanksgiving is perhaps the one American cultural tradition that felt perfectly familiar to me. In Nigeria, a country with multiple growing seasons, regional harvest festivals are celebrated throughout the year. Historically, whatever was ripe and ready was hailed in many forms.
In my first years in the United States, I spent Thanksgiving at my friend Charlene’s Baltimore home, where I would work beside her in the kitchen, preparing for the evening’s elaborate meal. On the surface, these
first few dinners seemed to embody a straightforward set of customs. The food varied only slightly year to year, and the timing was roughly the same. But, over time, I began to see adaptive nature of the holiday.
The dinners have offered an opportunity to share time with loved ones, but also to learn from them. At Thanks-givings in Maryland, Georgia, Alabama and New York, I have often asked my hosts to share what makes their traditions special, and collected the recipes that resonated with me. Those dishes have made their way into my own celebrations.
I have since made memories with my own small family: my husband and daughter. Two years ago, we spent Thanksgiving on a ranch in West Texas. We had tamales, chilaquiles, Christmas lima beans, a smoked turkey we bought at a supermarket, and a pork shoulder we smoked ourselves.
In a way, I’m like a lot of Americans who have moved around, incorporating a delicacy into their traditions. I love a good skillet cornbread, with the flavor of toasted corn and a firm texture. It’s perfect with just a slathering of soft butter or used as a base for a dressing — with sausage, celery and lots of herbs.
This side falls into perhaps my favorite category of traditional Thanksgiving dishes: those that are memorable and delicious every other day of the year.
This easy skillet cornbread comes together with just a handful of ingredients. It’s a firm-crumbed but light quick bread that can hold its own as a side slathered with salted butter, or it can be used as a base for cornbread dressing.
The buttermilk gives the toasted corn flavor a pleasant tartness — full-fat buttermilk is preferred, but low-fat will do in a pinch.
• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted; more for brushing the pan
• 1 1/2 cups medium-coarse yellow cornmeal
• 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar
• 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 2 cups buttermilk, preferably full-fat
• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch skillet or cast-iron pan and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk and eggs.
Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir until incorporated.
Fold in the melted butter. Pour the batter into the prepared skillet and smooth the top.
Bake until the top is lightly browned and the sides pull away cleanly from the skillet, about 25-30 minutes.
Cool completely and serve warm or room temperature, or reserve to make cornbread dressing.
Total time: 35 minutes, serves 6-8.