Tatiana’s Table: Chili & Cornbread

The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons is a sweeping love story set in post-war America, in which Tatiana and Alexander, together with their young son Anthony, try to overcome their memories of fighting at the front of World War II. Part of their adaptation and rebuilding is the food that Tatiana (also called Tania in the novel) cooks for her family. This is the first in a series of installments presenting the recipes Tania prepared in The Summer Garden, as developed by the novel’s author, Paullina Simons. We are also sharing brief scenes in which the dishes appeared in the novel, but if you wish to read more, click here for longer excerpts.

‘‘Chili, Tania?’’
‘‘Chili, Alexander. With corn bread.’’
‘‘Corn bread. Of course. Two things you like. Am I going to like this corn bread?’’
‘‘I think you’re going to love it.’’
‘‘Hmm. I think you’re outdoing yourself.’’
‘‘I don’t see how that’s possible. You won’t let me cook anything I actually know how to cook.’’
‘‘Yes, but look at the things you’re cooking.’’
‘‘Hmm. No Russian food.’’
‘‘That’s the point.’’

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, very finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2lb (900g) ground beef sirloin
salt, to taste
4 tablespoons chili powder
32oz (900g) canned red kidney beans, with juice
16oz (450g) canned tomato sauce, or 2 cups (450ml) passata
1 cup (225ml) water
To garnish:
8oz (225g) sharp cheddar cheese, GRATED
cilantro (coriander)
green (spring) or white onions, very finely chopped
sour cream
boiled white rice, to serve

  1. Preheat heavy bottom 6-quart (4.5-liter) pan on medium.
  2. Add olive oil and butter, heat for 2–3 minutes.
  3. Add onion, cook until transparent and lightly golden.
  4. Add garlic, cook for a minute, turn heat to medium-high, add sirloin, cook, stirring and breaking up into little pieces, until cooked through.
  5. Add salt, chili powder, stir, add kidney beans with juices, tomato sauce, water, cover, cook for 20–30 minutes, while the rice cooks.
  6. Serve over white rice, topped with shredded cheese and, if you like, onions, cilantro, and sour cream, with corn bread on the side. Tatiana knew that some people skipped the rice and served chili right over the corn bread. But the bread was sweet, and the chili was savory. Alexander ate the chili over the rice and the corn bread.

Moist, sweet, delicious. If you like corn bread, this is hard to beat. You can use all half-and-half instead of mixing with buttermilk, but Tatiana liked the slight acidity provided by the buttermilk. Serve to accompany chili.

1 cup (150g) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup (150g) corn meal
½ cup (100g) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 stick (110g) unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
1 egg
½cup (125ml) half-and-half, or equal quantities of cream and milk
½ cup (125ml) buttermilk

  1. Heat oven to 400°F(200°C). Lightly grease a 6-cup muffin tin.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, sugar, salt and baking powder and mix well. Add butter and mix with a fork or a wooden spoon until mixture is crumbly.
  3. In another bowl combine half-and-half, buttermilk and egg and whisk until combined.
  4. Add to the flour mixture, mix carefully with wooden spoon until just combined.
  5. Fill the muffin tins to the top. Bake 22 minutes or so until toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake. Muffins will not get very brown on top. You can also make the corn bread in a cast-iron pot in the oven, or cast-iron corn bread molds.

Anthony for a long while ate nothing but corn bread.
Many evenings they went swimming and to the park, and Alexander every once in a while even chased Tatiana into the water and over the monkey bars. After the corn bread when they went to the beach, and Anthony found a little friend to dig sand holes with, Alexander and Tatiana played in the water, she was swimming away, he was catching up with her, just, because she had gotten a fair jump and was far ahead.
He yelled after her, ‘‘Watch out, Tania, because when I capture you tonight, I warn you, I take no prisoners.’’
Promise, Shura? she whispered to herself, slowing down so he could catch her.

Paullina Simons is the author of nine internationally acclaimed novels, including Tully and The Bronze Horseman. Her books have been translated into twenty languages. Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, she graduated from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, and has lived in Rome, London, and Dallas. She now lives near New York City with her husband, four children, and one dog named Bunny. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

47 Responses to “Tatiana’s Table: Chili & Cornbread”
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