When I shared my go-to vegan cornbread recipe earlier this week, I noted that I usually serve it with something hearty and stew-like–chili, soup, that sort of thing. I get a particular pleasure from breaking the cornbread up into pieces and allowing it to sop up whatever flavorful, one-pot meal I’ve created.
This past week, though, I tried the cornbread recipe in a different way: toasted and tossed into a colorful salad. It began mostly as a happy accident: I’d made a batch of the bread for chili, but I never actually got around to making the chili itself. I’ve had this cornbread panzanella from Food52 bookmarked for ages, wanting to try my hand at a vegan version, so it seemed like the right moment. And I’m happy to say that this vegan cornbread panzanella is everything I wanted it to be: flavorful, hearty, and so quintessentially summery.
Do you have to use cornbread here? Course not. A good, crusty whole wheat sourdough loaf, toasted spelt bread, or whatever you have will work just fine in a pinch.
But using cornbread in place of regular, whole grain bread–which is what I’ve always added to panzanella–does add something special. It’s heartier and more filling than regular bread, and it brings just a touch of sweetness to the salad. When you toast the cornbread cubes, they become crispy at the edges but remain super tender in the center, which makes them a perfect vehicle for soaking up all of the delicious tomato juices and dressing without losing their shape.
And then there’s the pleasure of heirloom tomatoes, crispy cucumber, and fresh basil, tossed with a simple shallot and red wine vinaigrette. As I was putting the recipe together, I thought of all sorts of other ingredients I could add–pickled onions, roasted corn, etc. etc.–but in the end, my tomatoes were so fresh and beautiful that I didn’t want to crowd them out with too many neighbors. And it was the right call. The tomatoes and the cornbread are what shine in this recipe, and that’s as it should be.
Vegan Cornbread Panzanella
For the salad:
- 4 cups simple whole grain vegan cornbread (or another vegan cornbread of choice), cut into 1-inch cubes
- 4 cups heirloom tomatoes cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 cups cucumber seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 cup a handful baby arugula (optional; adds a peppery bite)
- 1/2 cup a small handful loosely packed, torn basil leaves
For the dressing:
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 large shallot minced
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Preheat your oven to 375F. Place the cornbread cubes on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cubes are golden at the edges, stirring gently halfway through baking.
- Whisk together all dressing ingredients in a small mixing bowl.
- Combine all of the salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl and add the dressing. Toss gently (I found it easiest to use my hands). Add extra salt and pepper as needed, as well as an extra splash of vinegar if desired. Serve.
If you’re inclined to bring this beautiful salad to a cookout, potluck, or other gathering–perhaps this coming Labor Day weekend–you can definitely prepare it a few hours in advance. The cornbread will have soaked up the flavors really nicely by the time you share it! I wouldn’t prepare it earlier than that, though–the leftovers are plenty tasty, but once the salad has sat for half a day or overnight, the cornbread loses its crispiness, and it’s worth tasting the salad while that’s still detectable.
I hope you’ll enjoy this one while tomatoes are still at their peak. And, as we head into a long weekend, I wish you all rest, great food, and a celebratory farewell to the final days of summer. See you soon, for weekend reading.