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May 6, 2021

Mix it up with savory waffles for Easter brunch

By Nick Kindelsperger

Chicago Tribune

Brunch is a semi-absurd affair and should be treated as such. Never forget that. It’s not as essential as breakfast or as formal as dinner. Even if it’s Easter brunch and everyone’s a little more smartly dressed than usual, don’t fall into the trap of overdoing it. Basically, if you can’t hold a mimosa in one hand and get most of the cooking done, you’re trying too hard.

Adaptability is the name of the game. Pick a dish that doesn’t mind switching things up, playing loose with the norms or changing with the mood. And if its ease and customizability you’re after, allow me to remind you of the wonders of the waffle.

Thanks to its sturdy honeycombed structure and golden brown exterior, the waffle is ready for basically any situation or ingredient you want to spring on it. Try loading up a pancake, and everything rolls right off. Nothing waffles on a, um … waffle. Sure, it can handle a barrage of sweetness — from syrup and chocolate to ice cream and whipped cream — but waffles also have a less celebrated savory side.

You probably already know about chicken and waffles, one of life’s most bizarrely delicious combinations. While there’s genuinely never a bad time to eat this dish, frying a big batch of chicken at home requires lots of oil and time for cleanup. Leave it for another occasion.

Fortunately, waffles are a cinch to make. All you need is a waffle iron and a recipe.

And sure, there are dozens upon dozens of waffle varieties out in the world, each with its own peculiar ingredients. But most of the real differences come down to the leavening. Waffles must rise. Using yeast is traditional, though it requires hours of advanced planning for the natural process to work. You could also whip the whites until stiff or add a slug of soda water.

Much easier is to use a chemical leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder. I like to go with a careful mix of the two, which ensures a nicely puffed waffle with a crispy, golden exterior. The batter takes minutes to make and is ready to go.

You could stop there, but to accentuate the savoriness of each bite and lend a little more structural support, adding some cornmeal lends the waffles a satisfying crunch that stands up to heartier ingredients.

So, you have your waffle. Where to go now?

Start with an egg, preferably a plump poached one, with a yolk just ready to erupt like molten lava. (A fried one will work too). Not only will the waffle support the egg, its many crevices trap all that oozing golden liquid.

But that’s just the beginning. Brunch demands frivolity and dolling things up. Here are three variations to consider. (Each makes enough for 8 waffles.)

The variations

Southern-Style

Why not start in the South? Saute 8 thin slices of country ham in butter until lightly browned. Top each cornmeal waffle with 2 tablespoons of pimento cheese, a slice of country ham, a poached egg and a sprinkle of chopped chives.

Light and Springy

If that last one feels a bit too heavy, go with this slightly healthier option. Saute 2 cups fresh or frozen peas in 4 tablespoons butter until warm. Add a handful of chopped mint and a large pinch of salt. Top each cornmeal waffle with a 1/4-cup of the pea mixture, a poached egg and a sprinkling of crumbled feta cheese.

Korean-Style

And if you’d like to jump cuisines completely, this Korean version shows the incredible versatility of the waffle. Add half a cup of chopped scallion to the waffle batter; cook as you normally would. Saute 8 strips of bacon until crisp. Remove all but 4 tablespoons of bacon fat. Add 2 cups chopped cabbage kimchee and cook until mixture is lightly browned. Top each scallion cornmeal waffle with 1/4-cup kimchee, a poached egg, a strip of bacon and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Cornmeal Waffles

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: About 5 minutes per batch

Makes: 8 to 10 waffles

Adapted from a recipe from King Arthur Flour.

2 cups buttermilk or milk

2 eggs

1/3 cup canola oil

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs and canola oil. In a second bowl, mix together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients on top of the wet, and stir just until batter looks roughly combined.

Heat a waffle iron to medium high. Follow directions for your model, but most suggest using 1/3 cup of batter per waffle. Cook until golden brown and crisp. Transfer waffles to a baking sheet placed in a 200-degree oven to stay warm. Repeat with remaining batter.

Nutrition information per waffle (for 10 waffles): 231 calories, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 39 mg cholesterol, 31 g carbohydrates, 4 g sugar, 6 g protein, 565 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

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