Charlene “Chi-Chi” Smith of Ladies of Hip-Hop Dance Collective Shares Her Tried-and-True Mexican Corn Bread Recipe
Charlene “Chi-Chi” Smith’s Mexican corn bread is so well known among her friends and family that it’s developed its own nickname: “MCB.” The Ladies of Hip-Hop Dance Collective member and LOHH trustee has been making this recipe for nearly 20 years. Her shortcut version is an adaptation of a family friend’s original. To cut down on time, Smith uses boxed corn-muffin mix and canned cream-style corn rather than making those elements from scratch. She’s also replaced beef with turkey. “I have not met a person who does not love it,” says Smith, adding that MCB can stand alone as a main dish alongside a salad, or work as a side to a larger meal. “When I make it, my husband and I eat it two or three times a day until it’s gone.”
Smith, who also teaches hip hop and vernacular jazz at Pace University and at studios across New York and New Jersey and works with the Double Dutch Dreamz training program, credits her approach to cooking to her dual upbringing with both her mom in the Bronx and aunt in Maryland. Both women’s influences are clear in Smith’s approach to seasoning. “I believe that Black people as a whole had to make things taste good because we were given scraps,” she says. “It’s in our cellular memory to make flavor out of anything. Even though my mom and my grandmother were from the North, we use cooking styles and flavorings from Louisiana and those earlier settlements of our people.”
For Smith, cooking is often a fast-paced activity. After a long day of teaching and rehearsing, she works quickly to get dinner on the table in order to get her 4-year-old in bed on time. And the music she listens to in the kitchen reflects her speed. “Sometimes I’ll play dance-party music and jam while I’m cooking,” says Smith. “But when I’m baking, I like to listen to jazz.”
- 1 lb ground turkey (You can substitute any other ground meat or meat substitute that suits your preference, or omit the meat entirely.)
- 2 8.5-oz boxes corn-muffin mix (Smith prefers Jiffy Vegetarian Corn Muffin Mix because there’s no pork in it, but any brand will work.)
- 2 14.75-oz cans cream-style corn
- 2 4.5-oz cans chopped green chiles (Smith likes Old El Paso brand best.)
- 16-oz tub sour cream
- 1/4 cup taco seasoning mix
- 2/3 cup water
- 8 oz shredded cheddar or Mexican-style cheese blend (Smith buys block cheese and shreds it herself.)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Brown ground turkey in a heated skillet over medium heat, breaking up and stirring occasionally for even cooking.
- As the meat cooks, combine corn-muffin mix, corn, chopped green chiles and sour cream in a large bowl. Mix well.
- Once the meat is browned, add the taco seasoning and 2/3 cup of water and continue to cook until the color is even throughout. Remove from heat.
- Prepare a 13x9x2–inch nonstick baking pan by lining it with parchment paper or spraying lightly with cooking oil.
- Pour 3/4 of the corn bread mixture into the baking pan. Next add the turkey in a layer, followed by the cheese. Top with the remaining corn bread mixture.
- Bake uncovered for about an hour, until the top is split and the color on the surface is close to a toasted yellow-orange.
- Let stand for 10–15 minutes before digging in. The corn bread solidifies as it cools.