Archive for May, 2010

Cornmeal: Green Chile Cheese Grits

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Green Chile Cheese

Do you call ground, dried corn “grits” or “polenta?”  You’d be right if you said either one. Yes, polenta, the haute cuisine of the last two decades, is equivalent to good ol’ grits.

Grits v. Polenta

If you’re scratching your head, it’s completely understandable. The labeling is inconsistent and I suspect regional – in the South, I’d reckon you’d find “grits” on store shelves but in northern Italy, you’d see “polenta.”  Here in Denver, I just bought a bag of coarsely-ground, dried yellow cornmeal labeled “polenta (corn grits)” at the natural food store. What gives?

For intellectual purposes, know that one of the primary differences between the two is that grits are usually made with white corn, while polenta is made of yellow.

Some polenta authorities also distinguish the two by the size of the grind, polenta being larger with a nuttier taste. However, both grits and polenta are available in fine, medium and coarse grinds.

To add even more confusion, there’s also the lighter colored “hominy grits.” Early on, the word “hominy” reflected the lye soak process used to loosen the husk and germ, which made for a softer and creamier final dish. Today, “hominy grits” has become a generic term for “corn grits.”

Ugghh. To me it’s all “mush,” like my brain when I try to figure out all this nomenclature.

Green Chile Cheese Grits

Grits are an institution in the South – served with butter and salt, sweetened with milk and sugar, or topped with red-eye gravy, ham, bacon or shrimp.

This recipe for green chile grits is a bit Southern/Soul Food and Mexican – a reflection of my household and history. Corn (maize) was originally domesticated in central Mexico and eventually became a favored crop among Southerners.

These green chile cheese grits are easy to make and much tastier than regular mush. They are delicious for breakfast with eggs or for lunch or dinner as a substitute for potatoes or rice. Enjoy! Leave a comment about your favorite way to eat cornmeal mush, and if you have a preference for “grits” or “polenta.”

Tidbits on Cornmeal:

  1. Southerners hailing from the Charleston area use the word “hominy” to refer to cooked grits and the term “grist” for its uncooked state.
  2. Early Southern pioneers cultivated more corn than cotton.
  3. The smaller the grind of corn, the faster it will cook. Larger grinds (and most polenta recipes) can take up to an hour to cook. The grits/polenta is ready when it’s no longer crunchy.
  4. Stone ground and whole grain cornmeal has more nutrients because it still contains the germ.

Sources:  The Oxford Encyclopedia for Food and Drink in America, Good Old Grits Cookbook by Bill Neal & David Perry.


Popcorn: Rosemary-Garlic Popcorn – Snack or Croutons

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Garlic-Rosemary Popcorn

The modern American palate considers popcorn snack food. However, the other night I watched a flick where the leading lady fed her family popcorn for breakfast. In the movie, she was broke. Nonetheless, it was way out of the box for me. Popcorn cereal?

It may seem kitschy now, but decades ago, popcorn cereal was avant-garde.

According to the history of popcorn cookery, popcorn was on the verge of becoming a staple ingredient in the early 1900s – commonly eaten at every meal. The upper and middle-class are credited with developing this broader recipe repertoire, which was later adopted by the less affluent and farmers.

Besides cereal (cold and hot), popcorn was used to make puddings, bread, popcorn balls, and stuffing.

Popcorn was also used as a replacement for croutons and crackers. The crispy texture was a perfect garnish for soup and salads.

Like most of you, I fall in line with the majority of people who snack on popcorn – usually just salted and buttered. But, with just a little more effort I’ve created an herbed popcorn that can be eaten as regular snack food or as a topper for soup and salad.

The recipe below for rosemary-garlic popcorn is a lovely addition to a hot bowl of tomato soup. Add the popcorn to your dish just before eating, especially with soups.

The recipe is flexible – your favorite herbs and seasoning could be substituted. How about garlic and chive, basil and sun-dried tomato, or chile and lime? At your local spice store there is a plethora of seasoning mixes that could be used and some include powdered cheese – which makes for even tastier popcorn croutons.

If you eat herbed popcorn or use popcorn for something other than a snack, please share in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

Tidbits on Popcorn:

  1. Popcorn consumption rose in the United States after World War II, when grains were sent to Europe.
  2. The precursor to today’s microwave popcorn evolved from popping the entire cob with kernels in an early model of the  “microwave oven” around 1945.
  3. Popped popcorn is a very profitable business product. It is bought by weight and sold by volume. The aroma of freshly popped popcorn significantly induces sales at movie theatres. Therefore, they regularly pop it.

Source: Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America by Andrew F. Smith; Corn: Meals & More by Olwen Woodier; Crazy for Corn by Betty Fussell.