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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Rice/Beans/Grains/Seeds

TIP OF THE DAY: Things To Do With Polenta Slices

Stack slices of grilled polenta with your
favorite fillings; here, crab salad and
guacamole. Photo courtesy Costanero
Cocoino Peruana.

 

Polenta—which is both the Italian word for cornmeal and a cooked dish made from it—has become popular in America through Italian and Continental restaurants. But it’s not new to America. For the first two centuries of The United States, American diets contained much cornmeal—in bread, breakfast cereal and other recipes. It was gradually replaced by refined wheat flour.

While corn itself is a whole grain, polenta is refined: It is degerminated cornmeal, with the germ and endosperm (which contain the fiber and other nutrition) removed. As with all refined grains——the majority of the grains we consume—the protein, iron and vitamins are left on the factory floor.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a delicious addition to the table. We spotted this attractive starter at Costanero Cocoino Peruana, a Peruvian restaurant in Montclair, New Jersey. It reminded us of Caprese stacks, one of our favorite first courses to make with summer’s heirloom tomatoes (see photo below).

You can make polenta from scratch, or buy it in rolls, available in most supermarkets. The latter makes it easy to create stacked appetizers and sides. It’s available in plain plus flavors such as basil-garlic and sundried tomato.

 

STACKED POLENTA APPETIZER RECIPE

The most time-consuming part of this recipe is deciding what to layer in-between the polenta slices. Tips: Select different colors, and check out your leftovers to see what could work. You can serve the stacks with a lightly-dressed frisée or mesclun salad.

Ingredients

  • Polenta, three slices per serving
  • Pesto, remoulade, thousand island dressing or other sauce for garnish (match sauce to fillings)
  • Optional: fresh herbs for garnish
  •  
    Then, select two fillings:

  • Bacon, crumbled (variation: bacon and onions cooked in the bacon fat) or prosciutto
  • Carrot salad
  • Cheese: goat cheese, mozzarella or other favorite, preferably soft or semisoft
  • Crab, shrimp or other protein salad, finely chopped
  • Cranberry sauce or chutney
  • Giardiniera or marinated chopped vegetables
  • Guacamole or vegetable puree (broccoli, pea, red bell pepper or anything colorful)
  • Chicken, ham, turkey or other protein, diced (a great use for leftovers)
  • Herb-marinated mushrooms, finely chopped
  • Mashed potatoes—update the flavor with fresh chives, basil, or flavored olive oil
  • Sautéed or steamed spinach or kale, seasoned with garlic
  • Smoked salmon or other smoked fish
  • Spread of any kind
  • Anything else that appeals to you
  •  

     
    Preparation

    1. SLICE polenta into desired thickness; broil, fry or grill until edges become slightly crisp.

    2. TOP first polenta round with first filling and top with second polenta round. Use a spatula to make the filling flush with the edges of the polenta. Repeat with second filling and third polenta round.

    3. PLATE as desired, with pesto/sauce, fresh herbs and/or salad.

     
    MORE RECIPES

    There are two styles of polenta: creamy polenta, which is like cooked grits, and sliced polenta, in rounds or squares/rectangles. These recipes use rounds from purchased rolls of polenta. Start by slicing and grilling/frying the rounds.

    Breakfast

  • With maple syrup or topped with a fried egg.
  •  

    A vertical Caprese salad: tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. You can grow the beautiful opal basil here with seeds from BonniePlants.com, or buy it at a farmer’s market.

  • “Huevos rancheros” style, topped with cheese, a poached egg and salsa.
  •  
    Lunch, Dinner Or Sides

  • Topped with mushroom ragu.
  • On a bed of sautéed bell peppers, mushrooms and onions.
  • Topped with any kind of sauce or mix of leftovers: cubed ham, capers, whatever.
  • “Hash browns” or fries: Cut roll into fry-size planks,fry and dust them with grated parm Parmesan.
  • Breaded, fried and served with pesto or a dipping sauce.
  •  
    MORE POLENTA IDEAS

  • Polenta cookies (recipe)
  • Ratatouille With Crispy Polenta (recipe)
  • Smoked paprika Shrimp With Poblano Polenta (recipe)
  •   

    Comments

    RECIPE: Tofu Fries

    A spin on fries: tofu and coconut. Photo courtesy House Foods.

     

    Most people have had french fries in some or all of their variations*, sweet potato fries, zucchini fries, even yucca fries. But how about tofu fries?

    House Foods created this tasty recipe, which evokes coconut-battered shrimp:

    CRISPY COCONUT TOFU FRIES WITH SPICY
    APRICOT SAUCE

    Ingredients

    For Tofu Fries

  • 1 package (14 ounces) extra firm or super firm tofu, drained
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
  • 2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2/3 cup shredded coconut
  •  

    *French fries in all their shapes—crinkle, curly, shoestring, steak cut, thick-cut, wedges and others—and recipes such as cheese fries, chili fries, poutine, etc.

     

    For the Spicy Apricot Sauce

  • ½ cup apricot jam
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha† or other hot sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  •  
    †Sriracha is a hot chili sauce from Thailand. It is made from sun-ripened chile peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. It can be found in the Asian aisle of some supermarkets, in Asian grocery stores and online.

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400°F. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick baking spray.

     

    House Foods makes conventional tofu and organic varieties. Photo courtesy House Foods.

     

    2. SLICE tofu crosswise into 4 slabs. Line a plate with several layers of paper towels, arrange tofu in a single layer on the plate, cover with more paper towels and then top with a second plate weighed down by a heavy pot. Set aside for about 15 minutes to dry out, then slice tofu slabs into 1/2” sticks.

    3. BEAT together eggs, salt, pepper and lime zest in shallow dish.

    4. MIX panko and coconut in a second shallow dish.

    5. DIP tofu in egg mixture, turning to coat; then toss in breading mixture pressing gently to help coating adhere.

    6. ARRANGE in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until crisp and golden, flipping the fries after 15 minutes.While the fries bake…

    7. MAKE the sauce by melting the apricot jam with the lime juice, sriracha and salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Transfer to a bowl.

    8. SERVE the fries hot, with the warm sauce for dipping.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: 5 More Uses For Rice

    We overdid it recently, purchasing a jumbo bag of white rice that we’re not likely to make a dent in anytime soon (we try to eat whole grains like brown rice, which we especially enjoy in rice salads).

    So we searched for other ways to use the rice, and found five more ways to employ uncooked rice in the kitchen.

    1. BAKING

    You can buy pie weights to blind bake your crusts, or you can use the rice or beans you have on hand. In this case, reserve the “pie rice” for this exclusive purpose; you don’t want to cook with it after it’s been dried by oven heat.

    2. COFFEE GRINDER

    Clean your coffee and spice grinders—every month, if you use them daily. Beyond brushing out leftover particles, clean the undersides of the blades and absorb other buildup with a “rice treatment.”

     

    Too much rice? Beyond cooking it, we’ve got five ways to use it in the kitchen. Photo courtesy United Rice Mills.

     

    Fill the cavity to the blades with rice, and run it through the grinder. Leading coffee roasters use this trick, and some say it works even better with instant rice.

     

    A grain of rice tells you when the oil is ready. Photo courtesy TastyAppetite.net.

     

    3. FRYING

    How do you check if your cooking oil is hot enough? If you don’t have a deep fryer with a temperature dial, you could use a thermometer. Or, just drop a grain of rice into the oil.

    If the rice rises to the surface of the oil and begins to cook, the oil is ready for frying.

    4. RIPEN FRUIT

    Want to ripen fruit faster? If you don’t have an apple*, store the fruit in a container of rice.

    Check on the fruit twice a day so it doesn’t over-ripen. The rice is still good for cooking.

    *A favorite trick is to place the unripe fruit in a paper bag with an apple. The ethylene released by the apple ripens the fruit overnight.

    5. SALT SAVER

    If you live in a humid climate, your salt make clump. Rice comes to the rescue: Add a few grains of rice to your the salt shaker to prevent clumping.

    For open boxes of salt, put the rice in a tea ball or tie it in a piece of gauze or cheesecloth like a bouquet garni.

    BONUS

    You can also make rice milk from scratch (other than rice, of course!) is water and salt. Here’s the recipe.

    Here are more ways to use rice, for non-kitchen tasks in your home.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Cheese Grits

    Hot and hearty cheese grits. Photo courtesy
    Tillamook.com.

     

    It’s so cold in the Northeast today, we’re warming up with a bowl of steaming cheese grits.

    If you’re not from the South, you might not totally “get” grits, a thick, creamy porridge. They can be bland in their traditional recipe, with salt and a pat of butter on top. (You can use sweet toppings instead: sugar, honey, maple syrup, jam, etc.)

    We like our grits in the classic savory preparation, seasoned with salt and pepper and garnished butter and/or cream for added texture and flavor (when we’re not on a cholesterol guilt trip).

    Cheese is a magical enhancer to grits; and Cheddar, Jack or Parmesan is an even yummier replacement for the butter and cream. This recipe is courtesy of Tillamook, one of the country’s best Cheddar producers. You can go heavier or lighter on the cheese, as you prefer.

    CHEESE GRITS RECIPE

    Ingredients

  • 4 cups (32 ounces) whole milk
  • 4 cups (32 ounces) water
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) grits (stone ground with lots of husk—the best are Anson Mills organic heritage grits)
  • ¾-1 cup (3-4 ounces) sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 3-4 slices (3-4 ounces) sharp Cheddar cheese, broken into chunks
  • ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • Chives to garnish
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE milk and water in a large pan and bring liquid to a boil. Whisk in grits, making sure that they don’t clump.

    2. TURN HEAT DOWN to a simmer and stir constantly with a whisk. Continue to stirring with frequently and cook for approximately 45 minutes, until a porridge-like consistency is achieved.

    3. ADD shredded cheese to the grits when they are still a semi-liquid like consistency—they should still be creamy, but acting like they want to grab the ladle. When they stick to the ladle they are fully cooked.

    4. ADD the butter, salt, and pepper right after the cheese. Adjust accordingly with more milk if needed.

    5. POUR grits into oven-safe serving bowls. Add a few piece of sliced cheese chunks (or more if you’d like) to the top of each bowl and put under the broiler for about 30 seconds or until cheese is melty. Having the cheese in chunks assists with uniformity and melting the cheese in the grits.

    6. GARNISH with chives and serve immediately.

    TOO MUCH COOKING FOR YOU?

    Make instant grits in the microwave and add 1 table of grated Parmesan cheese per serving.

    MORE ABOUT GRITS…

    …and another cheese grits recipe.

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Freekah & Snack Gifts

    A “NEW” ANCIENT GRAIN

    Watch out, quinoa: There’s a new grain in town. Although it’s only new to America; freekeh dates to about 2300 B.C.E.

    As the story goes, freekeh was created by accident when a Middle Eastern village was attacked. The hostiles set the fields of young green wheat blaze.

    After the enemy departed, since food was hard to come by, the villagers rubbed off the burned chaff, cooked the immature kernels and discovered that the grain had a smoky aroma and a nutty taste. A cross between brown rice and barley, freekeh became popular in the cuisines of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

    Freeheh has great nutrition and great versatility. You can use it in place of rice or any other grain, even down to making freeheh empanadas, jambalaya, paella, tacos, and even freekeh sushi.

    Freekeh Foods makes three freekeh varieties, original and first flavored freekeh we’ve seen, rosemary sage freekeh and tamari freekeh.

     

    There’s a new—albeit ancient—grain in town:
    freekeh. Photo courtesy Freekeh Foods.

     

    If you’re always on the prowl for the new and delicious, get your freak on with freekeh. Read the full review.

     

    Who wouldn’t want a box of new smacks each month? Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.

     

    READY TO SNACK?

    Our Top Pick from last week was a gift suggestion: a snack-box-of-the-month club. We’ve encountered two companies that have entered this space, both serving up artisan snacks that are a delight to discover.

    Each month the recipient receives an assortment of all natural, typically good-for-you snack foods. The choices come from a broad selection of fruit bars, veggie chips, teas, cookies, candies, peanut butter and jam, nut and seed mixes and other yummies.

    Love With Food combines “great food for a great cause,” donating one meal to a food bank for each snack box sold.

    Boxtera aims for a high percentage of organic-certified products, and strives to include products that are gluten free.

    Both are wonderful gifts, as well as self-treats. Read the full review.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Green Salad With Beans

    Romaine, tomatoes and cannellini beans—
    with some leftover pasta as a bonus.
    Photo courtesy Galli Restaurant | New York
    City.

     

    Want an easy way to add flavor, fiber, protein and other great nutrition to your diet? Eat more beans: affordable, versatile and toothsome.

    Simply add them to your daily green salad. Toss them with the greens or sprinkle them on top as a garnish. For variety you can hold the lettuce and make a bean, corn and onion salad or an ever-popular three bean salad.

    Beyond the familiar—such as black, cannelini, garbanzo, lima, kidney, navy and pinto beans—there are dozens of varieties waiting to make your acquaintance. Take a look at adzuki beans, anasazi beans, purple runners, scarlet runners, yellow eyes and one of our favorite beauties, Good Mother Stallards.

     
    A vinaigrette works really well with greens and beans. The salad can be as simple as beans, romaine, tomatoes and vinaigrette with some optional shaved Parmesan cheese. You can also use a Caesar dressing (recipe). Snipping in some fresh herbs adds a lilt to the salad (and just about anything).

    FRESH & DRIED BEANS VS. CANNED BEANS

    As with almost every food, fresh (or dried) is better than canned. Not only are the flavor and texture superior, but canned beans are typically packed with a lot of sodium.

    At farmers markets, look for butterbeans, cannellini beans, cranberry beans and others, fresh in the pod. Shell and simmer them in lightly salted water for 30 minutes. They’re a real treat: Fresh beans have a wonderfully creamy texture that will open your eyes to the beauty of beans.

    Look for beautiful heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo and Zursun. Their selections of beautiful beans will make you want to cook them every day. We love giving bags of heirloom beans as gifts.

     
    CHECK OUT THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF BEANS IN OUR BEANS & LEGUMES GLOSSARY.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Riso Venere, Black Venere Rice

    Black rice turns dark purple when cooked.
    Photo by Hannah Kaminsky | THE NIBBLE.

     

    You may have come across black rice in a Thai restaurant as an optional side. Black when harvested, it turns dark purple from the heat of cooking.

    Black rice is an easy way to add excitement to a dish, from main courses to desserts like rice pudding. And now there’s a new black rice variety from Italy.

    Riso venere (REE-zoe VEH-neh-ray) is a medium-grain hybrid that has a naturally black pericarp (the outermost skin of the grain). In Italian, the name means “Venus rice.”

    The variety was created by Dr. Wang Xue Ren, a Chinese hybrid specialist. It is not genetically modified (that is, it is non-GMO) but is a hybrid of forbidden rice, also called emperor’s rice, a species that has grown in China for centuries. Until the 1800s it was cultivated only for the emperor and the nobility (hence, “forbidden” to others).

    The Chinese cultivars of black rice could not adapt to cold European winters, but the hybrid does well in the Lombardy and Piedmont regions of Italy. Some Americans call the new hybrid “black vernere rice” or “black Venus rice.”

     

    The heat from cooking turns the anthocyanins* in the hull from black to dark purple. Beyond the stunning color, the whole grain rice has a nutty, sweet taste.

    If you can’t find it locally, you can buy black venere rice online.

    Under the brand name Tenuta Castello, an organic-certified brand, the rice is produced using artisan techniques. The grain kernels are left largely intact, without polishing or shining. The result is great flavor and texture.

    Rice is a complex carbohydrate; black rice is a whole grain. In addition to fiber, the hull contains magnesium, manganese, molybdenum and phosphorus, plus 4 times as much iron and twice the selenium† as white rice. There is no cholesterol, fat or sodium.

    *Anthocyanins are flavonoids, a type of antioxidant.

    †Selenium is an important antioxidant: It helps to improve immune response, slow the aging processes and potentially reduce cancer risk.

     

    WAYS TO SERVE BLACK RICE

    Dramatic color is the name of the game. It is equally successful with bland colors (chicken, halibut, squid, tofu) and vibrant ones (Arctic char, salmon and shrimp). Serve it:

  • Instead of white rice, potatoes or noodles
  • With bright vegetables: green beans or peas, red cherry tomatoes
  • Indian style, as a side dish with green or yellow curries or with tandoori chicken
  • Italian style, with grilled artichoke hearts, fennel, radicchio and a garnish of pine nuts
  • In a rice salad, with complementary colors (green onion, red bell pepper or cherry tomatoes) and cubes of mozzarella cheese
  • In a risotto
  • With red or white beans for a new take on “rice and beans” (perhaps with some corn as well)
  • In rice pudding
  •  

    Black rice makes a beautiful bed for proteins, like this wild Alaskan salmon. Photo courtesy ILoveBlueSea.com.

     

    HOW TO COOK BLACK RICE

    Like brown rice, black rice contains the hull so requires a longer cooking time than white rice.

    1. RINSE one cup of black rice; soak for 1 hour in a pot with 1-3/4 cups water. Do not drain.

    2. ADD 1/2 teaspoon salt, bring to boil, cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes.

    3. REMOVE from heat; allow to sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff and serve.

    It takes longer to cook if it has not been presoaked, and less time in a pressure cooker.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Uses For Leftover Rice

    Fried rice is a favorite use for leftover rice.
    Here, it’s made with brown rice. Photo

     

    After we published uses for leftover pasta, we received requests for uses for leftover rice.

    Any of these recipe ideas works for white or brown rice.

  • Eggs. Add the rice to omelets or frittatas, with or without leftover beans, capers, olives, sliced green onions and diced vegetables.
  • Fried Rice. This is what Chinese restaurants do with leftover rice. Simply toss the rice in a frying pan with some oil and the “mix-ins” (see the recipe is below). You can make your recipe as complex as you like, using whatever vegetables and cooked meats you have in the fridge.
     
    We recently made a batch of fried rice with cilantro, cashews, edamame and pineapple. If you like hot and spicy foods, add minced jalapeños or hot sauce to your recipe. Fried rice is a wonderful opportunity to be creative and turn out a different recipe every time.
  •  

  • Rice Pudding. While rice pudding is typically made by cooking raw rice in milk, you can add milk, sugar and mix-ins to cooked rice. It’s our favorite use for leftover rice from Chinese food take-out. Simply combine the rice, just enough milk or cream to the top of the rice, sweetener and dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg. Add dried blueberries, cherries or raisins, a pinch of salt and an optional 1/8 teaspoon vanilla. Cook on the stovetop or the microwave. Serve hot or chilled. We like to garnish rice pudding with chopped pistachios.
  • Rice Salad. Make rice salad by adding any ingredients you have on hand: carrots, peas, bell pepper, green or red onion, fresh herbs, nuts. Use a vinaigrette dressing; for an Asian-style vinaigrette, combine 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 6 tablespoons vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil, with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. You can serve it as a side, or on a bed of lettuce as a first course.
  •  

  • Seasoned Rice. If your leftover rice is relatively plain, kick it up a notch or two by adding other ingredients, such as those options in the rice salad above. It’s like fried rice but not fried; like rice salad but hot and without the dressing. We’re happy just mixing in fresh herbs and some toasted sesame seeds. For a real treat with roast poultry, make Persian rice with sour cherries (recipe).
  • Soups and Stews. You can add the rice to any soup or stew. For an artistic touch, use an ice cream scoop to place a mound of rice in the middle of a soup bowl. Garnish the top of the rice with some herbs, and spoon the soup around it.
  • Sandwich wraps. Season the rice, add it to the tortilla with other ingredients—beans, chicken, grilled or tofu. Seasonings can range from Asian ingredients (sesame seed, soy sauce) to herbs to red pepper flakes.
  •  

    It’s easy to turn leftover rice into rice pudding. Photo courtesy UNK.

     

    EASY FRIED RICE RECIPE

    Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 4 cups cold cooked rice
  • 1-2 tablespoons light soy sauce or oyster sauce (an earthy, sweet and salty sauce)
  • 2 green onions, washed and finely sliced
  • Other ingredients of choice (diced bell pepper, chicken, pork, sausage, etc.)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. BEAT the eggs with the salt and pepper.

    2. HEAT the oil in a frying pan or wok and add the eggs, stirring, until they are lightly scrambled. Remove, set aside and clean pan with a paper towel.

    3. ADD 2 tablespoons oil, heat and add the rice. Stir-fry for a few minutes; then add the soy sauce.

    4. ADD the scrambled eggs, combining thoroughly. Stir in the green onion and any other ingredients. Heat through and serve.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Grits ~ Not Just A Side At Breakfast

    A bag of premium grits from Charleston
    Favorites. Photo by Saidi Granados | THE
    NIBBLE.

     

    Three-quarters of grits purchased in the U.S. are sold in the South; the area stretching from Virginia to Texas is sometimes referred to as the “grits belt.” This tip is for everyone who lives outside of it.

    But before we dig in, we’ve got to plug the finest grits money can buy, from AnsonMills.com, producer of heritage, organic grits and other fine grains. Your friends who cook will appreciate a bag. There are delicious recipes on the website, too.

    If you like cooked cereal or polenta, add grits to your lineup. And enjoy them at all three meals.

  • Breakfast: as a porridge with with fruit plus a pat of butter, some milk and a sweetener; or as a savory side with eggs. You can stir in cheese to make cheese grits or sprinkle grated Parmesan on them (cheese grits recipe). We like to add a bit of thyme or oregano.
  • Lunch/dinner: as a side dish with with grated cheese, gravy, sliced green onions, sautéed mushrooms or the creative toppings/mix-ins of your choice (we like a small dice of sautéed bell pepper, mushrooms and onions). Shrimp and grits are a popular pairing.
  •  

     
    More ways to flavor grits:

  • With heat: add minced jalapeños or chipotle, or a mix of cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin and paprika; serve with salsa.
  • Garlic grits: Add crushed roasted garlic or garlic powder to plain or cheese grits.
  • Bacon or sausage grits: mix grits with crumbled bacon or sausage.
  •  
    Grits can be set like polenta, by placing the cooked grits in an ungreased loaf pan and cooling for 30 minutes or longer. The loaf is turned out and sliced for grilling or frying with a coating of flour, salt and pepper.

    Grits casserole is another alternative: Combine grits with any ingredients (bell pepper, onions, mushrooms, other vegetables, sausage or other meat including crumbled leftover burgers and seasonings) and bake at 350°F for 35 minutes.

    GRITS PURCHASING TIPS

  • Stone ground: Look for stone-ground grits, which retain the hull and nutritious germ (which houses the wheat germ oil) of the kernel attached. “Degerminated” cornmeal means that the hull and germ have been removed. “Speckled” grits are whole kernel grits.
  • Slow-Cooking: Although it saves time to prepare instant or quick-cooking grits, they have less corn flavor than the conventional slow-cooking product. Some of the flavor is lost in the par-cooking that speeds up the time on your stovetop.
  • Color: Grits are yellow or white, based on the color of corn. Anson Mills, producers of heritage grits (and our favorite grits), notes that grits made from white corn have more interesting mineral and floral notes. White corn was historically popular in the urban port cities of the South, while yellow corn was popular inland, in rural areas.
  •  

    GRITS & POLENTA: THE DIFFERENCE

    There is no labeling standard in the U.S., so the answer to the question isn’t readily apparent. Both grits and polenta are ground cornmeal, which is ground from maize. The difference is in the grind: cornmeal for polenta is ground much finer than the pellets of grits. If you want to substitute grits for cornmeal, you can grind them to a finer texture.

    We like to think of polenta as “Italian grits” and grits as “America polenta,” but, based on local cuisines, the are served in slightly different ways. Polenta is not served as a breakfast cereal, for example.

    WHAT ARE GRITS

    Grits are corn kernels that are soaked in lye or other alkaline solution to remove the casing. At this point, they are known as hominy; hence the term, hominy grits. The hominy is left to harden and then is ground to the texture of tiny pellets, the “grits.”

    Grits are boiled with water into a porridge similar to cream of wheat. Grits are of Native American origin, but our modern word comes from the Old English “grytt,” meaning coarse meal.

     

    Grits with miso-glazed shrimp. Photo courtesy Silk Road Tavern | NYC.

     
    WHAT IS POLENTA

    Polenta is coarsely-ground yellow corn, also known as cornmeal, that is slowly cooked with milk/cream, stock or water. A staple in Northern Italy, it is called cornmeal mush in the U.S. It can be served soft like grits with a sauce (mushroom ragu is our favorite) or grated cheese; or can be set into a block shape, then sliced and grilled or pan fried. Polenta can be enjoyed plain, with a sauce (tomato sauce is traditional), or topped with fish, meat, pasta sauce or vegetables. As with grits, polenta can be served sweet or savory.

    HOW ABOUT MASA?

    To add a third variable, there is masa, also called hominy: maize kernels that are dried and treated with a solution of calcium hydroxide, an alkaline solution also called slaked lime and wood ash. This process, which loosens the hulls so they can more easily be separated from the kernels,* is called nixtamalization. Died and ground, the kernels are called masa harina, which is used to make arepas, tamales, tortillas, among other Latin American dishes including a chocolate pudding. It is also the base of corn chips, which were originally made (in Los Angeles), by cutting and frying leftover tortillas.

    *In addition, the process softens the corn. As a side benefit, the alkaline solution reacts with the corn so that the nutrient niacin can be more easily assimilated by the digestive tract.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Ways To Use Semolina Flour

    Semolina flour. Photo courtesy King Arthur
    Flour.

     

    As we were writing about this past week’s Top Pick, Effie’s Semolina Crackers, we drilled down into semolina, the durum wheat-based flour from which they are made. Part of the review addresses “what is semolina.”

    We came across an article from Shubhra Krishan, author of Essential Ayurveda: What It Is And What It Can Do For You and other books. Read the full article here.

    Here’s her short list of the health benefits of semolina:

  • Energy: For those who lead an active lifestyle, semolina is a quick and nourishing source of energy.
  • Fullness: Semolina is digested slowly. This helps you feel full longer.
  • Kidneys: The potassium content in semolina helps to improve kidney function.
  • Minerals: The trace minerals in semolina, such as phosphorus, zinc and magnesium, are beneficial for the health of your bones and nervous system.
  • Vitamins: Semolina is a good source of two vital vitamins: E and the B group.
  •  
    WAYS TO USE SEMOLINA IN EVERYDAY COOKING

     

  • Bread: Bake semolina raisin bread—it’s so good, you should make extra loaves for the freezer. Here’s a semolina fennel raisin bread recipe. Or, substitute semolina flour for some of the all-purpose flour in any bread recipe. Itwill yield a tender crumb and a crisp crust.
  • Cereal: Make this semolina porridge recipe. It‘s delicious comfort food, and requires only milk and semolina flour (plus optional pinch of salt, pat of butter, chopped nuts, drizzle of honey, dried fruit, fresh berries, etc.).
  • Cookies: Make lemon semolina cookies.
  • Fish & Chicken: Use semolina with fried or grilled fish or chicken. Coat the protein in semolina before crumbing or battering; it forms a seal between the fillet and the batter. This tip comes from an owner of a fish and chips shop, who says that one can coat and stack the fish fillets and they won’t stick together, as they would with all purpose flour. She says that they can actually be coated the day before.
  •  

    Semolina is a better thickener than all-purpose flour. Photo by Evegny B. | ISP.

    When grilling, semolina provides a golden crunch and also helps to retain moisture.

  • Pasta: Whip up some homemade pasta.
  • Pizza: Roll out pizza crust with semolina flour, which will give it a crunchy exterior. If you like a chewy pizza crust, make the dough with semolina flour.
  • Soups, Stews, Gravies: Thicken soups, stews and gravies with semolina flour. It doesn’t clump as readily as all-purpose flour. Add a pinch at a time as the recipe simmers, stirring constantly, until you reach the desired thickness.
  •  
    IF YOU HAVE OTHER SEMOLINA RECOMMENDATIONS, LET US KNOW.

      

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