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Hominy is one of those foods you might think you’ve never tried, yet almost certainly have. Or at least a close relative of it.
That’s because the ingredient that starts as hominy can end as many different dishes across many cultures, from Mexican pozole to Southern grits to the corn nuts down at your neighborhood bar.
But first, the basics.
Hominy is the name given to whole corn kernels, usually white, that have been cooked in a lye or lime solution to remove their thick hulls. The result is a tender, somewhat bulbous kernel with a chewy texture and a clean, corn flavor.
In Latin America, these kernels are used most often in soups and stews such as pozole, a highly seasoned stew of hominy, pork and chili peppers.
The Southern staple known as grits follows a similar path. In this case, the hominy is dried after processing, then coarsely ground. The resulting meal then is cooked with water or milk to a porridge-like consistency similar to polenta.
Finally, there is the snack food: corn nuts. These are produced much like hominy, except the kernels are soaked in water after the hulls are removed. They then are dried and fried until crunchy, then seasoned and consumed alongside intoxicating beverages.
But since the culinary options with corn nuts are limited and grits are a bit too common for the purposes of this column, let’s focus on basic hominy.
Cans of hominy are widely available at most grocers, either among the canned vegetables or in the Hispanic foods aisle.
Treat hominy as you would canned sweet corn — drain it and use it. How?
• Add it to chicken soup instead of noodles for a grain with a delicious texture and a gentle corn flavor, both of which complement the taste and texture of the meat.
• Add it to your favorite chili recipe, where its taste and texture again complement the other ingredients wonderfully.
• Coarsely chop 1 to 2 cups of hominy in the food processor, then stir into cornbread just before baking.
• Stir hominy into stovetop or oven-baked mac and cheese. Or any cheesy casserole, for that matter. Much like sweet corn, hominy loves cheese.
• Speaking of cheese, hominy is delicious in cheesy mashed-potato soup, too.
• Stir hominy into warm soft polenta, then spread the mixture into a lightly oiled baking pan. Chill until firm, then cut into squares, brush with oil, season with cayenne, salt and pepper, then grill until hot. Serve topped with butter and grilled steak.
Pulled Chicken and Hominy Stew
Start to finish: 45 minutes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 pound steak tips, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 quart beef broth
2 cups red wine
6-ounce can tomato paste
Juice of 2 limes, divided
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into large chunks
2 red bell peppers, cored and chopped
29-ounce can hominy, drained
¼ cup packed brown sugar
Salt and ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the onion, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, paprika and mustard powder. Sauté until the onions are tender, about 4 minutes. Add the beef and sear, turning to brown, about 3 minutes.
Add the broth, wine, tomato paste, juice of 1 lime and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a simmer. Add the chicken and steak, then cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Use 2 forks to shred the chicken, then return it to the pot.
Add the bell peppers, hominy and brown sugar. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the juice of the remaining lime and the cilantro.
J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is the author of the recent cookbook High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking. He also blogs at LunchBoxBlues.com.