End of harvest soup, salad, half cornmeal biscuit, local wine: my idea of a decent worknight meal
Would that I had a real tractor. I might just bust up some sod and grow some grains here. Of course, had I a tractor with tiller attachment I would need a thresher too. I am not there yet, I guess…and probably never will be, knowing how rough our clay soils are.
Two roadblocks in the Eat Local Challenge involve two big food groups: grains and dairy. Granted, you might be able to do without dairy altogether for a month’s challenge, but what about grains? The staff of life? Many people have therefore excused flour for their Challenge. But flour isn’t the only way one can eat grains.
What about corn?
Most everyone has access to corn. (You can grow your own even. Corn is pretty easy to grow, and as long as you can keep the corn borers and pesky raccoons away…) I made posole, or hominy, recently and it was fairly easy, though a bit time-intensive. What I love about grains is that a little bit of corn puffs up to a lot of hominy. Four cups of kernels made nearly 7 cups of the stuff. I froze what we couldn’t eat for future meals. I also plan to throw some in the food processor and make us some mmm-mmm grits; I could dry it and grind it further and bang I have some masa flour for yummy tasty tortillas and sopes and tamale filling. In other words, the humble corn kernel is very versatile.
Nixtamalizing (note the word “tamal,” as in tamale) is the process of chemically separating the corn shell from the edible part through an alkali soaking. This soaking has the added benefit of releasing niacin (B3) from the corn in a readily digestible form. Pellagra is what occurs when folks eat lots of corn that hasn’t been so treated. Nixtamalizing also gives the corn that nice lime-y, corn-y taste: think fresh corn tortillas on a hot griddle and you probably know what I mean.
Rinse and sort four cups of dry corn kernels (I used yellow dent corn from my corn/buckwheat source), then soak overnight in water to cover. Set in a nonreactive (enameled, pottery or stainless steel) deep pot with 1/3 cup of baking soda and more water to cover and begin boiling. I used my ancient Crock Pot for this. What you’re going to do is remove the pericarp and tip cap (tough shell and shell attachment to the cob) by soaking the kernels in an alkaline solution to loosen the hulls. The typical alkali used is lye. Lye scares the hell out of me personally, though Mrs. Wages’ makes a pickling lime that is a bit less scary. I couldn’t find any in time so I resorted to the more time-intensive but easier-found box of baking soda. (Next time, I will try lye. The baking soda kind of dissolved the hulls. I do need to get over my fear though first.)
Boil, rinse, boil, rinse: eventually you will find that the kernels are poofing up and the hulls are coming off. (The alkali is only in the first go-round of boiling.) While rinsing in the sink in a colander set in a deeper bowl, I scrub and pinch off the hulls. They float, and with a bit of work you can figure out the easiest way to separate them. Note, this process does take time, so…prepare yourself mentally for what the task is at hand. Separating the little floating boogers of pericarp is kind of annoying.
The reward was yummy though. I made a nice soup with the winding-down tomatoes, peppers, onions, celery and garlic, and scraps of a pork picnic (basically the “arm ham” or bicep of a pig) that we roasted in a low barbecue all day, then separated the somewhat stringy tasty meat for future meals…lots of future meals as it turned out; that “picnic” was 4lbs, bone-in. The hominy is destined for another spin with Thursday’s meal: nice, buttery grits as the side dish. It’ll show up in a couple other forms too.