On Hominy

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday is that nixtamalized corn remains an important part of the American diet to this day, and not just because tortillas have become a staple bread. Northern Native Americans also grew and harvested corn, and like their Mesoamerican counterparts, treated it with ashes or lime. Once it was cooked and washed they would roughly grind it and eat it as a porridge. Millions of Americans (most of them southerners) still enjoy that dish, only under a different name: grits.

In the States whole hominy can be found canned in most grocery stores. Dried grits can be found almost everywhere as well. Why not use them to make tortillas? Again because it’s not the nixtamalized corn that’s the problem, it’s the grinding. To get it ground down to the consistency that tortillas require, you need a metate or a professional grinder or milling machine. Which is not to say that you can’t make some very good food out of hominy, as reader Marciella points out:

I thought you might be interested to know that hominy, which is available in many places in the US, seems to be very close to the corn base used to make tortillas. They’re both treated with a weak alkali.

I’ve never actually used hominy to make tortillas due to the grinding issue. I’m really just extrapolating from my experience making the South American version of tortillas (Colombian, really), arepas! They are fantastic when made with ground hominy, and very close to the Colombian versions I’ve eaten. Easy too… partially drain a can of hominy and grind in a food processor. Add back liquid as needed to make a dough, then press or roll out into 1/8 to 1/4 inch pancakes. 🙂 It’s lots of fun! Removing the slippery exterior of the hominy makes the mixture finer, but isn’t necessary.

I’m not sure how well the process would work for Venezuelan arepas. They’re usually 3/4 inch thick, and ground hominy might leave the interior too moist when compared to the packaged mixes. Sounds like something I should experiment with!

Good arepas are indeed one of the great pleasures of South American cuisine. Mrs. Pastry loves to make them, in fact, and our girls love to eat them. But breads are just the beginning of what you can make with nixtamalized corn. It’s a terrific ingredient in stews like pozole and menudo, in chili, soup, casseroles, you name it. It’s one of those things that’s not just fun to eat, but fun to dwell on. I believe me, I do both.

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