As a proud Southern man and cook, I enjoy our regional cuisine. Tasting the other bountiful harvests of this country and the exciting and varied cuisines of the world has turned me into a happy foodie.
But I get upset and then angry when a myth is perpetuated and the truth gets glossed over – again and again and again. With two major cooking networks and many other food based cooking and talk shows, you and I are inundated with food – all kinds.
Recently watching one of my favorite network daytime cooking/talk shows, a certain red headed famous chef fell into that same myth or trap. Hello world, grits and polenta are not the same thing!!! They are distant cousins, but vastly different. But come on, can’t your research teams get it straight.
Grits are made from dried hominy. Hominy is made by taking the whole kernels of corn and cooking them in a high alkaline cooking liquid. In the past, lye was used. My mother even tells me that my grandmother would use ashes from the wood burning stove. Cooking the kernels in this solution makes the corn swell and the outer skin come off. The result is a very fluffy wonderful dish. A lot of you have had hominy in a very famous Mexican soup – pozole.
Hominy kernels are then taken out and dried. When roughly ground, you have our wonderful Southern staple, grits. Grits are cooked in water, broth, milk, or cream – your choice. Seasoned with butter, salt and pepper. Delicious! Add some garlic and some cheese and I am in heaven.
If you grind the hominy into a powder, you have masa. Corn flour is used to make tortillas, tamales and in several other Mexican dishes.
Polenta is ground dried corn. Not grits. Polenta is also delicious, but damn you folks on TV are schooled chefs, get it right! Dried corn that has been ground more finely is corn meal. I use corn meal all of the time. (My corn bread versus corn pone family semantics lesson is another issue altogether.) Just because the corn is ground does not make it grits. Just because you cook the corn in a similar way to making grits, does not make them grits. GET IT RIGHT, PEOPLE!
Several years ago, I got into an email war of words with a very famous lifestyle maven’s creative team. She had featured a mill in one of the Carolinas that ground blue corn, red corn and on and on – AND THEY CALLED THEM GRITS! No, ma’am! Her team told me that I should be quiet and respect the fact that they broadcast worldwide and I should consider that they were correct. They were WRONG! I told her, you can call a hamburger a hot dog, but it doesn’t make it one.
It is an easy fact for Southerners to know. Don’t mess with our grits!
One of the many adventurous things about living in a city as metropolitan as Atlanta is the access to such diverse and interesting foodie options. You can treat yourself to many fine dining pleasure dens, choose a new chef’s farm-to-table establishment or opt for a hole in the wall on Buford Highway with delicious treats. Anything and everything from around the world is available in ‘Hot’lanta!
Recently to celebrate a friend’s birthday and explore another cultural experience with another foodie, we went to Macchu Picchu restaurant on the previously mentioned multi-cultural bastion of exciting food, Buford Highway. The restaurant sits a bit hidden in the bright yellow Northeast Plaza shopping center. The menu is filled with hearty Peruvian food. Lots of representation of the coastal areas with many ceviche bowls and other fish dishes. I had the Pescado a la Chorillana. Crispy fried fish filets topped with onions. Delicious! Heartier stews, soups, empanadas and beef plates fill out a very auspicious menu. Try it! You will like it!
A couple of weeks later, another friend called and wanted to get a quick lunch at one of his favorite places. Desta Ethiopian Kitchen. Located on Briarcliff off in the Williamsburg Village Shopping Center, this icon of Ethiopian food competes with others close by. We ordered the meat lover’s plate. You pick three of the outstanding choices on the menu. We chose fish, lamb and chicken. Each protein was cooked with vegetables and spiced to perfection! Of course, you get ample freshly made injera, the spongy and delicious bread that you use as an eating utensil. The food is low calorie, well spiced and served quickly. Fun!
And to round out the month, I was invited to dine with new friends at a farewell party hosted in a very dear friend’s home. She and her large and loving family are Lebanese. Knowing I had never tried Kibbeh, the national dish of Lebanon, her sister made a delicious citrus infused raw version and a warm, hearty baked version. The raw version is the best beef ground with onions and bulgur. Served on pita, it was a true treat to eat! The baked version has a few extra ingredients and was served along with an array of Mediterranean delights. I am blessed to have such friends!
I live to eat! I know others that only eat to live. That makes me a bit sad as I feel they miss out on the stories of cultures, families, traditions and great food! Life is just too short! Explore! Explore!