By J.M. Hirsch
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.
Cans of basic hominy are widely available at most grocers, either among the canned vegetables or in the Hispanic foods aisle.
• J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press.