Corn gets my vote as the most varied and versatile whole grain. It comes in more colors – from white, yellow and red to blackish blue – and more forms than any other whole grain I can think of.
Popcorn, if you didn’t know it, is a whole grain, as are other forms of whole corn, from ears of steamed or grilled fresh corn to frozen or canned kernels. But ground corn is what really fascinates me.
Ground corn comes in many textures, from one fine enough to use in baking to coarsely- cracked grits. Although these can have different names and produce distinctly different results depending on how they are cooked, corn is always delicious.
My mother insisted that school mornings start with hot cereal. Her stone-ground cornmeal, served with maple syrup and cold milk, was one of my favorites. A neighbor, transplanted from Mobile, Alabama, called this cornmeal mush. My Romanian grandfather, who lived with us, refrigerated the leftovers; he later sliced and reheated them until crisp and golden brown, at which point he dubbed the dish mamaliga.
Our Mobile neighbor also introduced me to grits, which can be fine or coarse. Coarse grits are best served baked with cheese and chiles. Stone-ground cornmeal retains the vitamin-rich germ and fiber-rich bran. Always choose yellow cornmeal over white, which lacks the vitamin A in the carotenoids that give it its bright color.
Italian polenta is cornmeal too, but the corn is harder, so it seems more gritty, whether coarse or fine, regular or quick-cooking. Hominy, hominy grits, Mexican masa and masa harina are in a different category because the corn is treated with lye, a process that makes its protein and niacin more available and adds a distinctive taste.
These moist muffins combine two types of whole-grain corn with chiles and cheese.
Whole Corn and Green Chile Muffins (adapted from The New American Plate Cookbook) – Makes 12 servings.
Canola oil spray (optional)
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour, preferably stone-ground
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp cayenne, or to taste (optional)
1/2 cup shredded low-fat sharp cheddar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. fat-free or low-fat (2%) milk
1/3 cup canola oil
1 can (8 oz.) salt-free whole kernel corn, well drained
1 can (4.5 oz) diced green chiles, well-drained
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a 12-cup muffin pan with canola oil spray or line with paper liners. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, cayenne and cheese. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg with the milk and oil. Mix in the corn and chiles. Add this mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients, stirring just until combined. Fill each muffin cup with even amounts of batter.
Bake muffins 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin close to the center of the pan comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Transfer muffins to the rack and cool completely.
Per serving: 168 calories, 8 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat), 20 g. carbohydrate, 5 g. protein, 2 g. dietary fiber, 275 mg. sodium.
“Something Different” is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) offers a Nutrition Hotline online at www.aicr.org or via phone 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, MondayFriday, at 1-800-843-8114. This free service allows you to ask questions about diet, nutrition and cancer. A registered dietitian will respond to your email or call, usually within 3 business days. AICR is the only major cancer charity focusing exclusively on how the risk of cancer is reduced by healthy food and nutrition, physical activity and weight management. The Institute’s education programs help millions of Americans lower their cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. Over $82 million in funding has been provided. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.