I’ve just returned from a week of eating and boozing in Mexico with five friends. There was a different taco to try at just about every hour of the day. I intend to throw a taco party very soon, to celebrate and exercise my own hand at the new flavors that so captivated us while they’re fresh in memory. But in the immediate aftermath of the trip, there was a group detox to do.
The day after leaving our fanciful beach getaway in the Yucatan Peninsula, we exchanged texts:
Me: I think I’m going through midday-margarita withdrawal.
Robert: I literally just googled “best pina colada in Philly.”
Pervaiz: I am eating a salad and my body is rejecting it.
Diana: I dreamt last night that I was swimming in sopa de lima.
I also tried eating a salad the next day after the trip, and I wasn’t having it. Not even with “the works.” There is nothing very comforting about cold, raw vegetables, in my opinion, when you’re trying to wean yourself from a savory escapade abroad. So as soon as I could get myself to the farmers market, for the best chance at finding the choicest seasonal vegetables I could in attempt to clean up my eating act, I did just that.
We’ve officially entered the worst time for produce in NYC. There are no spring ramps or snow peas yet, just old potatoes and apples and overgrown turnips these days. But there is always something to surprise you at any farmers market, no matter how consistently you go nor the time of the year. Last Saturday, Madura Mushroom Farm’s stand had the ticket: it was pink — not yellow, not gray, but coral-pink — oyster mushrooms.
Ahh… suddenly the vibrant colors of Mexico did not seem as irreplaceable anymore. This was just what I needed to re-acclimate myself to my own territory.
Also at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, I found another fun treat that I might have overlooked had there been graffiti eggplant and heirloom tomatoes abound: some nice, freshly-ground yellow cornmeal. For grits! I thought. And instead of shrimp, perhaps these shrimpy-pink mushrooms would have the right textural and flavorful component to top them with.
So that’s what I did, shrooms and grits. It doesn’t have quite the same luxury as camarones (aka shrimp) in the starring role, but heck, it took all of fifteen minutes to make, and it was healthy and comforting as healthy-home-comfort-food can be. (Plus, I love it when you don’t intend to eat vegan, gluten-free, or even vegetarian, but you do.)
I got some winter leeks (also gathered from the farmers market) cooking on a pan, and threw in some red chili flakes to excite them a bit. Plenty of these leeks sprinkled atop the creamy cornmeal grits added a good green component and sweetness to mingle. Some of them got a little crispy, like the browned mushrooms (I used a combination of those pink oyster mushrooms and little king oysters) to add some umami and texture, too.
I’m sure there are many ways you can spiffy up a “shroom and grits” meal aside from these three ingredients I’ve put together here. A poached egg to pop on top of it all? Great idea for breakfast — and one that I, once again, forgot to add. Grated parmiggiano and parsley? Good ideas, too. So consider this a framework for making your ultimate concept with, or just a simple meal with, when you’re at a lack for many flashy ingredients. It hit the spot, and after this considerably simple meal post-vacation, I felt sufficiently detoxified. Now, onto that taco party makin’s.
Shroomp ‘n Grits
(makes about 2 servings)
1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal (for grits or polenta)
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped
1/4 lb assorted mushrooms (preferably meaty, tasty ones, like king oyster or oyster mushrooms), cut to large-ish, equal-sized chunks
2-3 tablespoons olive oil or butter
pinch of red chili flakes
salt and pepper to taste
Bring a pot of 3 cups of water to a boil. Stir in the cornmeal slowly and bring mixture to a boil again, stirring occasionally. Reduce to a low simmer and stir the pot occasionally for 10-15 minutes, or until the cornmeal is completely softened and the consistency resembles runny grits (add more water if necessary).
Meanwhile, heat one tablespoon of the butter or oil over low heat and add the leeks, along with a pinch of red chili flakes, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and just a little crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan and wipe down any bits.
Heat the pan with another tablespoon of butter or oil over high heat. Once the oil/butter is bubbling, add the mushrooms, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Don’t stir for a minute to brown them. Then flip or stir to gently brown all sides. Once mushrooms are browned all over and have become translucent (about 3-4 minutes), remove from pan.
Distribute the grits into serving dishes, and top each with the leeks, followed by the mushrooms. Serve immediately.
(for 2 servings)
1 cup grits (at $6/ 2 lb bag): $0.75
1/4 lb oyster mushrooms: $7.00
2 leeks (at $2/bunch): $0.50
2 tablespoons butter: $0.37
Five brownie points: It’s not doing much bad, but it’s not doing that much good, either. This dish could’ve gotten a boost with a leafy green vegetable, but you’re still getting some antioxidants and Vitamin K from the leeks. And the cornmeal will add whole-grain fiber and are pretty low on the glycemic index.
Eight maple leaves: Made from a few scrappy winter ingredients, this is an easy feat any time of year. Coarse-ground cornmeal makes a great pantry staple, for baking or cooking into quick porridges like grits and polenta. They might not keep as long as regular onions, but leeks make an enticing winter substitute for greens. If you use oil instead of butter, this is a totally plant-based meal.