Fungi is a cornmeal dish akin to polenta that's a staple comfort food throughout most of the Caribbean. Like polenta, it can be served soft, roughly the consistency of stiff mashed potatoes, or, after cooking a longer time, spread out, cooled and cut into small pieces. Fungi is a delicious side dish usually served with fish, or it's shaped into little balls as a garnish for soup such as kallaloo. Fungi can be made plain or enhanced, like this recipe, with onions, okra and tomatoes.
3 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing pan
1/2 cup minced onion
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups yellow stone ground cornmeal
1/3 cup diced tomato, seeded and drained
1/2 cup frozen sliced okra, thawed,
coarsely chopped and well drained
Melt the butter in a small frying pan and cook the onion over medium heat for five minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat.
Bring the water to a boil in a medium-sized heavy saucepan, preferably a nonstick one. Add the salt and slowly pour in the cornmeal, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir constantly for 10 minutes. (At this point, you have soft fungi. Just season it with 2 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper and serve in a bowl.)
Stir in the onions and butter, tomatoes and okra. Continue stirring for five minutes until the mixture rolls off the side of the pan and no longer sticks to the bottom.
Turn the mixture onto a lightly greased baking sheet and smooth the top evenly with a spatula into about a 10-inch square, about three-quarters of an inch thick. Cool for 30 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for one hour.
Cut the fungi into small squares and serve at room temperature.
Makes 6 servings
Editor's note: Michele Evans, a resident of St Thomas, is the author of 13 cookbooks. She also co-authored "La Cucina Siciliana di Gangivecchio," which won the James Beard Foundation award for the best Italian cookbook for 1997. Her travel guide, "Caribbean Connoisseur…An Insider's Guide to the Islands' Best Hotels Resorts and Inns," published by St. Martin's Press, is in its third edition.