Unless you have the family on a no-carb diet – and we know how that fad has died out – you probably spend some meal-planning energy on carb-y side dishes to go with protein sources and vegetables. Potatoes, pasta, rice, grains are among the choices. And among the grain-y options we tend to forget are grits. That's right. Grits. The South's answer to Italian polenta.
Since we do, in essence, live in the South, you've probably tried had grits for breakfast, but few of us consider fixing them for supper. Yet this finely ground corn (aka hominy) product is low in calories (only 73 in half a cup), low in fat and sodium, and provides fair amounts of iron, thiamine and niacin, which foster healthy blood and high energy levels.
And if you're not quite sure what grits are, we'll tell you. They are starchy, coarsely ground, hulled, dried corn kernels that may or may not include the bran or germ. The dried corn kernels are boiled in a weak lye solution, then hulled, washed and dried. The result is dried whole hominy. Grits are ground hominy. When purchasing grits, keep in mind that stone-ground version does include the germ and is usually more nutritious than mass-produced grits. (Read the label.)
Our exercise du jour is to consider ways to add these carbs to our seasonal menus.
But first, here are some words to embroider on your next sampler: "It's not the grits that make you gain, it's what you add to them." (Same goes for potatoes, pasta, rice …all those carbohydrate sources that are excruciatingly bland.)
As for breakfast, you can substitute grits for oatmeal or cream of wheat. Or use them as a side dish with a more substantial brunch-time meal of bacon, eggs and hot cakes. The simplest grits are served hot with butter, salt and pepper. They make a welcome change for those who aren't enamored of pancakes.
As a substitute for pancakes, try putting butter and warm maple syrup on your grits. Or, keep the fat and calories low by stirring in a dollop of apple or pear butter and sprinkling on some cinnamon and nutmeg.
Disclaimer done, we begin…
This dish definitely has Southern roots and is designed to take advantage of cooler weather, when we tend to cook with heartier cuts of meat – in this case, sausage.
Add a side dish of warm spinach salad (no bacon), and maybe even some cornbread.
1 pound Andouille sausage, chopped
5 and one-half cups reduced fat (1 percent is fine) milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each, coarse black pepper and cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 1/4 cups quick yellow grits
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
In a saucepan, over medium-high heat, brown sausage, stirring often, for about 4 minutes. Add milk, salt, peppers and butter and bring to a boil. Add grits, reduce heat to medium, and stir for 30 seconds. Add cheese and stir until cheese melts. Cook, uncovered, until grits are tender and creamy, 4 to 5 minutes, adding a bit more milk if grits seem too dry.
Here we go even further south (as in "of the Border") for inspiration. Chilies rellenos is always a favorite whenever we eat out (and in) a la Tex-Mex. In this version, we stuff the poblanos with a cheesy grits mixture.
In keeping with our ethnic theme, proffer Mexican rice pilaf (add some corn, some tomato juice, some cilantro) and refried black beans.
3 (10.75 ounce) cans condensed chicken broth
1/2 cup half and half
1 cup quick-cooking grits (white or yellow)
2 1/2 cups shredded Mexican cheese mixture (cheddar/Jack)
12 large poblano or Anaheim chile peppers
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup half and half
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Peanut oil, for frying
Shredded iceberg lettuce, for serving
Shredded cheddar cheese, garnish
Finely sliced scallions, garnish
Reduced fat sour cream, garnish
Favorite bottle salsa (medium heat), garnish
For the grits: In a large saucepan, bring chicken broth and half and half to a boil. Stir in grits, return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in Mexican cheese mixture. Keep warm.
For the peppers: Preheat broiler. Rinse and dry peppers. Arrange on a spray-coated broiler pan. Broil peppers about 5 inches from heat source, with oven door slightly ajar, until peppers are blistered, about 5 minutes per side. Place peppers in a heavy zip-top bag, close bag and let stand about 10 minutes, to loosen the skins. Remove skins from peppers. Carefully cut peppers lengthwise on one side, leaving stems attached. Scrape out seeds.
To stuff: Spoon the creamy grits evenly into the peppers. Or cut a corner from a small plastic bag, add some grits and pipe them into the peppers. Secure filling inside peppers with toothpicks.
To fry: In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and half and half. In a shallow plate, combine well the flour, cornmeal, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Dip stuffed peppers first into egg mixture, shaking off excess, then in flour/cornmeal mixture.
In a large, heavy skillet, add peanut oil to a depth of 1 inch. Heat to 375 degrees. In batches (2 or 3 at a time), fry coated peppers, cut side up, until puffy and golden, about 2 minutes, turning once. Drain on paper towels.
To serve: Arrange on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce. Top with small amounts of cheddar, scallions, sour cream and salsa. Serve additional garnishes on the side. Makes 6 servings of two peppers each.
You can enjoy grits for breakfast (savory or sweet), as mentioned above. And for dinner, as also mentioned above. But grits can abet the sweet toothed among us by providing a post-prandial treat. Here we use canned pineapple and store-bought pie crusts – which you always have in the house, of course -- to create a yummy eating incentive for the nights when you figure the "troops" won't be thoroughly enamored of what you've done with the leftovers from Sunday's dinner.
This recipe makes a couple of pies, because if you're going to the trouble to make one …
2 cups water
1/2 cup quick-cooking grits (uncooked)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple (natural juice)
1/2 of an 8-ounce package reduced fat cream cheese
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 (9-inch) graham cracker pie crusts
Spritz-on whipped cream, garnish
Favorite fresh berries, garnish
Heat oven to 300 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add grits and salt and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
In a blender, combine grits, pineapple and cream cheese and blend until smooth, stopping once to scrape down sides. With blender running, add eggs, one at a time. Add sugar, milk and vanilla and blend until smooth, stopping once to scrape down sides. Divide grits mixture evenly between crusts.
Bake for 1 hour, until mixture is set. Cool on a wire rack. When ready to serve, cut one pie into wedges, and arrange on small dessert plates. Spritz with whipped cream and garnish cream and sides of plate with berries. Makes 6 servings per pie.