When I lived in Tennessee I learned quite a few quaint Southern colloquialisms, got used to being called "Ma'am", and that there are grits and G.R.I.T.S. (Girls Raised in the South). Outside of the South, I rarely found grits featured on a menu except at a breakfast joint or restaurant featuring soulful home cookin'. Today, grits, like their Italian counter part, polenta, are featured as a base for exceptional restaurant dishes in place of pasta, rice and potatoes and are no longer limited to breakfast menus and Southern sides.
Grits, corn meal and polenta all come from corn kernels that are ground or milled. Stone ground grits have more texture and to me, more flavor compared to finely milled corn meal. Stone grinding retains the germ, which delivers a bit of flavor, and the bran of the kernel. Grits come in a variety of grinds, from fine to coarse, and types, from quick cook to the slower cooking stone ground.
Hominy and "hominy grits" are made by a process of drying and soaking corn kernels to remove their hull and germ. This method comes from a traditional process used by the indigenous people of North and South America who soaked dried kernels in lime or wood ash releasing the niacin held in the corn making it available for the body to absorb. Soaking also causes the outer shell to peel away and the kernel to swell from the water. The kernels are then rinsed, dried again and ground.
cooking grits and Cheesy Grit recipe and serving ideas
Prepare grits like any grain; bring to a boil in liquid, stir (use a whisk to break up clumps) while slowly simmering, until all the added liquid is absorbed. A good ratio of liquid to grain is 4:1 in making grits. For a vegetarian based dish, try 2 parts water and 2 parts vegetable stock. For creamy grits, use 2 parts water and 2 parts milk, then add a bit of cream during the end of cooking.
Once cooked, grits can be served for a hot breakfast with butter and maple syrup stirred in, or cooled and used in casseroles. Like polenta, once the grits are cooked, cooled and allowed to set, they can be cut into shapes then baked, grilled or fried into "cakes". Grits, like many grains, tend to be neutral in flavor. Cooked grits will take on the flavor of the liquid used for cooking or the ingredients and sauces they are served with.
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The first time I ate grits in the South, they were garlicky, cheesy and caused a case of G.R.I.T.S envy. Being a good Southern girl, my neighbor saw I needed a cure and quickly handed me this recipe.
Serve cheesy grits:
with chopped cherry tomatoes, grilled or roasted corn and fresh herbs
wild mushroom or tomato ragout,
topped with grilled vegetables or sautéed greens.
Jennie's Grits-serves 8
4 cups water or stock
1-cup cheddar cheese, shredded*
1 stick butter
2 eggs, beaten
¾ cup milk**
1-teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
*Substitute: soy cheese-like "cheddar" or "pepper jack"
**Substitute: plain rice or almond milk
Preheat oven to 350 F
1. Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan
2. Slowly add grits to boiling water while stirring with a whisk, stir until there are no clumps in the mixture.
3. Continue to slowly simmer the grits, stirring occasionally until all the liquid has been absorbed.
4. Mix the cheese and the butter into the grits. Set aside to cool
5. In a small bowl beat the eggs and the milk together. Add the garlic powder and Worcestershire sauce. Stir liquid mixture into cooled grits.
6. Pour mixture into a 2- quart baking dish.
7. Bake at 350 F for one hour.