I am, undeniably, a northerner. I come from a land where the word d-o-g is pronounced “dawg”, where the temperature has to dip far below 60°F before we even consider a sweater. I come from a place where we say “youze” instead of “y’all” (or “all y’all”), and where calling someone “ma’am” is the polite way to insult someone to her face, kind of like how “bless your heart” actually means, “you idiot”. (To my friends from the south…you know what I mean.) But despite our cultural differences, there is one thing for certain that we can agree on.
Grits. Beautiful grits. I love ’em. Weird, right? I know! It surprised me too, but my love runs deep. I love ’em for breakfast with bacon and hot sauce and toast. I love them smothered in onions and cheese. I would love them with shrimp but I’m allergic, so I’ll leave that low country treat to the fine Carolinians that it won’t kill. And I love them when they’re quick-cooking, when they’re slow-cooking, and either makes me happy when I have them for dinner. I’m not talking about the grits’ cousin, the finely-ground, smooth beauty that is polenta. I love that too, but in a different way. I love the nubbly, hearty, coarsely textured porridge that is a beautiful serving of pure comfort. And it warms you from the insides on a cold winter’s night, like the ones we’ve been having here in the frozen northeast. Here’s what I used:
- 1 medium onion, cut into a small (ish) dice
- 2 or 3 (or more) cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 Tablespoons oil (olive, vegetable, sunflower, whatever you prefer)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- Salt and black pepper (season now, and again at the end of the cooking time)
- 1 cup corn kernels (frozen is fine)
- 2 cups almond milk (or regular milk, if you prefer, but almond milk = OMG YES in grits)
- 2 cups water or broth
- 1 cup grits, quick-cooking grits are just fine
- 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons butter
- 1 Tablespoon each of chives and parsley, finely chopped
There ain’t much about making grits that’s pretty, so let’s just get right down to it. Get out a fairly large pot-one big enough to accommodate 4 cups worth of cooking liquid, plus vegetables–with a heavy bottom. Put oil in the bottom of the pan over medium heat. While the oil is heating, chop onions and garlic.
When the oil is hot, add onions and garlic, and a shot of salt and pepper. Let them saute together for a few minutes, then add thyme leaves. Give the leaves a few minutes to incorporate themselves with the onions and garlic, then add in the corn and, if you’re at all like me, another mega-hit of black pepper.
Be careful with adding too much salt at this point; you’re going to put some cheese in soon, and that will bring a load of salt to the dish. Patience. You can always add more at the end.
Let the corn and onions saute together for a few minutes. Grate the cheese and chop the herbs you’re going to finish the grits with, in the meantime. Once the veggies have had a few minutes to cook together, add the almond milk or milk, and water or broth. It’s up to you as to what you have and what you prefer to use. Scrape up any brown bits that have cooked onto the bottom of the pot and let that incorporate into the cooking liquid. Bring that to a boil and once the boil happens, you can whisk in your grits. BEAR THIS IN MIND: if you use quick-cooking grits, the dish will move very quickly to completion once the grits hit the liquid. Make sure your finishing prep work is done before you pour the grits in so you can add everything with smooth assurance and you’re not frantic.
Back to the instructions. When it boils, whisk in your grits.
Stir stir stir! Again, if you use quick-cooking grits this will start to thicken almost immediately; check your container to see roughly how long the cook time will take. (I sound like a shill for the quick-cook variety but if that’s what you use, this whole dish can come together in about twenty minutes.) When the grits have thickened into a creamy mass, add the cheese, chives, parsley, and butter.
Stir that in and before you know it, you’ll have a beautiful, rich, fragrant batch of grits that will warm you to your bones. Check for seasonings and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. I would add more black pepper, just because I can’t help myself. But that’s me.
The grits you’ll end up with will be richly textured, simultaneously creamy and coarse. They have a savory bite from the onion and bursts of sweetness from the corn kernels. And they’re satisfyingly warming in the winter cold, but also promise a little bit of summer thanks to corn and herbs.
We enjoyed our grits with roasted zucchini coins and a green salad. And then I ate grits again for lunch. Why? Because I could, that’s why.
Bon appetit, y’all! And to my fellow Yankees, do yourselves a favor and give grits a chance, huh? Eh, c’mere, youze. Ahhhh, fuhgeddaboudit.