Monday, July 23, 2012

Polenta is just fancy-talk for cheese grits

For most of my life, I've heard people talk about grits like they are some kind of enigmatic Southern phenomenon. As if only people who grew up thinking they were normal could possibly enjoy eating them. Not quite as bad as something like squirrel stew, but still one of those things that might elicit an "ewww" from a non-Southerner.

I'll grant you that plain grits don't look all that appetizing, and they don't have much flavor of their own.

But CHEESE GRITS, now that's another story. That's the way grits were intended to be eaten. In the past 10 years or so, I've seen them take on more and more personality, especially in restaurants. They might have a smoky, chipotle flavor, or they might go in a more savory, herby direction. I've had them with a cajun twist, with bits of spicy andouille sausage. The beauty of grits is that they really don't have a lot of their own personality, so you can be creative with the flavor profiles.

Also in the past 10 years or so, people have become well acquainted with polenta. Maybe you didn't know it, but polenta is basically coarse ground corn cooked with cheese, stock, and seasonings. Same for cheese grits!! Technically, the two dishes use a different form of ground corn, but the end results are pretty darn similar.

Shrimp and grits from SouthernLiving.com
All you non-Southerners can impress your friends with this next hot thing. They've seen polenta done to death. It's so 2010. But not cheese grits! In the South they're a tradition (therefore immune from becoming passe), and in other parts of the country (the world?!) they can be the renovated, elevated homey side dish that makes the meal.

There are so many ways to make cheese grits, I'm not even going to give you a recipe. I'd be cheating you. Instead check out some for yourself on Southern Living or Epicurious. They have literally hundreds of recipes to choose from. If you try nothing else, at least try shrimp and grits (these two sites have dozens of other recipes for shrimp and grits, if this one doesn't strike your fancy).

Baked or cooked on the stove-top, cheese grits make this Southern girl's day!

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