For many people in the South, grits are a religious experience. There are rules governing the preparation and ingestion of grits.
My brother played football in high school and used to eat a huge breakfast of sometimes a dozen eggs, grits and bacon. He loved grits. He used to put sugar on his grits. This is a huge no-no. You put butter and salt on grits. Never margarine, only butter.
What I am about to say may be considered heresy, but I have a shortcut suggestion for a Quickie breakfast. You use pre-cooked polenta. This is a convenient breakfast that you can get on the table in a flash. It eliminates the longer version of making grits, adding corn meal to water and stirring. If you use polenta, be sure to add some flavor.
The Italian dish of polenta is made from corn, the same as grits, although corn that has been ground to a smoother consistency. Polenta is really smooth, perfect for the dysphagia patient. It is fat free and gluten free. Pre-cooked polenta, Ancient Harvest brand, is available in whole foods stores. It is used as an alternative to pasta, rice or potatoes. It comes in a log, wrapped in plastic. Using a pre-cooked product of high quality skips the prep step, which can take a while.
There is nothing wrong with making grits from scratch. Cooking grits involves standing over the pot and stirring to make sure there are no lumps. It all depends on the individual’s taste. It’s a trade-off. With the polenta, you save labor and time, but you get the nutrition and flavor.
To all of you grits-loving purists out there: I am trying to give you the experience of a beloved dish as well as a safe texture for the person with swallowing difficulties. The polenta is a close cousin, not exactly an equivalent of the beloved grits, but it is safe for the swallow, and it is tasty. Dining on a smooth flavorful polenta puree is better than having no grits at all.
You can also add your favorite gravy. You may not be Southern, you may not know anything about grits, but they are part of American food history. You see, dear readers, corn is the whole grain that comes from the New World. This recipe is part of the Essential Puree whole grain series.
The food historian, Cynthia Bertelsen, has written of the history of grits in America on her website, Gherkins and Tomatoes.
Take what Lawrence McIver has to say in Shout Because You’re Free:
The African-American Ring Shout Tradition in Coastal Georgia: “ … and my mama would cook a pot of grits or what they have. … We bring that back to the house, she back them crabs, take off all them back, take off the “dead man,” break off the foots, and then she take them … and put ‘em in the pot, and she cut up onions over them crabs, or garlic or something like that—she could cook—and make a gravy, put it over our grits, and then we would go to the field, go to work.”
Now you know the history. You understand the logic for a convenience food. Here is a non-recipe, recipe for grits and eggs.
- Ancient Harvest Polenta, Plain
You steam a couple of eggs in a ceramic or porcelain dish for two or two and a half minutes, depending on how you like your eggs.
Season the eggs with fine salt and white pepper.
Use an electric steamer, or use the steamer tray of a mini rice cooker, a rice cooker or a multi-cooker. Use the steamer insert of a sauce pan.
Keep an eye on the eggs to make sure they stay liquid. You do not want a hard-cooked egg. If you spray the dish with cooking spray, the eggs come out easily. The egg provides liquid for the puree. You allow the eggs to cool until just above room temperature.
Cut off a ½ inch slice of the polenta. This is about a half a cup’s worth for an average appetite. You make a double portion for a person with a big appetite.
While your eggs are steaming, in a separate dish, place polenta in the microwave for a short time, say fifteen seconds. Adding a few seconds as needed for warming through. The polenta is already cooked. All you are doing is warming it.
For the Puree
Cut the warmed slice of polenta into smaller pieces.
Place the polenta in the bowl of a mini food processor. Add some liquid, broth, gravy, cream or milk.
Season with salt and pepper, remembering to use white pepper. Pulse to incorporate the liquid, then blend until you have the desired consistency.
You may make cheese-y polenta by adding a few tablespoons of finely grated cheddar cheese. It will melt to a smooth consistency when heated for 30 seconds to a minute. No stringy cheese, please. This is problematic for the swallow.
Add the steamed eggs one at a time and pulse until incorporated with no bits remaining. If they are lightly steamed, they will add to a creamy texture. The dish is then flavorful, nutritious and ready to go.
Suggestions for Regional Flavor Profiles
The polenta will also take on a Mexican flavor if used with pureed ingredients as for a taco. This could be pulled pork in an adobo sauce, cooked very tender and pureed until smooth. If you’re adding a protein to the polenta, such as a piece of whitefish cooked soft and tender, puree it with the polenta until it is smooth.
Polenta will take on a Southwestern flavor if pureed with a couple of tablespoons of refried beans. These can be purchased in a health food store in regular and low-fat versions. For adding protein to the refried beans, you can add some finely grated cheddar cheese and a tablespoon of salsa. First, puree the cheese and salsa together until smooth and combined. Stir in the beans and pulse to combine, then puree to smooth. Warm the dish for a few seconds in the microwave to melt the cheese into the mixture. Check to make sure the texture is one smooth consistency. Both variations add protein to the polenta, a carbohydrate, and boost calories and nutrition. By varying the flavor profile, one eliminates boredom.
A note to those who want their grits the traditional way: You can make your family version of grits. Essential Puree provides From Scratch versions of the Quickie dish. As always, From Scratch recipes contain the homemade, fresh flavor. Buy grits in a package if, and only if, you have the right equipment for puree. This means a high speed commercial blender.
The brand names are Vitamix, NutriNinja and Nutribullet Rx.These machines are so powerful, and the blades are so sharp that you can puree regular, cooked grits to the smooth pudding texture that is officially regarded by the NDD as safe for the swallow. It is all in the method of cooking and in the method of preparation. If you have the right equipment, swirl away, from the directions below.
If you are going to the trouble of making grits from scratch, why don’t you make the great Southern classic, Shrimp and Grits? Stir-fry some deveined shrimp in a little olive oil, with a little garlic and salt and pepper. Don’t overcook the shrimp. Make sure they are tender. You don’t want hard bits of protein in the puree. It’s all in the cooking method.
You want enough heat to cook them, medium high, but not so much heat that the protein gets tough. Remove shells if your shrimp are tail-on and puree the shrimp in the bowl of your mini food processor until they are smooth and combined. Then puree the shrimp in with the polenta. You have the entrée of shrimp and grits. I eliminate the hot sauce, for the safety of the swallow. You can use cooked frozen shrimp, but thaw them in ice water in the fridge for food safety. I would swirl them in a pan with a little olive oil and seasoning, just to warm them and for the flavor.
For Shrimp and Grits as a meal: Puree some greens from the recipe in the Guidebook or from your own family recipe. Puree until smooth. Thicken with instant thickener if necessary. You have the classic Southern side dish.
Consult your healthcare professional, as always. Also, consider making polenta in a From Scratch version. The Quickie version is great for getting a meal in a flash. From Scratch polenta is simple to make but requires constant stirring. At the end, you can add a pat or two of butter, a splash of cream or milk, and a handful of grated parmesan cheese. This is perfect for those with swallowing difficulties. You get a very smooth texture. You have protein. You have fresh flavor.
The above Quickie version is for the time-challenged, who do not want to cook. It is also for those persons, such as a dear friend of mine who shall go unnamed, who are allergic to kitchens. The From Scratch is for those who like to cook.