Tried and true grits

By | | Eating In

Not Really Chiles Rellenos feature blackened poblano chiles stuffed with Cheese Grits and garneshed with sour cream, chopped cilantro and salsa. (Carl Davaz/The Register-Guard)
Not Really Chiles Rellenos feature blackened poblano chiles stuffed with Cheese Grits and garneshed with sour cream, chopped cilantro and salsa.
Not Really Chilies Rellenos feature blackened poblano chilies stuffed with Cheese Grits and garnished with sour cream, chopped cilantro and salsa.

Grits are a real comfort food for me. Give me a nice bowl of hot grits, a good pat of butter, salt and pepper and maybe a few dashes of Frank’s Hot Sauce. Perfect.

Sometimes I like my grits with cheese, preferably a good handful of sharp Cheddar or creamy pepper Jack. Very delicious.

A friend introduced me to Cafe 440’s balls of cheese grits, deep fried until crispy and brown. Very perfectly delicious.

That combination of soft and crispy made me consider other possibilities with cheese grits.

Chilies rellenos were my first thought. I do love a good chili relleno, but I wanted a dish that was crispy like the grits balls and without the eggy coating.

I could fill chilies with cheese grits, give them a crumb coating and bake them until crisp. They wouldn’t be authentic chilies rellenos, but they would be made in the same spirit.

The cheese grits for the filling can be freshly made and still warm, or you could make them earlier in the day and chill in an oiled baking dish.

Spoon the fresh grits, slightly cooled so you can handle them, into a large plastic storage bag or pastry bag, if you have one. Cut the corner off the storage bag and use it like a pastry bag to fill the chilies. It’s easier and neater than trying to fill them with a spoon, but that will work, too, if you’re careful.

Cut the made-ahead congealed cold grits into rectangles or wedges that will fit into the chilies. Let them sit at room temperature while you prepare the chilies.

If you want to forgo the chilies entirely, dip cold pieces of grits into the eggs, coat thickly with crumbs and saute them in a little oil or bake them until crisp. You want them cold here so they’ll hold their shape better while the outside crisps.

Dress up the baked chilies with a drizzle of Mexican or regular sour cream that you’ve stirred to loosen. And maybe add a sprinkle of chopped cilantro.

On the minus side of cheese grits, the cooking pot can be a pain to clean. Congealed, melted cheese likes to stick. Fill the pot with cold water, drop in the mixing spoon and let them soak, then scrape later with a rubber spatula. A plastic mesh scrubber will help, but it isn’t fun.

Cheese Grits

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup grits (quick or old-fashioned but not instant)
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 8 ounces grated cheese (Cheddar, pepper Jack, Monterrey Jack, or a combination)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup cream (optional, but makes grits a little softer)

Bring water and salt to a boil. Stir in grits. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until done. The amount of time depends on the type of grits, from 10 to 25 minutes. (Read the directions on the package.)

Remove from heat and stir in pepper and cheese.

It can be thinned with as much of the optional cream as you like. Serve immediately.

Not Really Chilies Rellenos

Serves 6, or 3 if they’re really hungry.

  • 6 medium-sized poblano chilies (or more if they’re small)
  • 3 cups cheese grits, without the optional cream
  • 2 large eggs, beaten with 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups fine dry bread crumbs
  • Sour cream and chopped cilantro
  • Salsa

Grill or broil the chilies until blackened on all sides. Put on a plate and cover with an overturned bowl. Let sit until cool enough to handle.

Gently rub and peel all the blackened skin you can off the chilies. Don’t make yourself crazy trying to get off every little bit.

Make a slit about a third of the way down one side and use a spoon to remove the seeds and any white ribs, keeping the shell of the chili as intact as possible. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or use a silicone baking sheet.

Stuff each chili with about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of cheese grits or a piece of congealed grits. Pinch the chilies closed.

Roll the chilies in beaten eggs, then give a light coat of bread crumbs.

Place on prepared baking sheet. Bake about 15 minutes or until browned and cheese is starting to ooze.

Drizzle with sour cream, sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately with your favorite salsa.

Variations: Forget the egg and bread crumbs. Place filled chilies on baking sheet, open side up. Bake until grits are very hot and oozy. Garnish and serve.

Or omit the chilies. Dip cold-from-the-refrigerator cut pieces of grits into the eggs, coat thickly with crumbs, and saute them in a little oil or bake them until crisp.