Southern-style mushrooms and grits (vegan or vegetarian)

After our sojourn across the Southeast and its culinary delights, I came back craving even more greens and grits. To satisfy that hunger, I whipped up these creamy, savory grits with a side of lightly sautéed red kale and Swiss chard.

This dish is inspired by the coastal staple of shrimp and grits. I don’t like shrimp, but I wanted to mimic the combination of creamy and chewy that the dish is famous for. Instead of crustaceans, I used portabella mushrooms and a mixture of sautéed onions, celery, and zucchini. The result is a satisfyingly savory topping with plenty of texture to contrast the smooth grits. Like any Southern recipe, this serves as more of a guide than a manual. Add more seasoning, fat, or liquid to fit your tastes. This recipe made enough supper-sized servings for two adults and three kids.

Grits

  • 1 cup of grits (I used yellow polenta grits neck use that’s what my grocery had — feel free to use white grits instead)
  • 3 cups of water
  • About 1/2 – 3/4 cup of unsweetened, unflavored nondairy milk (depending on how thick or creamy you like your grits; I like creamier grits and used 3/4 cup)
  • 3 heaping teaspoons of vegan butter, like Earth Balance
  • Salt to taste
  • Dash of cayenne pepper 
  • Optional: 1/2 cup of the sharpest cheddar you can find, shredded


Mushroom topping

  • 4 portabella mushrooms, cut in half and sliced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced 
  • 1 small zucchini (about the length of a dollar bill), diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • Salt
  • Chili powder
  • Cinnamon 
  • Olive oil

1. Toss the mushrooms in a drizzle of olive oil until well-coated, but no greasy. Place, in an even layer, on a metal baking sheet. Cook in a 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, until browned and tender. They will look kind of like the fajita mushrooms you order in a restaurant. Toss the mushrooms about halfway through to encourage even cooking.
2. While the mushrooms are cooking, sautée the onion, celery, and zucchini in about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium to medium-low heat. Sprinkle with about 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of chili powder; salt to taste. Cook until the zucchini is cooked throughout and the diced onions are translucent. (Tip: If the veggies are sticking, add a splash of water to deglaze the pan, then continue cooking on low heat.) Set aside the mixture.
3. While the onion mixture is doing its thing, boil the water for the grits. Go ahead and add a dash of salt and cayenne. After the water comes to a boil, gradually add the grits, stirring constantly. Turn the heat to low and keep stirring — this will help prevent lumpy grits. If you end up with a lump, just mash it into oblivion and keep stirring. After about 4 or 5 minutes, you’ll notice the grits becoming fuller and thicker. At this point, turn off the heat and add the vegan margarine. Stir completely, and then gradually add the nondairy milk as you continue to stir. If you’d like creamier grits, add more milk. Taste and see if you want your grits to be saltier or spicier. If you’d like to add the sharp cheddar, do so now and stir completely. Set aside when finished.
4. To serve, spoon the grits onto a plate (you may want to use a ladle). Top with three or four heaping tablespoons of the onion mixture and several pieces of the roasted mushrooms.

Serve with ice-cold lemonade and steamed or sautéed greens, then go sit on your front porch and complain about the heat!

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