By Gregory Lum, Dietetic Intern, Oregon State University
Let’s do a little thought experiment. Take a deep breath, and think about “healthy food.” What comes to mind? Any particular foods or styles of cooking?
I’ll bet Southern soul food wasn’t the first thing you thought of. After all, most people would think of foods like fried chicken or catfish, cornbread, and banana pudding. While folks on the street wouldn’t hesitate to say that all sounds delicious, few would call any of it “healthy.” It probably isn’t the best idea to eat fried chicken and banana pudding all day, every day anyway, but you can rest assured that soul food has its place at the table!
When I first asked you to think about “healthy food” you probably imagined a lot of fruits and vegetables. That’s a good start, but really, choosing from all food groups provides our bodies with the variety of nutrients needed to work properly. And yes, some foods are packed with more nutrients than others, but any food can fit when we seek balance in what we eat. Besides, we also eat for pleasure, whether that’s from tantalizing flavors or from memories stirred up by our individual comfort foods. Eating gives our bodies what they need and helps us practice good old-fashioned self-care, which are both important in pursuing wellness.
Now, let’s talk grits – Creamy Southern Garlic Cheese Grits in particular. This recipe uses garlic, our seasonal ingredient of the month. Did you know many varieties of garlic grow well right here in Oregon? Chefs and home cooks use it worldwide because it adds flavor and depth to all manner of dishes. Garlic, although it tends to come in small doses, can benefit our health. It’s a source of the mineral manganese, which contributes to bone health, and different vitamins that help keep our bodies in tip-top shape.
So how can this recipe fit into your Year of Wellness? While it does contain saturated fat and sodium, which can be nutrients of concern for some, it also has great things going for it like protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, and vitamin B12. To incorporate these grits into a healthy meal, be aware of portion sizes. Practice moderation with this rich, delicious side dish. Take time to savor each bite!
Balance out your meal by enjoying these grits with a lean protein like grilled or oven-roasted Cajun chicken breast or catfish fillet. Toss a fresh, crisp salad or cook a batch of collard greens in low-sodium broth, and you’re set to gather family and friends around the table for dinner. Allow these grits or your favorite comfort foods to warm your soul as you share with your loved ones.
Creamy Southern Garlic Cheese Grits
Recipe Source: Susie Studer, Southern Roots Restaurant, Tillamook, OR
Number of servings: 6
4 cups water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 small cloves garlic, minced well, or to taste
½ cup heavy cream, or substitute milk for a lighter dish
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup uncooked quick grits, see notes below
2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
Hot sauce, optional
- Boil water in medium pot over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, heat small skillet on medium heat. Melt butter in skillet, then add minced garlic. Cook just until tender, stirring so the garlic doesn’t burn. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Once water boils, turn down to medium heat and stir in cream. Add salt, then slowly add grits while stirring constantly. When starting to bubble, turn heat down to medium-low and simmer. Continue to cook and stir often until mixture is thickened and creamy, about 5 minutes.
- Add garlic and butter along with cheese. Continue to cook just until cheese melts. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add dashes of hot sauce if desired.
- Choosing grits: Regular or old-fashioned grits will take 10-15 minutes to boil. Instant grits are not recommended. Stone-ground grits may be available, and should be stored in the freezer to maintain freshness. Check package instructions for cooking time.
- Cooking: For creamy grits, slowly pour the grits into the boiling water and cream mixture while stirring. Continue to stir the entire time they are cooking, until creamy and thickened. If the grits thicken too much, add a little more cream and beat to loosen.
- Leftovers: Refrigerate, then cut into wedges before dipping in flour and pan-frying in a skillet. Serve as a side or use to make shrimp and grits.