Cornmeal: Green Chile Cheese Grits

Green Chile Cheese Grits-ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Do you call ground, dried corn “grits” or “polenta?”  You’d be right if you said either one. Yes, polenta, the haute cuisine of the last two decades, is equivalent to good ol’ grits.

Grits v. Polenta

If you’re scratching your head, it’s completely understandable. The labeling is inconsistent and I suspect regional – in the South, I’d reckon you’d find “grits” on store shelves but in northern Italy, you’d see “polenta.”  Here in Denver, I just bought a bag of coarsely-ground, dried yellow cornmeal labeled “polenta (corn grits)” at the natural food store. What gives?

For intellectual purposes, know that one of the primary differences between the two is that grits are usually made with white corn, while polenta is made of yellow.

Some polenta authorities also distinguish the two by the size of the grind, polenta being larger with a nuttier taste. However, both grits and polenta are available in fine, medium and coarse grinds.

To add even more confusion, there’s also the lighter colored “hominy grits.” Early on, the word “hominy” reflected the lye soak process used to loosen the husk and germ, which made for a softer and creamier final dish. Today, “hominy grits” has become a generic term for “corn grits.”

Ugghh. To me it’s all “mush,” like my brain when I try to figure out all this nomenclature.

Green Chile Cheese Grits

Grits are an institution in the South – served with butter and salt, sweetened with milk and sugar, or topped with red-eye gravy, ham, bacon or shrimp.

This recipe for green chile grits is a bit Southern/Soul Food and Mexican – a reflection of my household and history. Corn (maize) was originally domesticated in central Mexico and eventually became a favored crop among Southerners.

These green chile cheese grits are easy to make and much tastier than regular mush. They are delicious for breakfast with eggs or for lunch or dinner as a substitute for potatoes or rice. Enjoy! Leave a comment about your favorite way to eat cornmeal mush, and if you have a preference for “grits” or “polenta.”

Tidbits on Cornmeal:

  1. Southerners hailing from the Charleston area use the word “hominy” to refer to cooked grits and the term “grist” for its uncooked state.
  2. Early Southern pioneers cultivated more corn than cotton.
  3. The smaller the grind of corn, the faster it will cook. Larger grinds (and most polenta recipes) can take up to an hour to cook. The grits/polenta is ready when it’s no longer crunchy.
  4. Stone ground and whole grain cornmeal has more nutrients because it still contains the germ.

Sources:  The Oxford Encyclopedia for Food and Drink in America, Good Old Grits Cookbook by Bill Neal & David Perry.

Grits - Green Chile - ForkFingersChopsticks

Grits Cooked - Green Chile and Cheese - ForkFingersChopsticks

Green Chile Cheese Grits

Serves 4

Ingredients

Grits

1 cup grits

3 cups water*

1/2 teaspoon salt

Fixings

1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Pinch nutmeg

1 cup roasted green chile, chopped (equals 2 whole roasted peppers)

2 tablespoons heavy cream, optional

1 to  1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Salt to taste

*Increase water and cooking time according to package directions if you are using large granule grits.

Method

  1. Prepare 1 cup grits according to package directions. If no instructions are included, bring water to a boil in a small pot, add salt and slowly stir in grits. Reduce heat to simmer, stir frequently with a wooden spoon or spatula, scraping the sides of the pot. Cook until the grits are thick and creamy and there are no crunchy bits. Cook time will vary (5 – 10 minutes for instant/quick cooking grits to around 45 minutes for the courser grinds).
  2. Turn off the heat and add the butter, spices, chiles and cream. Stir and fold in the cheese and fresh cilantro. Serve hot or room temperature.

Variations:

Cheese:  queso fresco, parmesan

Cooking liquid: chicken or vegetable broth, milk

Seasoning/Vegetables:  garlic, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, squash, sautéed kale or spinach

What do you call ground, dried corn – grits or polenta? You’d be right if you said either one. Yes, polenta, the haute cuisine of the last two decades, is equivalent to good ol’ grits.

Grits v. Polenta

If you’re scratching your head, it’s completely understandable. The labeling is inconsistent and I suspect regional – in the South, I’d reckon you’d find “grits” on store shelves but in northern Italy, you’d see “polenta.” Here in Denver, I just bought a bag of coarsely-ground, dried yellow cornmeal labeled “polenta (corn grits)” at the natural food store. What gives?

For intellectual purposes, know that one of the primary differences between the two is that grits are usually made with white corn, while polenta is made of yellow.

Some polenta authorities also distinguish the two by the size of the grind, polenta being larger, and having a “nuttier” taste. However, both grits and polenta are available in fine, medium and coarse grinds.

To add even more confusion, there’s also the lighter colored “hominy grits.” Early on, the word “hominy” reflected the lye soak process used to loosen the husk and germ, which made for a softer and creamier final dish. Today, “hominy grits” has become a generic term for “corn grits.”

Ugghh. To me it’s all “mush,” like my brain.

Green Chile Cheese Grits

Grits are an institution in the South – served with butter and salt, sweetened with milk and sugar, or topped with red-eye gravy. They are also considered the “potatoes of the South.”

This recipe for green chile grits is a bit Southern/Soul Food and Mexican – a reflection of my household and history. Corn (maize) was originally domesticated in central Mexico and eventually became a favored crop among Southerners.

These green chile cheese grits are easy to make and much tastier than regular mush. They are delicious for breakfast with eggs or for lunch or dinner as a substitute for potatoes or rice. Enjoy! Let me know if your favorite way to cornmeal mush and if you have a preference for “grits” or “polenta.”

Tidbits on Cornmeal:

1. Southerners hailing from the Charleston area use the word “hominy” to refer to cooked grits and the term “grist” for its uncooked state.

2. Early Southern pioneers cultivated more corn than cotton.

3. The smaller the grind of corn, the faster it will cook. Larger grinds (and most polenta recipes) can take up to an hour to cook. The grits/polenta is ready when it’s no longer crunchy.

4. Stone ground and whole grain cornmeal still contain the germ and have more nutrients.

Sources: The Oxford Encyclopedia for Food and Drink in America, Good Old Grits Cookbook by Neal & David Perry.

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17 Responses to Cornmeal: Green Chile Cheese Grits

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gigi Gleason, ForkFingersChopstick. ForkFingersChopstick said: New blog post: Cornmeal: Green Chile Cheese Grits http://forkfingerschopsticks.com/cornmeal-green-chile-cheese-grits/ [...]

  2. I’ve never cooked polenta longer than 10 or 15 minutes. I keep hearing it should take 30 minutes of continual stirring. And mine aren’t called “instant” either, so what’s up with that? I use the course grind and serve greens like kale or chard and some kind of bean sauteed in garlic, onion and olive oil on top. Of course I like it practically any way. It’s all good!

    Andrea (FFC): FYI, the really course grinds are about the size of couscous and take a lot longer to cook and develop that lovely creamy, nutty taste. The bag I picked up from the natural grocer cooked in about 10 minutes. But, if you add more water, it would also take a bit more time to reduce down. Best advice I’ve come across is to “read your package labeling” because they vary so much.

  3. I’m glad to see you’re back in business! I’ve never made grits, but my version of polenta is made with chicken broth, milk, shitaki mushrooms sliced really thin and parmesan. But now I’ll have to try your version with the cheddar, green chile and cilantro. Thanks!

    Andrea (FFC): Back in Denver after the roadtrip to California. Your polenta sounds divine.

  4. Nicola Grun says:

    Cornmeal is one of my household staples. I love it! Thanks for giving me a new way to try cooking with it.

    Andrea (FFC): Would be interested to learn how you usually use cornmeal. Any interesting South African recipes?

  5. sippitysup says:

    Here is my theory! Grits are BEST when they are quick cook, but polenta is BEST when it’s course ground and slow cooked. Just a theory! Yours are edible by any name. GREG

    Andrea (FFC): Greg. I’m nodding my head with you on some of your theory (and, also that these grits are tasty). Yes, polenta is course ground and slow cooked, but to many Southerners they also have a preference for stone ground and slow cooked grits. Many are purists who turn their nose at instant/quick cooking grits.

  6. eleni says:

    I love corn… so surely I like what you have cooked… nice images, thanks for sharing!

    Andrea (FFC): Thanks for taking time to leave a comment. It’s appreciated!

  7. [...] is simply cornmeal simmered in liquid and stirred. (Read my post about grits v. polenta.) And, to bust a big myth, it does NOT require constant stirring; just a watchful eye and some [...]

  8. Valuable info. Lucky me I found your site by accident, I bookmarked it.

    Andrea (FFC): Thanks for taking time to leave a comment and for following.

  9. Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  10. [...] Mexican Green Chile Cheese Grits/Polenta [...]

  11. toby says:

    quit being stupid. anybody want a cooking lesson? polenta are made from CORNMEAL. grits are from HOMINY. granted they both start with corn but they are not the same. u cant make grits with cornmeal and u cant make polenta out of hominy. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME. yall go back to school.

  12. FFC @Toby – I checked in with the folks back at school again and the term “grits” technically refers to “any coursely ground grain” like corn, oats or rice. Even broader than you/I’d think.

  13. linda rice says:

    still do not under stand how to fix corn grits

  14. linda rice says:

    still do not under stand how to cook corn grits. make the hominy grits all the time, need help

  15. linda rice says:

    why are you not helping me with how just to cook, perportions water , time etc

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