I’ve never been tempted to be a vegetarian. I never went through that adolescent phase where I got squeamish about meat. I don’t find chickens or cows particularly cute; I will cheerfully handle raw meat; and I cook live crustaceans (I figure if I’m going to eat them, I need to be OK with cooking them). I’ve never given up red meat, or eschewed pork products, or cut down on fish. I’m an omnivore, and pretty happy with that state of affairs.
But the world has changed, or maybe my knowledge of it has, and I’m no longer happy with the meat and potatoes diet that I grew up with. The environmental consequences are too great; the agricultural practices too troubling, the implications too grave. It no longer makes sense to eat the traditional American diet — a hunk of meat and two sides. But I’m not willing to become a vegetarian. For one, I’m philosophically opposed to extremes, and I think cutting out an entire category of the human diet is a pretty extreme one. For another, I happen to like meat. Nothing says “summer” quite like a hamburger. Roast chicken is a delight of human existence. And bacon is something to live for.
But what can change, and what has changed, is our approach to eating meat. We’ll still have a meat focused dinner once or twice a week (that roast chicken makes frequent appearances), but we’ll eat other meals that are either entirely vegetarian, or use meat as an accessory, rather than the main event. I call this style of cooking the “meat as condiment” approach. It’s a way to incorporate more vegetables into our diets without feeling like we’re making extra work in our busy lives. As a result, I feel like our diet and our meals are more in balance.
This casserole, which originally appeared in EatingWell magazine, is a beautiful example of this type of food. It’s not vegetarian (though vegetarians can feel free to omit the bacon). You get the flavor and great texture that bacon provides. But it has a hearty dose of vegetables in the person of southern style greens and some filling carbohydrates from the grits, so it’s a great one-dish meal.
A note — I used a pre-bagged greens blend from Trader Joe’s that’s labeled “Southern Style Greens”. If you’ve never had this, it’s a terrific blend of collards, mustard greens and turnip greens and it saves some time in washing and chopping. However, any hearty, leafy greens will do, and I think this would be terrific with something like a blend of kale and spinach. For the grits, I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Corn Grits, which are synonymous with polenta. Regular grits are hard to find in Southern California (don’t use Instant!) but polenta will also work.
- 4 slices bacon, chopped (optional)
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 c. chicken broth, divided
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 lb. chopped southern style greens
- 2 c. water
- 1 c. grits
- ¾ c. grated cheddar cheese, divided
- ¼ c. salsa
- 1 egg, beaten
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Grease an 8 inch square pan.
- In a large dutch oven, fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon to a paper towel, and pour off any excess bacon fat, but don’t clean the pan.
- Add oil, onion and garlic to pan and cook over medium low heat until translucent and starting to brown.
- Add 1 cup broth and salt; bring to a boil over high heat.
- Add greens, stir to coat in oil and begin wilting the greens. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, until greens are tender. Add water if the pan seems dry or the greens are sticking.
- Meanwhile, boil 2 c. water and the remaining 1 c. broth to a boil in a separate saucepan. Add the grits in a stream, whisking as you add them so they don’t form lumps. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce heat to medium low and cook until thick, whisking often.
- Combine ½ c. of the cheese, salsa and egg. Remove the grits from the heat and add in the egg mixture.
- Spread about half the grits in the baking dish. Top with the greens, then the remaining grits, then sprinkle bacon and the remaining cheese over the top.
- Bake about 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly
I use those greens too. I hate washing and chopping millions of leaves. Leave the bacon off and I could eat that whole pan!
One more thing to add to the list when TJ’s finally is within a day’s drive! This looks wonderful. I have fresh collard greens to use in the fridge so it is a perfectly timed recipe!
No bacon for me, but the hubs would love it on his side:)
You and I are very much alike my friend. GREG
I’m so tempted to try this, but the husband is a weenie about greens. I might make it anyway. We love grits around here!
Uhhh, didn’t mean to post that last comment as “Bets.” I do have a legitimate name – Betsy.
I love your mentality on food and totally agree with you! I try to eat vegetarian most of the time but I could never turn down a pile of pulled pork. This grits casserole looks fantastic. Grits seem like such a delicious comfort food…love the bacon topping.
Balance is good. I went through that stage, however, but I came out ok on the other side. Bring me a side of bacon! This looks delicious. I cannot tell you how much I LOVE grits!
This looks so good. I never went through a vegetarian phase either, though my views on what kind of meat I will serve have changed. I’m a devout farmers’ market shopper and know my farmer very well.
We both have grits on the brain. They are a perfect paired with bacon. But what isn’t? I’m not a huge meat eater either and would say my diet is “flexitarian.”
BTW. Good to meet in person at Camp Blogaway.
This looks like a good recipe. I remember my grandmother’s cheese grits casserole with fondness, and I love hearty-style greens.
I’ve never been tempted to be vegetarian either, although I’ve been eating a lot less meat these days due to how most of it is raised. Also, true grass-finished beef has a flavor so much richer than what we now find in stores. So I wait for the real stuff.
This looks delish! I’m going to have to try it, I’ve been craving grits lately. The greens make me feel healthy about it!
We loved the look of this so much we posted it on our Facebook page with a link, so people can click and come over here to see your deliciousness. We invite you and others to LIKE us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/cutncleangreens. We seriously <3 cooking greens of all kinds!
This looks tasty! I was browsing through FoodGawker and saw this. Never had grits, but it looks good for a fall meal!
Picture has a 9×13 pan and the recipe says an 8×8, which to use?