Good Grits Substitute and Possible Polenta Proxy?

Teressa P.

Soul food sins and other tasty taboos

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Bob's Red Mill Polenta aka Corn GritsBob's Red Mill

I love cooking, eating, and learning about food culture and recipes. However, what may surprise people is my willingness to play with some sacred soul food staples like grits.

While this twist on a traditional dish is based on my humble budget and Covid-related food supply issues, improvisation is also in my culinary history. My ancestors literally had to take bits and pieces and make them delicious. Naturally, when I couldn’t find grits — this was it…

I only like yellow grits — but most places don’t sell them, so I use polenta. Which some people argue are the same. Polenta is great, but it can be a little more expensive. Then, I discovered Quaker cornmeal as a substitute.

One morning I only had a little bit of polenta — so I added a few tablespoons of cornmeal, and it was fantastic with a splash of milk, a tablespoon of mascarpone cheese, and a 1/2 cup of sharp cheddar cheese. A simply delicious and satisfactory cheese grits substitute was born.

Now I know most soul food connoisseurs and polenta purists may consider this a sin. However, according to my substitution scale (see below), exchanging cornmeal for grits is a tasty alternative, if you need a grit fix.

It’s my understanding that grits and polenta are essentially the same. The only differences are geography and sometimes grain size. Grits are a traditional American southern food with small grains and polenta grains are slightly bigger and from Italy. At the end of the day — it’s ground corn.

If you peep the picture, Bob’s Red Mill label says: “Corn grits also known as polenta”… I’ll let you argue with Bob about making the distinction. I just love a hot bowl or plate of warm grains for breakfast…

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a soul and southern food purist when it comes to banana puddings and macaroni and cheese — both have to be made from scratch with no low-fat substitutions.

But grits — aka boiled cornmeal — not so much especially if it’s a warm plate with a nice egg and sausage on top — it’s all good to me no matter the type.

Other opinions on cornmeal

I know this might be batter-fried blasphemy, but I HATE fish cooked with cornmeal with a passion. I’m strictly an Old Bay seasoning and flour dredge woman. Now, I’ve had some great cornmeal coated fish — but only when it’s fresh out the grease and that takes impeccable timing and most of the time, I get it a few minutes after, and it just doesn’t taste good then.

Substitution Scale: Cornmeal for grits
Scale 1–5: 1 worst to 5 almost perfect match

Taste: 5 — They are essentially the same and provides the perfect base to add cheese or other ingredients
Texture: 1 — Quaker cornmeal has really fine grains almost like Cream of Wheat so if you want a heavier more traditional texture — it won’t work
Overall all rating: 3.5 — I think they’re really good for a quick, cheaper substitute, but I wouldn’t serve it to any serious southern or soul food foodies. They may take offense.

Another hot breakfast tip — Creamy Nondairy Oatmeal

On the flip side — I’m addicted to oatmeal with coconut milk it’s so rich and decadent you will not miss the dairy. I make it according to instructions, but I add cinnamon and ginger to the water. Then, I finish cooking at the last minute with a few tablespoons of full-fat coconut milk. It’s a game-changer and I urge you to try it.

Happy Eating and thank you for reading another Sunday Yummies post - (originally published on Medium.com).

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My mission is to share informative stories with heart and humor about life through an intersectional lens.

Philadelphia, PA
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