Chat Leftovers: Purple Cabbage, Cheesy Grits and Meatless Meal Planning

There's never enough time to answer all of the questions that arrive in my What's Cooking queue each week; below, a few leftovers worth chewing on. Feel free to add your thoughts and kitchen insight in the comments area below.

Alexandria, Va: My husband and I have decided to try and go meatless a little bit more and are attempting to make two dinners a week meat-free. We love beans and lentils, but don't want to make the foray into meat substitutes. This week's line-up includes a chickpea curry and your Syrian-style lentils. I'm thinking that eggplant parmesan and ratatouille are in our future. Other than those, I'm at a bit of a loss. What would you suggest to increase our menu horizons?

You're off to a good start, Alexandria, but you're right, it's a good idea to have a stable of menu ideas to keep the meatless lineup diverse and interesting. I highly recommend checking out a few vegetarian-focused cookbooks, including Peter Berley's "Fresh Food Fast," a collection of meatless meals organized by season. For autumn, he offers, among other choices, red lentil and sweet potato curry and wild mushroom fricassee over faro, all of which include a "menu game plan" helpful for weeknight preparation.

You're a good candidate for Heidi Swanson's books as well; her focus is on more on "whole and natural ingredients" which happen to be meatless. She offers lots of creative ways to prepare grains, legumes and natural sweeteners and has a way with color and texture.

And then, of course, you must join the merry band of meatless veterans and wannabes who gather 'round the virtual table for What's Cooking Vegetarian, which I host the last Thursday of (mostly) every month at 1 ET. You'll get so many ideas you won't know where to start!

Purple cabbage: I have three heads of purple cabbage from the CSA, and am looking for ideas. The constraints are -- my wife won't eat mayo based slaws or sugary sweet (as many of the Asian dressing based slaws tend to be) slaws. Any ideas?

Well, when it comes to mayo-free slaws, you've come to the right place; in my opinion, mayo is never an option. Shred that slaw and mix it with other crunchy stuff, like a handful of chopped walnuts, julienned red bell pepper, a grated apple.

Dressing need not be sweet at all, particularly if you use mild, slightly sweet vinegars, such as apple cider or rice wine. Sesame oil is nice here, but olive oil is equally fine. You can make up your very own slaw along the way; don't worry what the recipes say.

Another fun cabbage-y idea to consider is grilling one of those purple heads. Slice head in half or quarters, pull out some of the heart, and lather it up good with butter and/or olive oil, fill cavity with onions, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and wrap in foil. Cook on grill at least 45 minutes, maybe an hour. Check on it every 20 minutes.

Washington, D.C.
: I had some great cheese grits while on vacation in North Carolina recently. They were so creamy and cheesy I'm sure they were 500 calories per spoonful, but they were worth every bite. I'd like to try this at home. Any ideas on how to do it? I saw grits near the oatmeal at the store, but the tube offered no suggestions.

Washington, have I got a treat for you. While volunteering in New Orleans this June, my CulinaryCorps colleagues and I had the pleasure of meeting chef Frank Brigtsen, of Brigtsen's Restaurant, a must-do if you're ever in New Orleans. Brigtsen led a demo of a few classic New Orleanian dishes, including one for cheese grits, which he served with grillades (cutlets of veal or pork), and a tomato-based creole sauce. The grits were absolutely divine, creamy and luscious.

I don't know much about grits coming in a tube as you mentioned, but may I suggest exploring the world of stone-ground grits? You won't believe the difference in flavor. You can buy online from South Carolina artisan mill Anson Mills.

You'll notice too, that Brigtsen cooks his grits in milk, a technique I've noticed among many southern chefs. For further reading on grits, consider the "Shrimp and Grits Cookbook" by Charleston-based food writer Nathalie Dupree.

Frank Brigtsen's Fontina Cheese Grits

7 cups milk
4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups stone ground grits
1/2 pound Fontina cheese, diced into 1-inch pieces

In a pot over medium heat, add milk, salt, white pepper and butter. Scald milk, but do not boil.

Slowly add grits, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking occasionally, until grits are tender and mixture is relatively thick, 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Add cheese and whisk vigorously until cheese is melted and grits are creamy.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 12, 2007; 10:01 AM ET Chat Leftovers , Vegetarian/Vegan
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I adapted the parmesan grits recipe from Heaven on Seven (great Cajun/Creole restaurant in Chgo started by a Nawlins expatriate).

I use a Zojirushi fuzzy logic rice cooker.

Combine the following and cook for two Porridge cycles:

2 c skim milk
1-1/2 c water
1/2 c half and half
1 t butter
3/4 c quick-cooking grits
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
3 oz Reggiano parmesan cheese (or more if you feel indulgent - don't make this recipe if all you have is the stuff in the green can)

If you want to splurge calorically, here's the original (and it's fabulous):

1-1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 c water
2 T butter
1/4 c quick-cooking grits
1/3 c parmesan cheese
2 tsp Asiago cheese
salt and pepper

Posted by: Leslie | September 12, 2007 11:44 AM

For Alexandria's veg cooking adventures, I highly recommend "1,000 Vegetarian Recipes" by Carol Gelles. It's kind of like the Betty Crocker of veg cooking -- it covers everything from basics to fancier stuff. I own a ton of veg cookbooks, and this is the one I use the most.

Posted by: Troylet | September 12, 2007 12:46 PM

I have two suggestions:

For Washington DC in search of grits, I belive that polenta (which is sold precooked in a tube) was what was referred to as "grits in a tube."

For the lucky person with too much purple cabbage: Try making a stuffing, rolling the stuffing in steamed cabbage leaves and then simmering a bit on the stovetop. My husband and cook does this often. He will use anything around for stuffing -- meat (ground works best), lentils, grains. He usually simmers in a red wine sauce. One of my favorite suppers.

Posted by: minniwanca | September 12, 2007 1:17 PM

The grits in a tube were probably Quaker in the cylindrical box. I would definitely second the suggestion for stone ground instead.

Posted by: JDN | September 12, 2007 1:27 PM

No, the "grits in a tube" is actually a prepared polenta mixture packed in a plastic tube much like a sausage casing.

Polenta is usually a coarser grind than American grits. And grits are usually cooked to a much looser consistency than polenta.

I grew up in MS, and we ate them two ways - with salt and butter, or sugar and butter.

Posted by: Leslie | September 12, 2007 6:44 PM

Kim, I agree with your other correspondents about "the tube" of grits--undoubtedly a rif on that embalmed polenta in a tube, that one is supposed to slice and bake like cookies. Interesting that Brigsten has simply transfered the Piedmont polenta and fontina dish to his local ingredient, grits; and what's wrong with that?
But, coming full circle, as a child in Kentucky in the 1950's, I can remember how excited my mother and her friends were when "garlic cheese" in a tube became available in supermarkets, thereby shaving at least 5 minutes off the prep of a (deservedly) highly popular party dish, Cheese Grits souffle. (Add grated Irish or English cheddar, egg yolks and pureed garlic to buttered, cooked grits, fold in egg whites and proceed in the usual souffle manner.)
As for other fab carbs from my Kentucky childhood where cornmeal in a multitude of variations was everyday fare: for years I was both amused and bemused by Americans "discovery" of polenta
as exotic and wondrous fare.
Both stone ground grits and
freshly ground cornmeal should, by the way, be stored in the freezer to maintain freshness (and to discourage weevils) and wonderful taste. I'm convinced that northerners put sugar in their cornbread (!) as a matter of habit, simply because traditonally by the time cornmeal got to them, it was on its way to rancid.
Now living in NY, if I'm in a pinch and need cornmeal fast--or want to make polenta--I buy Goya fine cornmeal in a sealed plastic bag in the supermarket--the next best thing to being there, and invariably fresher than imported Italian polenta that has been eitting on a store shelf forever.
With gratitude for a wonderful, encompassing blog/column--a deliciously generous combination of senuous intelligence and curiosty.

Posted by: Suzanne | September 13, 2007 2:29 PM

You are ALL wrong - the "grits in a tube" can be found at Trader Joe's. They are organic southern style grits. They are made with water Organic white corn meal, salt & tartaric acid. They really aren't bad in a pinch.

Posted by: jomalik | October 5, 2007 7:28 PM

Just wanted to mention myself that the pre-cooked grits in a tube are in fact grits and they are Trader Joes brand. I work for the company that makes the grits as well as all the pre-cooked polenta you see out there. Check out and you can see the grits in a tube yourselves. Currently Trader Joes is the only brand of the pre-cooked grits in a tube being distributed.

Posted by: Tony | November 23, 2007 4:06 AM

I just made these grits in a tube (1st timer) from TJ's and they were DELICIOUS. I will purchase these again. However I do want to make grits from the "ground" up also :D . I improvised and fried the rounds and added grated parmesan cheese and one garlic clove minced, cracked black pepper and paprika. After it softened I just mixed it all together and some of the cheese was crisp and the grits were creamy..... yum yum. Would be a great side dish.

Posted by: Char | December 9, 2007 1:10 PM

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