Vegan Southern-Style Cashew Cheese Grits with Kicked-Up Kale
Yield: 4 servings
By Betsy DiJulio
I’m a southern girl who grew up eating grits on a weekly basis. In my pre-vegan days, cheese grits were a Sunday breakfast staple. But what is a vegan supposed to do? It is true that vegan block-style and shredded “cheeses” are continually improving in flavor, texture and melting point. But, I think they are a bit pricey and, besides, I vastly prefer my own non-dairy nut-, bean- or tofu-based cheese spreads and sauces. My secret ingredient is beer (or non-alcoholic beer) which lends to the flavor a little of that appealing aged cheesy “funk,” for lack of a better term. Note that not all beer is vegan, so a little online research will result in some good vegan options.
Craving cheese grits not too long ago, I wondered what would happen if I stirred some of my cashew-based cheddar-style cheese spread into grits as they cooked. What happened was magic! The corn flavor of the grits was still prominent, but it was richer, more complex, distinctly “cheesy,” and just a hint tangy. Plus, the grits were creamy, luscious, and golden. Prepared this way, the grits are delicious on their own. But in this recipe, I make a nutritious and colorful meal out of them.
Though I was weaned on grits, I developed a taste for collards and kale as an adult. When the cheese grits craving hit, I also had kale in the fridge, so I was inspired to lightly sauté the kale and pair it with my Cashew Cheese Grits for an absolutely addicting combo. I call the kale “kicked-up” because I finish it with a sprinkling of nutritional yeast and a little “glug” of cream sherry (which is non-dairy), though bourbon, a typically southern spirit, would be tasty too. The amount is very small, but if you eschew all alcohol, vegetable stock or even water is a fine substitute.
Folks in the south like to infuse their greens with a smoky flavor from a source I won’t even mention. I choose instead a healthy garnish of smoked almonds which aren’t inexpensive, so if you prefer not to splurge, a pinch of smoked paprika will do very nicely.
To get this meal on the table, first make the “cheese.” This ridiculously easy recipe will yield more than you need, but the leftovers will look homey and inviting in a little crock. Sometimes I like to share half the batch as a casual gift. And sometimes I like to hoard it all for myself!
Vegan Cheddar-Style Cashew “Cheese” Spread
Yield: approximately 2 1/2 cups
2 cups lightly salted and roasted cashew halves or pieces
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup unsweetened soymilk
1/2 cup beer or non-alcoholic beer
2 tablespoons any kind of miso paste (the darker the color, the deeper the flavor)
Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process for a few minutes or until quite smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Store in an airtight container or crock in the refrigerator.
Next make the grits:
Southern-Style Cashew Cheese Grits
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup Quick Country Grits
1/2 cup Cheddar-Style Cashew “Cheese” Spread
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
In a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, bring the water and salt to a rapid boil. Slowly stir in the grits and reduce the heat to medium-low; cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes or until thickened. During the last minute or so of cooking, whisk in the “cheese” spread and the turmeric until completely combined. Remove from the heat and leave covered until ready to serve.
While the grits cook, make the kale:
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cups of coarsely chopped kale, thick stems removed before chopping
1 generous tablespoon of nutritional yeast
1 generous tablespoon of cream sherry (it is non-dairy; bourbon, vegetable stock or water can be substituted, though the stock and water will not impart the same special flavor)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Optional garnish: a few smoked almonds or a pinch of smoked paprika
In a large cast iron skillet over medium-high, heat olive oil to shimmering. Add kale and sauté, stirring continually, until it is softened, but still bright green, about 4-5 minutes. It will cook down considerably. If it appears to be drying out, sprinkle with a tablespoon of water. At the end of the cooking time, sprinkle the nutritional yeast and the cream sherry over the top. This is such a small amount, that it should not flare up, but be aware that spirits can ignite. Sauté the kale for another 30 to 60 seconds, stirring gently to combine and distribute, and then remove from heat. Divide the warm grits among 4 serving plates or shallow bowls and serve one-fourth of the warm kale over the grits. Sprinkle with smoked almonds or smoked paprika. Note: if you desire more sauce, simply double or triple the amount of nutritional yeast and cream sherry.
Betsy DiJulio, www.thebloomingplatter.com, is the author of The Blooming Platter Cookbook (Vegan Heritage Press, 2011).