Grits Roulade, Almost Meatless

A half-hour into a three-hour train ride from Rhode Island back to New York last night, I was making a meal out of gummy bears when I had a clear yet untimely craving for a warm bowl of grits. It’s an admittedly strange craving for an 89-degree Tuesday evening in July {particularly after downing a handful of corn syrup disguised as colorful little bears} but it seemed to me a craving I shouldn't ignore.

Just then the alarm on my calendar rang out with a reminder that made sense of my craving: Almost Meatless Potluck, 12 hours.

Of course, the potluck! And I was responsible for making a Grits Roulade.

My craving was like a sixth sense, an inner alarm that told me I was dangerously on the verge of missing a party, a party populated with passionate cooks and writers around a subject I care deeply about—eating (and cooking) food that’s better for you and the earth. The party, the potluck and the food on the table come from the pages of Almost Meatless: Recipes That are Better for Your Health and the Planet, written by friend Tara Mataraza Desmond and Philadelphia restaurant critic Joy Manning.

The concept of Almost Meatless is simple. Love your meat, just love it on moderation (as a flavor component, for example, rather than the star of the show). I started cooking Almost Meatless accidentally after college, in the interest of saving time and money, and almost completely meatless at home since I met András, my animal-loving, vegetable-eating husband. The truth is, it’s usually easier, cheaper and much faster to cook this way. Compare the cook times for an omelet or a vegetable stir fry (even with a little crumbled sausage) to say, a chicken breast, broiled, grilled or pan-seared. Veggies win, hands down. I still love the nourishing aroma of a well-made chicken broth, the flavor-packed fat-pockets of cured European sausages and delicate little lamb chops eaten by hand off the bone. But like Tara and Joy, I have learned that when it comes to meat, less really is more.

So the book was an easy sell for me. And my assigned dish, Grits Roulade, an even easier one. For starters the head note reads like this: “Roulade is the soufflé’s less-exacting sibling. It is similarly constructed, beginning with….” Okay stop, you had me at soufflé. I usually prefer mine in the chocolate variety, but anything that puffs with pomp and circumstances in the oven is definitely for me. Secondly, I have a deep affection for eggs. They are cheap, fast, filled with nutrition and are always waiting for me in their little crate in the fridge, ready to welcome me back with a feast no matter how often I’ve overlooked them for seemingly more glamorous ingredients. And, if I had needed any convincing, Tara explained the dish to me like this, “It reminds me of you, elegant and down-to earth.” Flattery will get you everywhere.

In truth, it was the grits that got me good. There’s a southern girl deep inside me who expresses herself best through what is fast becoming my Anthology of Grits, a collection that includes Caramel Peach Upside Down Cake and Grits with Roasted Vegetables and Hazelnut Butter. She squirmed with delight and burst forth to accept her latest commission.

Back on the train, I scanned my memory for the ingredients I needed to make Grits Roulade, and did a mental walk-through our kitchen. Grits. Check. A cherished bag of stone-ground grits from our last trip to the Carolinas in the fridge. Eggs and Milk. Used the last of both to make András breakfast before I left town. Quick text to loving husband for aid. Smoked gouda and scallions. Not a chance. Another text to loving husband. Honey Ham. That might be pushing it, but it was a risk I had to take. Final text to loving husband.

I sweated out the next two hours, getting no word from loving (did I mention patient and handsome) husband. Two hours later, a text arrived.

“I have food supply. Come baby, come.”

András welcomed me home with open arms, then walked me straight to the fridge and through the shopping list. Organic milk and eggs. Check. Two beautiful bunches of scallions. Check. Smoked Gouda. Check. The man is good.

“Oh, and this!” He said holding out a plastic package of perfectly pink squares with rounded corners. Honey Ham the package advertised.

Oscar Meyer. Quality Meats. 96% Fat Free, Water Added. Hmm, somehow, I don’t think that’s what Tara and Joy had in mind.

When Tara assigned me this dish, she made the suggestion to roll ham into my half of the roulade, leaving the other half ham-less for András. Her smart suggestion was overruled by quality control. This time, we’d both go ham-less. Better to arrive at the potluck late and totally meatless than not at all.

The dish was quick to pull together (recipe here), based on simple techniques, like whipping egg whites, and breezy conversational coaching from Tara and Joy. Soon our kitchen was perfumed with the homey, punchy flavors of smoked gouda and scallions, and in about 35 minutes, we sat down to a midnight meal of puffed, pale-golden Grits Roulade with a bit of zucchini from our garden, sautéed crisp. The roulade was a perfect welcome home meal, both light and filling with the subtlest characteristics of grits, and a most welcome addition to my collection. And with or without ham, Grits Roulade is a clever illustration that life after going Almost Meatless is full of delicious surprises.


The Diva on a Diet said...

One should never ignore a craving for grits ... and your roulade looks spectacular!

Thanks so much for your kind comment, you made my day! And more than that, I'm delighted to have been introduced to your delicious blog. Clearly, I have a lot of catching up to do here ... I'll be staying awhile.

Christie's Corner said...

All the recipes from this potluck look great. I've never made a roulade before and am curious to give it a try.

I've no idea where to guy grits. I'm Canadian and think of them as a Southern US item. Is there something you can substitute?

Jaime said...

Hi, sweet Sarah! I just discovered your terrific blog! I hope you're having a fabulous summer! xoxo, Jaime

Edible Living said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edible Living said...

Hey ya'll. Thanks for your comments. I'm delighted to have three fab new readers.

Christie, I'm happy to help you find a good stash of grits to have on hand when the craving calls. I should have mentioned that I always use stone-ground grits, and in this roulade I used white grits, which is why it was so blonde. But white and yellow grits are both delicious.

Many small companies who stone-grind ship by mail, so you should be able to get them in Canada. I like Anson Mills grits from the Carolinas because they are fresh ground from corn varieties known for their flavor, and the photos and descriptions on their site make you feel you've traveled back in time.

Check it out: http://www.ansonmills.com/grits.htm

Anonymous said...

I was born in Kentucky and raised in Alabama. Grits are so my jam.

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Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.