Cookbook author Bryant Terry pulls from his family’s Afro-Asian background for his inspired spin on polenta cakes from his new vegan cookbook, “Vegetable Kingdom.” Here, they’re made with Southern-style grits dyed verdant green with puréed kale and spinach, then pan-fried until crisp. The small triangles serve as a great appetizer for a dinner party or can be cut larger to serve as the basis of a main dish.
The accompanying vegan Creole-spiced cream sauce adds the perfect amount of richness and warmth to the earthy cakes; if you’re not vegan, you can use sour cream or plain Greek yogurt spiced to taste with some of Terry’s homemade Creole seasoning, which is much fresher than the stuff you’ll get from a jar.
Use any leftover seasoning for blackened fish fillets or use it to season Brussels sprouts, cauliflower or any other hearty, roasted vegetables. Make the cream sauce and the grit cakes a day ahead of time, so all you have to do to serve is fry off the cakes and reheat the sauce.
Spinach and Kale Grit Cakes
Make the grit cakes: In a medium saucepan, combine the almond milk and stock and bring to a simmer over medium heat. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in the grits. Continue to whisk until no lumps remain. Bring to a simmer, still whisking, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer the grits, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes to prevent sticking, until tender and very thick, 30 to 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the leek and salt. Cook, stirring, until well-browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Combine the kale, spinach and 6 tablespoons water in a blender. Purée until very smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary, 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside.
Once the grits are done, scrape in the spinach and kale green mixture and the leek mixture and stir well. Continue to simmer on low heat, stirring frequently, until most of the additional liquid has been absorbed and the grits are once again very thick, 10 to 15 minutes.
Pour the grits into a 9-inch-square baking dish and spread them out with a rubber spatula. Refrigerate and allow the grits to rest until firm, about 3 hours or up to overnight.
When you’re ready to finish the cakes, preheat the oven to 250°F. Flip the grits out onto a cutting board. Slice into 16 2-inch squares, then cut each square in half diagonally to form triangles.
In a large nonstick skillet, warm a scant tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, pan-fry the cakes in batches, replenishing and reheating the oil between batches, until golden brown and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked cakes to a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven until all of the cakes are cooked.
Before serving, warm the sauce in the pan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Spread sauce on individual plates and top with a few grit cakes. Garnish with thyme leaves and sea salt to serve.
Creamy Creole Sauce
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Slowly whisk in the millet flour. Cook, whisking constantly, for about 15 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, the onions, celery and bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, Creole seasoning, salt, tomato paste and liquid aminos. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Stir in the vegetable stock and cashew cream and bring to a simmer. Simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, until it starts to thicken, about 20 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Remove from heat and reserve.
Combine all the ingredients in a mortar or spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 6 months.
Combine the cashews and ½ cup fresh water in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
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