“Nooooooooo!” I said as I hurried to the oven to protect my precious souffles from a waft of cold air. I had to stand guard, you see, since Henning has a tendency to want to see what’s going on in covered pots and hot ovens. Usually the rice survives losing some steam, but I was genuinely worried about my little souffles. The change in oven temperature from opening the oven door can spell doom for those fluffy little ramekins of yum.
I’m certainly no souffle expert–I’ve only made a chocolate souffle once or twice–but taking part in the souffle HHDD sounded like a good chance to try something new. I thought a bit about what kind of souffle to make, and my mind wandered to the humongous bag of stone-ground hominy grits in my freezer.
I’m from North Carolina, where grits are on the menu at every brunch place, on the dinner menu at many a fine restaurant, and the supermarket has at least four or five kinds to choose from. Out here in California, I can only find “instant” grits, whose resemblance to real grits, well, let’s just say it leaves something to be desired. Think Kraft orange powder and noodles versus a creamy bechemel based mac & cheese. But thanks to the internets, this is not a problem. My mother found a great mill that ships their grits anywhere. In the spirit of getting a good deal, my mom ordered a 25 pound bag for my sister, me, and her to share. Let me tell you, twenty five pounds is a lot of grits. When it arrived, the jokes were flying left and right, and my mother said she felt like she finally had that first grandchild. The bag really was about the size of a toddler, minus the limbs. This was a serious bag of grits. I think I only have to make grits souffles 57 more times to use up my share…
I did a bit of googling for grits souffle recipes to get an impression of the basic proportions. For my souffle, I decided to add some green onions, as well as sweet frozen corn and red bell pepper, and of course a good helping of cheese. The grits lend texture and body to the souffle, and the veggies give a nice flavor and texture contrast. The salty cheese with the sweet corn and pepper was a great combination. I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. Who knew that you could make up your own souffle recipe and have it not only fluff up nicely but also taste good? You should try it, it’s fun! Seriously!
Made in individual ramekins, these little souffles make an sophisticated first course or side dish, heck, they’d even make a great breakfast or brunch. They are a great choice for a dinner party as they are inexpensive yet impressive! We ate them as the main dish with just a green salad on the side. By the way, if your timing is less than perfect and the souffles are done early, don’t worry. An elegant way to serve fallen individual souffles is to invert them onto individual plates and sprinkle with something to garnish, in this case, green onions do the job nicely.
Cheesy Grits Souffles with Corn, Red Pepper, and Green Onions
3/4 cup stone-ground grits (not instant or quick cooking)
2 cups water
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3 tbs butter, divided
1 cup frozen corn
1 red bell pepper, cut to small dice
6 green onions, sliced, green and white parts separated
6 egg whites
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 8 one cup or 6 one and a half cup ramekins, or a 2 quart souffle dish (I used vegetable oil spray, because I’m lazy, but butter would be better).
Combine water with milk, salt, and pepper, and bring to boil in a medium saucepan. Whisk in grits, return to boil, and reduce heat to medium-low or low. Cook until grits are done, stirring regularly and adjusting heat to avoid scorching but maintain a few thick bubbles bursting from time to time. This should take about 30 minutes, depending on your grits. Whisk a spoonful or two of hot grits into the egg yolks to temper, then whisk yolks back into the grits. Stir in 2 tbs butter, the cheese, and cayenne, and allow to cool for 10 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid a skin forming. Now stir in most of the green parts of the green onions (save some for garnish).
Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tbs butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the corn and whites of the green onions. Cook, stirring every once in a while, until the corn is softened and even beginning to brown in spots, about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper and a generous pinch of salt and cook until it is softened as well, about 3 minutes more. Stir the vegetables into the grits.
Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt or cream of tartar until they hold soft peaks. Gently incorporate 1/3 of the whites into the grits mixture, to lighten. Fold in remaining whites.
Transfer to prepared ramekins or souffle dish and bake for 20 minutes (ramekins) or 45 minutes (large dish), until puffed and golden. Do not open the oven door during the first 3/4 of the cooking time, or you risk making the souffles fall! To check for doneness, gently insert a skewer into the center. If it is very wet, cook for 5 minutes more. If it is just moist, the souffles are done. The center of the souffles should be just set.
Serve immediately for the most fluff factor. If your timing isn’t exactly right, don’t worry, just invert the souffles onto serving plates and garnish with some green onions. They’re cute this way too, and taste just as good!
Serves 8 as a side dish, or 4-6 as a main course.