Last weekend a friend challenged me to make a vegetarian recipe. “I love your blog, but you have to post a vegetarian recipe for me!” She said.
After my initial shock and knee-jerk “NEVER!” reaction to a lack of animal protein, I settled in and got to thinking about it. All I have to say is, thank God cheese was still in play. I can’t do vegan, people. Don’t even ask me. It might not kill me but I’m just not willing to find out.
Technically, this is an appetizer not an entree so I maaaaybe skirted the request a little BUT this is a thing that is INSANELY tasty that my veggie friends can munch on. My only regret is that I didn’t make enough grits balls. There will NEVER be enough grits balls.
Here in Tampa we have the best holiday in the world, Gasparilla. It’s fun trying to explain it to people that have never seen it because it’s literally a fake pirate invasion. Think Mardi Gras, but with more “Argh!” and “Ahoy, matey!” Everyone dresses up in their pirate costumes and parties. There is no better day.
This year, the weather was perfect. We did the “invasion” on a friend of mine’s boat and floated through the bay, playing music and dancing. The breeze was cool, the beer was frigid, and I spent the day with some of my best friends in the world. It doesn’t get better than that.
My house is not too far off the parade route, so it’s a great meeting place for everyone. My mom always makes a ton of food and people come and go as the day goes on.
As the revelry was finally coming to a close and “sleepy” pirates began resting their pillaging heads on other people’s lawns, we started the cleanup. I almost threw away the extra cup of cheese grits in the bottom of the giant vat on the stove. I know, what kind of person does that?! I wasn’t in my right mind. Luckily, my neighbor Jen stopped me and the last cup of cheese grits were saved.
The thing about grits is that they do NOT reheat well. They get weird and thick and they are just never going to be the right texture again. Instead of fighting it, roll with it. Roll around some cheese and right into heaven.
- 1-1/2 cups leftover cheese grits- prepare grits according to package directions, throw a BUNCH of cheese in there and there you have it.
- 1/2 inch cubes of pepper jack cheese (enough for the number of balls you manage to make, I got 12 out of my leftovers)
- 1/2 cup Cup for Cup GF flour
- 1/2 cup GF panko
- 1 egg, beaten with a few tablespoons of milk to thin it out
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
For the sauce: Combine 2 tablespoons of pepper jelly, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard, and 1-2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar. Whisk to combine.
- Take a tablespoon or so of cold grits and flatten them into a little pancake in your palm. Wrap the pancake around a cube of pepper jack and then gently fold it around. Gently roll it around in your hands like a little meatball. It will take some pressing and patience to get the grits to adhere correctly, but it’s pretty easy.
- I rolled the grits balls ahead and put them back in the fridge for a while because my hands warmed them up quite a bit and I didn’t want them to fall apart. The key is that you want to bread them right before you fry them. You can do the prep early.
- When you’re ready to fry, set up the flour, panko, and egg mixture in three bowls. I added a pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper to the flour to season it. Heat about an inch of peanut oil in a large skillet.
- Dip each ball into the flour, then the egg wash, and lastly in the panko, pressing to adhere. When the oil has come to temperature (350 °F), gently nestle the balls in (the humor of this sentence is not lost on me) and let them get nice and browned on the first side. Roll them over, and brown the other half. All in all, it took me about 6 minutes of fry time.
- Gently remove and transfer your grits balls to a rack over paper towels to drain and cool a little. Not too long, though, because that molten lava cheese is just too good to miss. Serve with pepper jelly sauce.
I MEAN LOOK AT THEM. My family sat hunched around them like cave people and no one said a word until suddenly the grits balls had all disappeared. And then we had a few moments of silence as we went through the five stages of grief that they were all gone. After all that, though, we could not stop talking about how awesome they were.
You can fry damn near anything, and it’ll taste good, but what you should really be doing is frying balls of cheesy goodness. They were super crunchy on the outside, soft and pillowy on the inside, and the pepper jelly sauce had just enough heat and acid to bring it to the next level of happiness.
It’s not something you SHOULD eat every day, but it’s something I absolutely would eat every day and be extremely happy even if I couldn’t see my feet. I hope my meat-challenged friends make this and enjoy… but invite me over too.