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In the Kitchen With: Bryant Terry’s Pan-Fried Grit Cakes

by Kristina Gill

In celebration of Black History Month, for the past three weeks I’ve chosen recipes that remind me of my home in a black family from the South in the United States. I realize that the recipes have been so incredibly rich that they can’t be regular staples. I purposely let our cholesterol run wild so I could juxtapose it all with a recipe from Bryant Terry’s first cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen. Due to a lack of good spring onions here, I’ve adapted Bryant’s recipe for Pan-Fried Grit Cakes with Caramelized Spring Onions, Garlic and Thyme by using some very fine leeks that I bought at the Fern Verrow stand at this weekend’s Maltby Street Market. I’m sure Bryant wouldn’t have had it any other way. If you’d like all the flavor of American soul food without the quadruple bypass, you really should check out Bryant’s book. If you’re interested in the history of soul food, check out the PBS documentary Soul Food Junkies by Byron Hurt. (Bryant appears in this, as well!) — Kristina

About Bryant: Bryant Terry is a chef, educator and author renowned for his pioneering activism to create a healthy, just and sustainable food system. Bryant’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Gourmet, Food and Wine and O: The Oprah Magazine, among many other outlets. His latest book is The Inspired Vegan, and it can be seen in the current Scion IQ commercial. As an exclusive speaker signed with the Lavin Agency, Bryant frequently presents around the country as a keynote speaker at colleges and universities, including Brown, Columbia, NYU, Smith, Stanford and Yale. In 2012, Bryant was chosen by the U.S. State Department as one of 80 American chefs to be part of its new American Chef Corps. From 2008 to 2010, he was a fellow of the Food and Society Fellows Program, a national program of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Bryant is the co-creator and host of Urban Organic, a multi-episode web series. He is currently working on his fourth book, Afro Vegan, which will be published in 2014 by Ten Speed/Random House. You can follow Bryant on Twitter @bryantterry and see his Cafe Brulot Lace Cookies in our archives.

See Bryant’s recipe after the jump . . .

Pan-Fried Grit Cakes with Crispy Leeks, Garlic and Thyme
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Soundtrack: “Green Onions” by Booker T. & the M.G.s from
Green Onions

Because the grits need to set for a few hours before you can cut them, this dish should be prepared in advance. The time invested is well worth it. I enjoy these tasty cakes as a savory dinner side or as a light meal with a green salad. You can omit the spring onions, cayenne, garlic and thyme and reduce the salt to 1/2 teaspoon and eat these with pure maple syrup as a breakfast treat. Or you can eat them as is with maple syrup, like my mom does. For a low-fat version, they can be baked on a lightly greased baking sheet at 325°F until crisp, about 15 minutes on each side. They can also be lightly brushed with olive oil and grilled for 10 minutes on each side.


  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large bunch of small leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups unflavored rice milk
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 cup stone-ground corn grits
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme



1. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil with the leeks and the cayenne. Turn the heat to medium-low and sauté gently until well browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. In a medium-sized nonstick sauté pan, combine the rice milk with the stock, cover, bring to a boil and boil for about 3 minutes. Uncover and whisk the grits into the liquid until no lumps remain.

3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes with a wooden spoon to prevent the grits from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

4. Add the leeks mixture, salt and thyme and stir well. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.

5. Pour the grits into a 2-quart rectangular baking dish or a comparable mold and spread them out with a rubber spatula (the grits should be about 1/2-inch thick). Refrigerate and allow the grits to rest until firm, about 3 hours or overnight.

6. Preheat the oven to 250°F.

7. Slice the grits into 2-inch squares.

8. Line a couple large plates with paper towels. In a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil is hot, pan-fry the cakes for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until they are golden brown and crispy on the outside (do this in several batches to avoid overcrowding the pan). Transfer the cooked cakes from the skillet to the plates to drain, and then hold them in the oven until all the cakes are cooked.

9. Serve immediately.

Why Bryant Loves This Recipe

While grit cakes are familiar in the South, I imagine that this recipe disrupts most people’s notion of what Southern/African American cooking is since it departs from the rustic presentation of the grits. Even in the South, grit cakes were traditionally eaten as a breakfast item, so I like offering a savory alternative.

Portrait by Margo Moritz

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  • This is great — I’m transitioning over to vegan and I love to see these kinds of recipes featured on Design*Sponge. I can’t wait to check out Bryant’s cookbooks. Cheers – CT

  • My father grew up in the hollers of TN while my mother is from Japan. One of his favourite dishes was fried grits and okra. Of course, he put a twist on it by adding salt and pepper to the thin layer of grits as they cooled (made with only water). After frying (in a cast iron skillet of course), we would eat them with shoyu.

    Mille grazie for bringing this great dish out of the closet.

  • I’m a clumsy kind of guy in the kitchen, so my SO says, but I think I can pull this one off! Going to a fish fry here in the Hill Country of Texas this week end. I’ll try it out on the unsuspecting!

  • My mom used to make a sort of corn cake like this growing up. I tried to make it once, from memory, a couple years ago and it turned out a total disaster! So it’s great now to have a real recipe.

  • These look so tasty – I need to make them!
    Just a couple of questions: how many grams is a cup? I haven’t seen corn grits here in the UK, is it cornmeal (polenta)? If not, can I use cornmeal instead?
    Thanks, SB

  • Hi SB! I used coarse ground polenta for the images, so I’d say yes! A cup of cornmeal is around 250g, but i’d say just make sure to maintain roughly a 1:4 ratio dry to liquid. You can adjust by adding more liquid if it seems too thick too early. Remember it will firm up in the refrigerator, so they should be thick but not so thick you can’t stir! I like it so they get crispy outside but a little soft inside. K

  • Whoa, making these as soon as possible…look like they would go well with a sauce, maybe serve them with some gumbo or jambalaya? Nom nom!

  • this looks amazing! I grew up in the south and don’t find myself cooking southern recipes as often as I’d like. hope to try it soon.

  • I have great memories of my grandma making grit cakes, I don’t think anyone could make them quite as good but I’ll have to try your recipe to see if it is anywhere near the quality.

  • For someone who lives in the South and loves grits, this is a great take on a familiar staple. Can you please provide a weight or volume measurement for the leeks? The bunches usually come in different sizes. Thanks!

  • I’m from Alabama and grew up eating something similar, but sweet instead of savory. My mother would serve grits at night, then press the leftovers into a brownie tin to refrigerate overnight. Then she would slice the grits, dip in egg, and fry in butter. We’d eat these with Yellow Label syrup!

  • My mother fried leftover cornmeal “mush” as she called it a well as other leftover cooked grains such as oatmeal, etc. It was fried in bacon drippings and we poured on the syrup. I miss her greatly and these foods.

  • I can’t wait to make these, but I think this recipe is missing a step– I assume you bake the mixture at 250 before slicing/ pan frying, but for how long?

  • Hi Bridget!

    The oven is warmed so that you can keep them warm as you’re frying the batch, it is not to cook them. Alternatively, Bryant notes that if you do not want to fry, you can heat the oven to 325 and bake them approximately 15 minutes on each side til crispy.

    I hope this helps!

  • I was first introduced to grit cakes by my grandmother in Augusta, Ga. As a result of growing up in poverty, there was no such thing as leftovers or table scraps. She would turn it into a savory, soul food meal. Grit cakes were a result of not wasting food.