The holidays come with all sorts of bustling activity, being the perfect time to relish good food and good company with cheer. It’s also a time for lots of entertaining, be it a cocktail party, a lavish dinner, or a family brunch with all the out-of-town guests—and with all that, exhaustion.
Many of us feel pressure to overdo it around the holidays. We stretch ourselves thin, going above and beyond with every soiree, making for a stressful holiday season. Yet even if we commit to hosting large gatherings, this is somewhat avoidable.
Cooking for a crowd only adds to the strain. No matter if you’re a seasoned cook or not, prepping for large groups requires time and planning to pull off successfully. Easy, hands-free dishes are a godsend when it comes to feeding large crowds. And the slow cooker can be a home cook’s best friend—freeing up valuable stove space, saving precious time, and providing genuine peace of mind.
In years past, I would rarely embark on a dish that required me to hover over the stove, stirring constantly, for too long—especially when cooking for a crowd. And in years past, grits have fallen into that category. But that was before I discovered how magical grits work in the slow cooker.
Making grits (little secret: grits and polenta are essentially the same thing) in the slow cooker couldn’t be easier. And they make a hearty foundation for a delectable and unique brunch that can perfectly feed a large group. The recipe can be easily multiplied (I’ve successfully made these grits for 100 people) as long as you have enough large slow cookers. Just keep in mind that grits expand somewhat, so I don’t fill your slow cooker more than three-quarters full.
With only a few minutes of hands-on time and a few hours of cook time—plus some butter, cream, and melty cheese—you’ve got something downright delicious, crowd-pleasing, and cozy. Plus, neither dry grits nor polenta is terribly expensive, making them an economical way to feed the masses. This whole dish could work just as easily in a self-serve situation, and you can make almost every component of the recipe in advance to boot!
Inspired by the flavors of the season, I originally came up with the idea for sweet potato grits as a side dish, though it would make a killer protein-rich vegetarian course for a holiday dinner as well. I was then further motivated to take it to brunch-land and make it burst with the flavors of the South. The sweet potato lends a faint sweetness and vibrant orange hue, complementing the smoky, spicy sausage and toothsome greens. Lastly, since almost everything is better topped with an egg—and this is breakfast, after all—I couldn’t resist crowning the dish with a crispy-edged, runny-yolked beauty. The complete dish is a bounty of contrasting textures and tastes, making it a colorful, flavorful feast for the senses. It’s simply perfect for a stress-free, special occasion brunch.
Sweet Potato Grits with Andouille Sausage and Southern-Style Greens
Prep time/hands-on time: 20 minutes
Cook time: around 3 hours (including cooking sweet potato)
For the sweet potato grits:
1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
3 cups water
1 cup stoneground grits or polenta
1 teaspoon salt
⅔ cup cream
3 tablespoons butter
8 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese or other flavorful melting cheese of choice
Cracked pepper, to taste
For the southern-style greens:
2 tablespoons bacon grease (for most authentic flavor) or butter
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pinch hot pepper flakes or cayenne pepper
2 big bunches collard greens or kale, roughly chopped
For the sausage and eggs:
2 lbs. uncooked andouille sausage, links or loose (alternately, use any sausage you like or can find, such as chorizo or hot Italian, if andouille is unavailable)
6 large eggs (double for big appetites)
- Prepare sweet potato grits: Peel and dice small sweet potato of your choice. Steam until tender, then drain and cool slightly while you continue with recipe. When cool enough, mash sweet potato. Measure out 1 cup and combine with water in a large measuring cup. (Save remaining potato for another use. You can use leftover baked sweet potato too!)
- Place grits in slow cooker. Pour in sweet potato/water mixture. Add salt and stir to combine. Cover and cook on high, stirring occasionally, for approximately 2–3 hours (or cook on low setting for 3–4 hours), until tender and creamy. Once cooked, add cream, butter, and cheese. Stir through until cheese melts. Add lots of cracked pepper to taste. Keep warm.
- Prepare greens: Heat bacon grease or butter in a large, shallow pan. Sauté onions until tender, about 5–10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes or cayenne. Add greens and cook, adding a little water to help them steam a little, until tender and to your liking.
- Prepare sausage and eggs: Meanwhile, cook sausage until browned. Keep sausage and greens warm in a low (200°F) oven while you cook your eggs.
- Heat a couple pans on stovetop until hot. Add a little butter or neutral oil. Fry eggs to your desired doneness.
- To serve: Spoon cheesy grits into a shallow bowl or plate. Top with greens, sausage, and an egg. Dig in!
Image from Briana Goodall.