These vegan grit bowls feature sweet and spicy maple tofu and roasted summer veggies on a bed of grits. This recipe is a perfect dinner party option and is a great way to celebrate Southern summer flavors!
If I had to choose just one recipe that makes me think of summer in Georgia, it's probably these grit bowls. They feature "cheesy" vegan grits, roasted summer veggies, and sweet, smoky pan-fried tofu.
The tofu is like a cross between spicy harissa tofu and sweet BBQ tofu, with all the smoky flavor to be expected from a region that loves smoking proteins. The only thing that's missing is buttermilk biscuits or cornbread (but these can easily be added!).
About this recipe
- Flavors: Sweet, smoky, spicy, and salty. This is a very rich recipe, thanks to (plant-based) butter, soy sauce, and maple syrup.
- Southern-inspired: These grit bowls are inspired by breakfast grit bowls that are a staple in the South. The blackened maple tofu is inspired by smoky BBQ flavors, and the okra & bell pepper celebrate some of Georgia summer's best produce.
- Versatile: The okra and bell pepper can be swapped for eggplant, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, or any other fresh summer vegetable. The options are endless!
- Great for dinner parties, weeknight meals, or meal prep.
- Tofu: The tofu isn't pressed in this recipe, so I recommend using extra firm or super firm tofu.
- Sriracha adds heat. If sriracha isn't available, use half as much hot sauce or an equal amount of garlic chili sauce.
- Soy sauce: Choose reduced-sodium soy sauce to cut back on salt, or use tamari for a gluten-free option.
- Maple syrup adds sweetness. I don't recommend substituting it with honey or agave because it will alter the overall flavor of the grit bowls.
- Apple cider vinegar cuts the sweetness and saltiness of the marinade with a little bit of tang/acidity. An equal amount of white vinegar will work in a pinch.
- Smoked paprika provides smokiness. I don't recommend using regular paprika in place of smoked.
- Nutritional yeast is a plant-based staple. It adds depth and is the main source of "cheesiness" in the vegan grits.
- Grits: I use old-fashioned grits, but really any kind can be used as long as you follow the package instructions.
How to make the tofu
I like to cut the tofu into triangles because the thinner edges cook more quickly than the center parts, resulting in more texture in each bite.
Whisk together the marinade ingredients in a small baking dish, then add the tofu. You can also marinate the tofu in a large freezer bag, which makes for easy distribution of the marinade over the tofu.
Toss the tofu so that it is well coated by the marinade. Let marinate for 15 minutes and up to 24 hours.
For the best flavor, I recommend cooking the tofu in a cast-iron skillet. If you don't have a cast-iron skillet, any large non-stick skillet works well.
Heat the skillet over medium heat, then add enough oil to coat the pan. To avoid overcrowding the tofu in the pan, cook it in 2-3 batches.
Cook the tofu for 2-3 minutes on each side, until just starting to turn golden. If working in two batches, add half of the reserved tofu marinade to the pan. If working in three batches, add just ⅓ of the marinade (and so on).
Cook another 1-2 minutes. Because the marinade has a high sugar content, it will cook very quickly and blacken the edges of the tofu. Spoon the marinade over the pieces of tofu as needed.
The tofu is ready when so gold that it is almost blackened (see image above for reference).
How to roast the veggies
My favorite part about this recipe is that you can use many, many kinds of summer vegetables. I always make air-fried okra or roasted okra and red bell pepper, but other good options include eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, orange and yellow peppers, fresh corn, and cherry tomatoes.
Toss the vegetables in just enough olive oil to coat, about 2 teaspoons. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt.
Roast at 425F for just 15-20 minutes. Roasting at high heat for a short time browns the veggies without dehydrating them too much.
- Timing: While my slogan is "easy vegetarian recipes", I'll be the first to admit that this isn't my easiest recipe because there are a few moving parts to it. The easiest way to work is to marinate the tofu, then prepare the veggies. Add those to the oven, then start cooking the grits. By this point, the tofu should be ready to cook on the stove. Everything will finish cooking around the same time.
- A note on grits: Do note that grits continue to thicken after cooking, so they are best prepared just before serving. I list ¼ cup to 1 cup of soy milk because grits love absorbing liquid. They may look okay with just ¼ cup of soy milk and 5 minutes later look hard as a rock! That's okay, just add another ¼ cup of milk, repeating as needed.
- Cheese: While I enjoy my grits with just butter and nutritional yeast, you can make them extra "cheesy" by adding shredded cheddar-style cheese to each serving.
- Leftovers: The tofu and vegetables keep for 3-4 days in the fridge. The grits thicken up a lot during refrigeration and need a fair amount of liquid added when reheating.
I don't recommend baking the tofu because it won't have the same result of smokiness and charring that pan-frying provides. That being said, you can bake it if you are looking for a lower-fat option and don't mind cutting back on the smokey, charred flavor. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Yes, frozen vegetables work but I recommend thawing them before roasting. Depending on the type of vegetable, they will likely cook more quickly because most frozen veggies are already par-cooked.
Grits are most often compared to polenta because they are both made from corn. Grits are a lot like oatmeal because they are very soft and great as a breakfast food. Stone-ground grits have a firmer texture to each grain, whereas instant grits are soft and old-fashioned grits are somewhere in between.
I personally don't like its flavor which is why I don't use it in my recipes, but liquid smoke is a good option for added smokiness. Start with just ¼ teaspoon in the marinade and adjust from there.
Looking for more summer meals?
For similar recipes inspired by Georgia produce and cuisine, check out my vegetarian Southern-style recipes.
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Vegetarian Grit Bowls with Maple Tofu
- 12 inch cast iron skillet optional
- 12 ounces okra
- 2 medium red bell peppers
- 1-2 teaspoons olive oil or other neutral oil
- 1 teaspoon salt-free Cajun seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon salt omit if using Cajun seasoning that contains salt
- ¼ cup pepitas
- ¼ cup sliced green onions
- vegan cheddar-style cheese for the grits (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F for the roasted vegetables.
- Prepare the tofu marinade in a small baking pan (8x8 or smaller) by whisking together the soy sauce, maple syrup, 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, sriracha, vinegar, 1 tablespoon neutral oil, smoked paprika, and garlic powder.
- Add the tofu triangles to the marinade, tossing to coat as needed. The tofu can also be marinated in a freezer bag. Marinate for 15 minutes or up to 24 hours.
- To cook the tofu, heat a 12-inch cast iron skillet or other non-stick skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add enough neutral oil to coat the pan.
- Working in two batches, add half of the tofu to the pan. Reserve the marinade. Cook the tofu for 2-3 minutes on each side, until turning golden.
- After each side has been cooked, add ½ of the reserved marinade. This will cook very quickly and blacken the tofu edges. Flip the tofu for even cooking. Remove blackened tofu from the pan and set on a paper towel or clean towel to drain (optional).
- Slice the cap off the okra, then slice the okra in half so that it is two pieces. Slice the red bell pepper into medium strips.
- On a sheet pan, toss the okra (without the cap) and bell pepper with enough oil to coat, about 1-2 teaspoons. Sprinkle with Cajun seasoning and ¼ teaspoon salt. Roast the veggies at 425F for just 15-20 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Meanwhile, make the grits. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium sauce pot. Once boiling, stir in the grits and ½ teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat to low. Cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes, stirring every few minutes. The grits are ready when the water is absorbed and the grits are cooked through.
- To the cooked grits add ¼ cup soy milk, the butter, ¼ cup nutritional yeast, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add extra milk as needed to thin the grits.
- Assemble the bowls by distributing the grits, tofu, and vegetables between 4 bowls. Top with pepitas and sliced green onions. Optionally, add vegan shredded cheddar to the grits. Enjoy!
- Old-fashioned grits: Instant grits and stone-cut grits have different cooking methods and times. If using these, cook according to package instructions.
- Sriracha: Regular hot sauce also works, but I recommend starting with just ½ tablespoon (1.5 teaspoons) and adjusting to taste.
- Salt: If concerned about salt content, choose a salt-free Cajun seasoning and omit salt on the roasted veggies. Choose reduced-sodium soy sauce and adjust the salt in the grits to taste.
- A note on timing: There are a few moving parts in this recipe. The easiest way to work is to marinate the tofu, then prepare the veggies. Add those to the oven, then start cooking the grits. By this point, the tofu should be ready to cook on the stove. Do note that grits continue to thicken after cooking, so they are best prepared just before serving.