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I love cheesy grits so much that I'd be happy to eat them as a meal all on their own, but for people saner than I (like my wife), a meal has to be more than just a bowl of ground corn and oozy cheese. For accompaniments, I could look to tradition and make something like shrimp and grits, but I was hoping for a little more textural contrast than that, which led me to a hearty green like kale—plus, you know, it adds color. As for the ham, do I really need to come up with an excuse for it?
You can make this with instant grits if you'd like, but real grits have a better flavor and texture and don't take much extra time to cook. (Just bring the milk and water to a boil, add the grits, turn the heat to low, and let it cook for 25 minutes or so, stirring every once in a while.)
Plus, that gives you the time to make the ham and kale. The more flavorful the ham, the better, so skip the water-logged deli slices in favor of something smokier and saltier. Country ham will work great here, though you'll need to add less salt to the rest of the dish. I went with some stunning slices from Smoking Goose in Indianapolis—it's so flavorful that the kale quickly takes on the taste of collards that have been slowly simmered with ham hocks. The final thing needed is just a touch of tanginess, which I add with a generous drizzle of vinegary hot sauce right before serving.