Archives for category: Regional Cooking
Lima Beans by Carmyarmyofme
Lima Beans, a photo by Carmyarmyofme on Flickr.

I make the best Lima beans (sorry Dad, but these are really special).

Sauté a chopped onion in olive oil.
Add several whole cloves of garlic.
Add farro or pearl barley (this one had both because I was using stuff up).
Add miso paste ( I used about 7 or 8 tablespoons).
Add Lima beans (previously soaked over night).
Add water to cover.
Add a couple of sprigs of thyme, a big sprig of rosemary, a spoonful each of dried tarragon and oregano.
Simmer until your beans are soft and ready to eat. 1-2 hours. Maybe 3 if you have stubborn beans.
30 minutes before you are ready to eat, throw some cornbread on to cook. Serve with Greek yogurt or sour cream.

Red & Green Sopa Seca

“Sopa Seca” may mean “dry soup” but it’s a bit more like a casserole. This one in particular was like a Mexican interpretation of lasagna, with tortilla in place of the noodle and layers of roasted peppers and onions between layers of creamy spinach.  I highly recommend this recipe from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics (I’ve covered some of their other tasty recipes before). Plenty of leftovers that reheated nicely, too.

Hoppin' Johns, Collard Greens, Cornbread, and Sliced Ham

Many cultures celebrate the New Year with a traditional meal.  In fact, I’ve been eating mochi for the last few years because I had regularly been attending Oshogatsu festivals in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, located near my old home.  But the traditional food that I brought with me out of South Carolina is Hoppin’ Johns and Collard Greens.

Hoppin’ Johns are stewed black eyed peas served with rice.  Eating them on New Year’s Day should bring you luck in the new year.  Eating Collard Greens should bring you wealth, or so says everyone with whom I grew up.  Traditionally, my dad stewed both of those dishes with some pork – usually ham hock.  I invented vegetarian options for myself from my vegetarian years, and serve them with sliced ham so that you can add the meat if you want.  I like my version so much, that I still eat them that way even after rejoining the carnivorous world. Here are my recipes for these New Year foods:

Collard Greens:

In a Dutch Oven pan or stew pot, sauté one or two chopped jalapeño peppers (with seeds) in two to three tablespoons of olive oil.  When they start to soften, add about three cups of veggie broth and bring to a simmer.

Wash two large bunches of collard greens and rip the leafy parts away from the stems.  Discard stems and add the collards to the simmering broth.  Cover and simmer at a low temperature for at least one hour, stirring occasionally, until collards are tender.  If you can not find collards, consider using chard but keep in mind that it takes less time to cook chard than collards.

Hoppin’ Johns:

If using dried black eyed peas: soak first.  If using canned black eyed peas, rinse well.

Sauté a diced yellow onion in olive oil.  I use one or two onions for about four cups of beans.  Add one tablespoon of miso paste per cup of beans, and one cup of water for each tablespoon of miso that you used.   Add the beans, they should be just covered with liquid.  Add a tablespoon of dried tarragon and two teaspoons of garlic powder.  Stew the beans on medium-low heat until they are tender – almost mushy, but not falling apart.  Add a couple of teaspoons of cayenne pepper, and some salt and pepper to taste.

Serve both the Hoppin’ Johns and Collard Greens over rice and with generous amounts of apple cider vinegar.  Trust me on the apple cider vinegar, it is essential to the taste of the dish!  I also make cornbread, which in my family we ate with sour cream on it.  Greek yogurt makes a healthier alternative, but not everyone is ready for yogurt or sour cream on their cornbread.  Use sliced ham as a garnish, not as a main dish.  Enjoy!

Shrimp in Savannah Sweet Pepper Sauce

Love Southern food?  Love those traditional flavors but you’d rather cook with olive oil than lard?  It’s cool, I can hook you up with a book that keeps it real and keeps it really tasty: Damon Lee Fowler’s New Southern Kitchen.

Fowler is a denizen of Savannah, Georgia.  He has written books on the old school preparations for Southern cuisine, but I’m fond of this one which allots for modern equipment, modern food shopping, and modern concerns for health.  No, this isn’t a “diet” version of cooking Southern foods, it is a realistic version, and a damn tasty one at that.

Summer Squash Casserole

Fowler recognizes the importance of produce in the Southern diet.  Fried pork chops and corn bread may traditional, but that certainly isn’t all that the South has to offer.  For example, I chose four of Fowler’s recipes: Shrimp in Savannah Sweet Pepper Sauce, served with Wilted Kale in Olive Oil and Salt; and White Bean Soup served alongside the Summer Squash Casserole.  Good stuff.  None of the recipes were difficult, and the squash casserole and kale were simple enough to not have to refer to the recipe on a second try.

Wilted Kale with Olive Oil & Salt

Fowler writes (and I whole heartedly agree), “The whole idea of fresh produce is rooted in the Southern consciousness…. From June until November, roadside produce stands sprout.”  I was happy that he included such a thorough chapter for vegetables and treated them as respectfully as he did.  The South is traditionally an agriculture area, and the bounty that you can find there is divine.  The roasted red pepper sauce for the shrimp was heavenly, and the kale made a great companion to that dish.

White Bean Soup

I was a great fan of Fowler’s White Bean Soup recipe – particularly because it reheated so well.  I enjoyed the choice of sage, and since it defined the soup’s flavor I feel like sage is a natural companion to cannelini beans.  Hearty, bean-based soups make for one of those wonderful dishes you can stretch out over days – have it with or without rice or corn bread, bring it for a packed lunch, or just avoid cooking for a few days in a row.

Damon Lee Fowler’s New Southern Kitchen: Traditional Flavors for Contemporary Cooks by Damon Lee Fowler.

Verdict: Check it out.

It keeps the traditional flavors of the South alive in the modern world.

Fried Goat Cheese Studded with Pistachios over Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette

My house was a good place for a stomach to grow up, and I’m sure that it has made me into the discerning eater that I am today.  My dad is a great cook with a passion for fresh ingredients – you have no idea how often I sat down to a meal to hear that the shrimp or fish were “swimming this morning” or that those collards or tomatoes were “still in the dirt yesterday.”  It’s only natural that I would develop an association with southern cooking being fresh, flavorful, and downright perfect.  If you think of southern food as just salty and greasy, well then, son, you’ve just been doing it wrong.

Recently, The Charleston Chef’s Table arrived at my library.  I took a divergent path from my dad’s cooking to try out some of these recipes, starting with Fried Goat Cheese Studded with Pistachios over Greens.  Written by Billy Condon of Atlanticville Restaurant on my old stomping grounds on Sullivan’s Island, this recipe features a very decadent center piece that is moderated by its small size and greens tossed in a simple but complementary balsamic vinaigrette.  The fried shell of the goat cheese is a combination of panko bread crumbs and crushed pistachios, a great companion to the warm thyme and tarragon imbued goat cheese inside.

Roasted Portobello with Sweet Onion, Roasted Red Pepper, and Parmesan Spinach Spread

For my next forage into The Charleston Chef’s Table, I figuratively hopped over the Ben Sawyer bridge to cook up a recipe written by Casey Glowacki of the Five Loaves Café in Mount Pleasant.  To make this sandwich, first oven-roast a portobello cap with olive oil and chopped garlic.  Caramelize an onion on your stove top by cooking them slowly with olive oil in a sauté pan.  Then, focus on creating the great sandwich spread by blending spinach, Parmesan, and cheddar in a food processor.  With the spread, the garlic roasted mushroom, sweet slow-cooked onions, and the addition of roasted red peppers and a flavorful heirloom tomato slice, this was a fun combination.  It’s a big sandwich though — too big to fit all in my mouth at once.  I’m still working on my issues with mushrooms, and though it doesn’t solve them, garlic helps.

I tried two recipes, I had two successes.  Now I am looking at some more involved recipes for the future.  The Pimento Cheese Porkchop from the Old Firehouse Restaurant in Hollywood (yes there is a South Carolina Lowcountry Hollywood, not the one in my immediate vicinity),  and the Guinness and Tangerine Braised Beef Short Ribs with Cauliflower Purée from the Red Sky Grill on Johns Island are both on my radar to cook up sometime soon.

The Charleston Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes From the Heart of the Old South by Holly Herrick.

Verdict: Check it out.

This is a decidedly modern collection of recipes from the one of the south’s best restaurant cities.  Good flavors abound in my hometown!

Junior's Cheesecake

That, my friends, is a slice of cheesecake made from the Junior’s recipe included in The Brooklyn Cookbook.  Junior’s is tradition.  Junior’s is Brooklyn.  Junior’s has other food besides cheesecake, and though I have eaten it, I couldn’t tell you what it is.

When I grabbed The Brooklyn Cookbook off of the library shelf, it was mostly out of nostalgia for my old New York neighborhood.  When I got it home, I decided to keep with the nostalgia theme and only make recipes from it that reminded me of my Brooklyn (everyone has their own).  Finding the Junior’s recipe was perfect for my nostalgia trip.  I had never made cheesecake before, but there was no way I was going to pass by this recipe.  It worked out well – creamy, smooth, rich, and dense like a New York cheesecake should be.  I topped mine with peach jam from my recent adventures in canning.  I think the cheesecake is even better after it has been refrigerated for a while, which is good because there is a lot of cheesecake in my refrigerator right now.

Sausages and Peppers

Another Brooklyn classic is sausages and peppers.  Because of the rich Italian heritage in New York, you find this combination ubiquitously around the area.  Have it on a pizza, have it on pasta, or my favorite – in a hero with melted cheese on top.

Carla Busardo, the author of the sausages and peppers recipe, knows how to cook for a crowd!  I cut the recipe in half and could still barely fit it all in my Dutch oven pan to bake in the oven.  I also like how she tries – bless her heart – to make the dish healthier by baking the  sausages instead of frying them.

Overall, The Brooklyn Cookbook is really just a nostalgia trip for people like me.  It’s not the greatest cookbook, it’s not laid out particularly well, and it doesn’t have pictures of the food.  But, if you are reminiscing about Brooklyn, and you get a craving for something from the area, this is the book for you.  Besides Junior’s cheesecake and Italian sausages and peppers, there are recipes for Coney Island candied apples, Brighton Beach style Chicken Kiev,  potato knishes, borscht, calzones, calamari (“if you are not in an Italian neighborhood, ask for squid”), brisket, kugel, cheese blintzes, rugalach, deli potato salad, bagels, matzo balls, Irish soda bread, corned beef and cabbage, stuffed grape leaves, Jamaican beef patties, Puerto Rican sofrito, Brooklyn Brown Ale bread, Goya bean salad, kreplachs, Peter Luger’s German fried potatoes, or just about anything that Brooklyn’s many neighborhoods can evoke for you.

The Brooklyn Cookbook by Lyn Stallworth and Rod Kennedy, Jr.

Verdict: Check it out.

If you have any ties to Brooklyn at all, you’ll enjoy the nostalgia trip.  Otherwise, it’s good to get Junior’s cheesecake recipe.

Maui-style Snapper Tacos

Los Angeles loves tacos.  It loves traditional tacos, taco trucks and taco stands, innovative fusion tacos, and even hippie organic all-natural tacos.  This is Taco Town, and we take the taco loving lifestyle very seriously.  I regularly partake in the bounty of this taco kingdom.

But since I pickled a batch of tomatillos last month, I was pining to make my own and checked out Mark Miller’s Tacos for inspiration. Miller is a chef from the Coyote Café restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I recognized some regional differences in New Mexican tacos from the more familiar Southern Californian styles, but it was fun to get some new ideas.  He covers a diverse range of tacos in this cookbook, from the long established carnitas and al pastor to inventive new recipes for tacos with grilled beef and porcini, or even Thai shrimp.  Each taco recipe has a corresponding salsa recipe, as well as tortilla and drink recommendations.   This can make for some complicated cross-referencing, and it adds significantly to the preparation time.  However, in my experience Miller’s pairings rang true, so don’t disregard them.

Smoky Bacon Tostadas

To go with my tomatillos, I first chose to make the Maui-style Snapper tacos.  Instead of deep frying the fish, the way most Baja-style fish tacos are made, the snapper is grilled.  It is paired up with grilled pineapple which is first marinated in hot sauce and delivers a fantastic sweet-hot punch.  My picked tomatillos fit right in to the mix.  Fish tacos are often precarious territory – they can be great and they can be god-awful.  I’m happy to report that these tacos are terrific.

Because I couldn’t resist the temptation after reading about the Smoky Bacon tacos, I succumbed to the decadence and made some for myself.  First I made a blackened tomato salsa.  I had to improvise with my salsa since I didn’t find all of the ingredients at the market, but the delicious nutty garlic-laden salsa that I invented worked just fine.  The bacon is tossed with honey, chipotle chile powder, and onions caramelized in the bacon fat.  (I told you it was a decadent dish.)  Since my tortillas did not want to roll up to be fried into taquitos, I elected to make tostadas instead.  I layered the salsa, then a bit of crema, and finally the smoky-sweet chipotle bacon.  It was the perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and salty — and just a bit of hedonistic ecstasy.

Rajas y Queso Tacos

The final round in this taco trilogy featured Rajas y Queso tacos.  Sweet red peppers, poblano chiles, and a serrano pepper are roasted and cut into thin strips which are called rajas.  These are sautéed with onions, chopped cilantro, and Mexican oregano.  Crema, Parmesan, and Oaxacan cheeses are added and melted for a delicious creamy sauce.  After filling the tortillas, they are topped with salsa fresca or pico de gallo, which provides a fresh, cool counterpart to the warm, velvety queso concoction.  The cheesy sauce of the filling also acts to balance the “slow burn” of the serrano pepper in the rajas.  It’s delightful.

Tacos: 75 Authentic and Inspired Recipes by Mark Miller.

Verdict: Check it out.

A trifecta in this taco derby – Miller’s book appears to be a winner.  Like the macaroni and cheese cookbookTacos is not only a good collection of recipes, it is partly an idea book for you to invent your own new tacos.