Archives for category: Southern 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.

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!

Huevos Rancheros on Cilantro-Grits Cakes

I absolutely love a warm bowl of stone ground yellow grits.  I’m okay with just butter, but melted cheese makes it divine, and if you have ever been privy to a bowl of Carolina shrimp and grits then you just might know what heaven is like.  My family back in Charleston, South Carolina knows I like grits so much that they send me a bag or two of proper grits (coarsely ground, unbleached – like these) almost every time they send me a package. Grits are versatile – besides the classic ingredients, I’ve been known to stir in spinach or collard greens, roasted red peppers, sausage or veggie sausage, as well as just topping them with random leftovers.  In addition to the Southern styles of grits, there are also a ton of great Spanish and Italian recipes that use grits – called polenta in those recipes.

We recently received a copy of Glorious Grits: America’s Favorite Comfort Food at my library.  Now, despite my clear allegiance to grits, I have trouble believing that America has embraced this food as much as I have.  I’ve met enough people who have never heard the term “grits”, or have only had a taste of bland tasteless bleached out white grits and therefore think negative thoughts about them.  Well, after flipping through Glorious Grits, if people make these recipes, I think grits might just become America’s favorite comfort food.

Cracklin' Grits Spoonbread

Off the bat, the author included a whole section just for shrimp and grits within the section on main dishes.  That’s what I’m talking ’bout!!  She includes the basics – cornbread, sliced polenta, slow cooker grits – but also takes the recipes up to an advanced level with recipes for Asparagus-Grits Strata, Spinach Soufflé-Stuffed Grits Roll, or Chutney Salmon with Almond-Raisin Grits – including everything in between.

I chose two recipes to make which were outside of my normal range for cooking grits.  First up was the fantastically tasty Huevos Rancheros on Cilantro-Grits Cakes.  My grits cakes were not very firm but that certainly did not detract from the recipe.  The eggs were poached directly in the tomato-black bean sauce.  Cilantro and Monterrey Jack Cheese are great flavors for the grits cakes, and I will be using cilantro in my grits again.

My second choice was Cracklin’ Grits Spoonbread.  This was my first spoonbread, and it will not be my last.  Moist and delicious, chopped bacon and red chile peppers gave it flavor and a bit of a kick.  My husband gave the spoonbread an “A+”.  We served it up as a side dish and it was also good for breakfast the next day.

Glorious Grits: America’s Favorite Comfort Food by Susan McEwan McIntosh.

Verdict: Check it out.

It is brimming with fresh approaches to making grits which might actually make them America’s favorite comfort food, one day.

White Trash Cafe.  Creative Commons Flickr image by brent_nashville

White Trash Cafe. Creative Commons Flickr image by brent_nashville

White Trash” is one of those phrases.  Oy, how do you put this?  Well, keep in mind synonyms like “redneck”, “hillbilly”, “trailer trash”, “honky”, “cracker” and other derogatory terms that are used for poor southerners.  It is derogatory, but sometimes people choose to re-appropriate pejorative terms for regional, ethnic, or gender pride.  I’m a born and raised southern girl not of affluent means, so I’ll tell you that I am not comfortable being labeled with such terms.  But we live in a post-Jeff Foxworthy world of Redneck comedy, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when an older lady with a teeny-tiny voice asked me one day to look up a recipe in the library’s copy of White Trash Cooking.  If you do a YouTube search for white trash cooking, you’ll find over a hundred results.  Some are mocking, some are serious, some are parodies, some are completely inexplicable…  That’s similar to the books that I found in the library.

Here is a round up of several books I found in my library that could be classified as White Trash Cooking:

Well, it turns out that White Trash Cooking is sort of a series by Ernest Matthew Mickler.  The second title, Sinkin Spells, Hot Flashes, Fits and Cravins was later re-released as White Trash Cooking II, but contains the same materials.  The first book maintains a respectable sales rank on Amazon.com, especially in the “U.S. Regional > South” category.  It’s known for traditional southern regional recipes and is peppered by the author’s  photographs of dilapidated farm houses, rusted items, forlorn people, and food presented simply.  I’m sure the books sell just as well to those who appreciate them as to those who make fun of them.  Much of the material seems like it’s meant to be funny, but it has also received praise for the recipes.  For me, recipes that begin with cans of soup and make your arteries ache while reading the ingredient list remind me a bit too much of Taste of Home and other gut bombs.

Verdict: Shelve It.

The books are interesting, but not something from which I would choose to cook.

There are three Roadkill cookbooks: The Original Roadkill Cookbook, Totalled Roadkill Cookbook, and The International Roadkill Cookbook by Buck Peterson.  You know, because it was such a lucrative enterprise you need some sequels.  Peterson covers “recipes” for camels (international cookery!), lhaso apso, pigeon, you name it.  If you can hit it with a car, he provides the recipe.  For example: “Sum Yung Pup: Skin, clean, debone, and chop 1 yung pup”, and “Rocky Mountain Oysters (that’s nuts to you!)”.

Verdict: Shelve it.

I don’t have to explain that this is not a real cookbook, do I?  I mean it is, technically, but if you are eating road kill, you probably aren’t using cookbooks anyway.

Manifold Destiny: The One!  The Only! Guide to Cooking On Your Car Engine! by Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller.  Well, while the authors are zealous users of exclamation marks the usefulness of this cookbook is in doubt.  I suppose if you lived in a post-apocalyptic world where cars were still plentiful, then perhaps you may need to know how to use your car engine as a stove.  Oh wait, that’s the plot synopsis of the Mad Max movies.  So, okay, if you live in the dystopian future, have a car, and need to know how to cook on its engine, than this is the book for you.

Verdict: Shelve it.

For Mad Max only. Fans need not apply.

The Republican Woman’s Cookbook: Meats.  Published by the National Federation of Republican Women, Montgomery, Alabama, 1969.  As was written in the introduction, “No matter how involved Republican women become in the local and national scene, we are primarily interested in our homes and families.”  So obviously, interest in your home and family translates to how to cook meat.  I can’t figure out what makes the food Republican.  The book is fairly straightforward with recipes for soups, stews, roasts, and other dishes common for the late 1960s.  There are some gross examples of “tuna loafs” and “congealed shrimp”, and the obsolescent manner of ethnically labeling recipes: “Japanese Chicken” seemed to only be “Japanese” because it contained soy sauce.

Verdict: Shelve it.

Not enough nuts in these recipes to make them Republican.

The Confederate Receipt Book.  The Confederate battle flag emblazoned on the cover makes it clear that this was marketed to the South Will Rise Again crowd, but The Confederate Receipt Book is actually an interesting 1960s reprint of a Civil War-era pamphlet designed to provide tips for feeding, clothing, and healing oneself in time of extreme scarcity.  It contains recipes as well as instructions on how to make soap, dress wounds, and other necessities.

Verdict: Check it out, if you are a history buff.

It’s probably not something you will cook from, but it’s fascinating.

Miss Minerva’s Cook Book – De Way To A Man’s Heart by Emma Sampson.  Published in 1931, not too long before Butterfly McQueen was scripted to saying “I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies” in Gone With the Wind.  Essentially, Sampson was a white woman whose profession was “censoring motion pictures, … writing reviews of pictures, … writing juvenile fiction for old and young alike… [and] writing recipes in Negro dialect”.  Ummmm, what?!  Was 1931 really long enough ago for this to be considered acceptable in any way?  A quote from a recipe for Calf Brains: “Brains make a moughty good dish no matter whether you fry ’em or cream ’em, but nobody need git the notion that fried brains air safe victuals fer squeamy stomicks kase I done see too many folks a huntin’ on the kitchen shelf fer sody after havin’ over indulged in calf brains fried.”

Verdict: Shelve it, shelve it shelve it!

Really?  Really?  How was this ever okay?

Ruby Ann’s Down Home Trailer Park Cookbook and Ruby Ann’s Down Home Trailer Park Holiday Cookbook by Ruby Ann Boxcar.  Wow, next to Miss Minerva up there, this doesn’t seem half bad.  There are “God Bless America Burgers” (with Velveeta!), a “Giant Ding Dong Cake” (makes 1 great big ding dong!), “Dick’s Honey Weenies” (well, what other kind of weenie would Dick be expected to have?), and “Kyle’s Big Old Meat Pie” (I’m not touching that one).  Mostly the recipes are sub-par but with gimmicky names.  I’m not going to make fun of the “Trailer Burgers” which simply add some Worchestershire sauce, Tabasco, and garlic to spice up your hamburger meat, but overall the recipes contain too much crap like condensed milk and pre-packaged Kool-Aid to make the food seem appealing.

Verdict: Shelve It.

We can do better than this.

The Cracker Kitchen by Janis Owens.  Indeed, she means “cracker,” but not the salty snack that you crumble into a bowl of chili or layer with a slice of cheddar.  The author claims to celebrate diversity, but the photos  peppered throughout are not evidenced of such.  Owens writes, “I’m married to a fishing cracker (as opposed to a hunting cracker or a NASCAR cracker),” but I can’t relate to or endorse phrases like that.  Despite disliking her theme, there are quite a few promising recipes in here for dishes like peach cobbler, barbecued shrimp, baked cheese grits, fried scallops, and fried okra.  That’s the type of food I was raised on in the South and still love.

Verdict: Check it out.

I really can’t understand the whole “cracker” contrivance, but the food is promising.

By the way, if you are looking for really delicious and gimmick-free Southern cookbooks, I recommend The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook and Damon Lee Fowler’s The New Southern Kitchen.  Do you know any more white trash cook books and other questionable titles?  Let me know!