Southern Roots

Most people wouldn’t guess that I grew up in The South. The deep south. So south, people in Atlanta were considered Northerners. I don’t have an accent now, but I can put on quite the drawl when I feel like it. But, mostly for the last 20+ years that I’ve been away, I’ve avoided most things southern. That is until I was browsing cookbooks and stumbled upon Frank Stitt’s Southern Table with stunning photos by Christopher Hirsheimer.

“Frank Stitt’s Southern Table

This is southern food done beautifully. Incredibly fresh ingredients and recipes with deep cultural roots, lovingly prepared. There are dishes that I loved (fried okra). Dishes that I despised (grits). And some, that I decided needed a second chance with a more mature palate (butter beans). I had to have this cookbook.

Today, I decided to give a few of the recipes a go, and made a lunch of beans, fried okra and corn bread. I modified the recipes a bit to make them a bit lighter and all vegetarian, not because I don’t eat meat… but I just don’t really like the thought of adding bacon fat to dishes when hunk of butter will do just as nicely. The result was a fantastically simple and quick meal, perfect for lunch or perhaps dinner (maybe with a bowl of soup thrown in).

Okra Fried Okra Fried Okra

The okra brought back vivid memories of my childhood, and I just kept popping them like I was eating popcorn. Crisp and salty and green.

Fish Pan Corn Bread

The corn bread… well, I never stopped eating and loving corn bread. It’s always perfect topped with a touch of honey butter. It gave me another opportunity to use my beautiful cast-iron fish mold… a find that I couldn’t pass up about 4 years ago (and that I’ve only used once!)

Fava Beans

And, I learned that apparently I have grown up. When my mother used to make me eat my butter beans, and I took them as pills with big gulps of milk. These “butter” beans (I used fava beans…) were smooth and creamy and I ate all of a huge serving with a smile on my face. No milk needed.

Still, no one is going to get me to eat grits.

Fried Okra
serves 6 to 8 as a side dish
2 lbs okra, stem ends trimmed and sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup buttermilk (or substitute milk)
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

Chill the okra in a dish of ice water for about 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry (warning – it may be gooey). Put back in the same dish (now dry), and add the milk.

In a shallow baking dish, add the cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper and mix. With a slotted spoon, transfer the okra to the baking dish, and stir to coat.

Heat the oil in a deep heavy skillet until it almost starts to smoke. Add just enough okra to cover the bottom of the skillet. Lower heat to medium-high, and cook until the bottom becomes golden brown. Flip, and repeat on other side until it is golden brown. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with a paper towels, and place in a warm oven to keep crisp. Raise the heat to high before proceeding with the next batch. Repeat until all the okra is gone.

Butter Beans
Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish

3 cups water
1/2 onion quartered
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 fresh sage leaves
1/2 pound beans (butter, lima or fava)
1 teaspoon olive oil

In a medium heavy-bottomed pot, bring the water, onion, herbs and salt to a rapid boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, and add the beans. Cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Strain out any excess liquid, and serve hot.

Corn Bread
Serves 3 to 4

1 cup corn meal
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
2/3 t salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup milk (or buttermilk)
3 T butter, melted
1 medium egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 450F. Lightly grease a cast iron skillet or mold, and place in the oven while it’s preheating.

In a medium bowl, combine the corn meal, baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour. Add the milk, a little at a time until combined. Add the melted butter (still hot) to the mixture, and stir to combine. Add the egg and mix well. Remove the hot skillet (or mold) from the oven, and fill with the corn meal mixture. Place it back into oven, and cook until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes if you are using a mold or 20 to 25 for a skillet. Remove from the oven and unmold onto a rack. Best served still hot.

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