To understand the latest trends in Southern cooking, it is helpful to define traditional Southern cooking — the food associated with our great grandparents’ generation. There are unique culinary traditions in areas throughout the South: the Lowcountry of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, Appalachia (which encompasses nine Southern states), the Virginia Tidewater, Creole Louisiana, and Texas. The lively Floribbean cuisine of Florida is influenced by the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia. Although some similarities exist in the cuisines of each area, they also have differences in cultural backgrounds, terrain, weather, and crops.
Charleston resident and Grande Dame of Southern Cooking Nathalie Dupree explains that “New Southern Cooking,” which developed in the South during the last 30 years of the 20th century, continues to evolve. Traditional Southern cooking was built on a foundation of foods and practices that early British immigrants brought to the Colonies. Cookbooks were produced in England until 1796, the year the first American cookbook, American Cookery, was published by Amelia Simmons. The first Southern cookbook, and the most influential in the 19th century, was The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, published in 1824. Sarah Rutledge wrote The Carolina Housewife in 1847.
New Southern Cooking is all about deliciousness and comfort; it’s no longer about using excessive amounts of butter, fried foods, and sugar. Its value lies in a larder filled with healthy, seasonal, fresh ingredients such as vegetables, fruits, herbs, farm-fresh eggs, locally sourced meats, fish, and whole grains. Seek out heritage ingredients from area farmers’ markets, like Columbia’s Soda City Market on Saturdays, and retail outlets selling City Roots Farm produce. New Southern Cooking offers a contemporary take on traditional dishes prepared with a lighter, fresher touch and with bright, bold flavors.
Food helps shape one’s view of the world, and it strengthens cultural bonds. Quite often, hearts and minds are won through stomachs. New Southern Cooking is not about boundaries — it’s being viewed through an international lens.
A plethora of new ingredients, cooking techniques, and global flavors are flooding the culinary scene, and cosmopolitan Southerners want to explore it all! In Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, Mexican immigrants are selling homemade tamales. In Nashville, kebabs are a fast-selling item in Little Kurdistan. Vietnamese-style crawfish is a hit in Houston and New Orleans. This may not be the Southern food of your great-grandmother, but the roots, traditions, and distinctive flavors are still there!
Apple Crisp with Walnut-Lemon Crunch
Apple crisp, a favorite Southern fall dessert, is a first cousin to England’s apple crumble, a quintessential British dessert. A combination of two or three apple varieties is especially flavorful in this recipe. Crisps and crumbles are homey desserts that are particularly nice to serve in the fall. Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, and Stayman Winesap apples are three of my favorite choices. This recipe uses less sugar than many others.
Walnut-Lemon Crunch (recipe below)
7 medium apples peeled, cored
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
Make the Walnut-Lemon Crunch; set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut each apple into thin slices. Mix apple slices, sugar, lemon juice, flour, cinnamon, vanilla, and pinch of salt into a large bowl; toss together. Pour apples over the bottom of a 1 and 1/2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle the Walnut-Lemon Crunch evenly over the apples. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until apples are soft and bubbly and the topping is crunchy and golden brown. Serve warm with vanilla or rum raisin ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream.
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons walnut oil or light olive oil
Combine oats, flour, sugars, walnuts, and lemon zest; stir in butter and oil until mixture is crumbly. Use as directed or freeze in an air-tight container.
Fried Green Tomato Sandwiches
This updated BLT is firmly grounded in tradition. Select large green tomatoes for this recipe. Pimento cheese is delicious, but a fresh, young, mild-tasting goat cheese can also be used. Of course bacon is wonderful on a BLT, but thin slices of prosciutto can be amazing. Just put them on a baking sheet under the broiler 2 or 3 minutes until slightly crispy.
6 quality fried bacon strips
2 (8-ounce) firm, green tomatoes, each cut into three slices
1/3 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup stoneground cornmeal
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste6 to 8 tablespoons olive oil
6 round, medium-size buns, toasted, if desired
Homemade or quality store-bought pimento cheese
Butter (or hothouse) lettuce leaves
Cook bacon and reserve. Put the buttermilk and cornmeal in separate shallow bowls. Place a baking sheet nearby. Dip both sides of all the tomato slices in buttermilk; coat with cornmeal. Place over the baking sheet. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons oil in a heavy, medium skillet over medium heat. Fry half the tomato slices, turning once, until crisp and lightly browned on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Fry the rest of the tomato slices in the remaining oil in the same way. Spread the buns generously with pimento cheese; top with a warm slice of fried green tomato, a piece of bacon, and one or two lettuce leaves. Makes six sandwiches.
Chicken Brined in Sweet Tea with Mint
What could be more Southern than fried chicken and sweet tea, “the house wine of the South”? The tasty tea marinade acts as a tenderizer for the chicken and boosts its flavor. Bone-in chicken breast halves are suggested for use here, but legs and thighs or a combination of parts will work well, too.
2 tea bags steeped in 4 cups water for 15 minutes
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sea salt
1 large garlic clove, chopped
Coarsely ground black pepper, as desired
1 or 2 sprigs of fresh mint or thyme
4 to 5 bone-in chicken breast halves (or boneless chicken)
In a large bowl, blend the steeped tea, lemon juice, sugar, salt, garlic, and a generous sprinkling of black pepper. Pour marinade into a large, heavy zip-top plastic bag; add the herbs and chicken. Seal tightly and refrigerate 4 hours, turning occasionally. Drain chicken well; pat completely dry. The chicken can be cooked outdoors on a grill over a hot fire until the juices run clear and the skin is crispy, or it can be coated with flour, black pepper, and additional seasoning, if desired, and pan fried in vegetable oil until golden brown and crispy.
Sopa de Pimiento Rojo (Red Pepper Soup)
This colorful, red bell pepper soup has accents of Mexican flavor. It calls for roasted red peppers, but fresh, seeded peppers can be used as well. Red and orange bell peppers are an option. The soup can be strained, if desired. If using ready-made crème fraîche for the topping, it may be necessary to thin it with a little milk.
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium carrot, scraped and chopped
1 stalk celery, ends trimmed, strings removed, chopped
1 cup peeled shallots, sliced, or 1 medium, peeled onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed
5 medium, roasted, peeled, seeded red bell peppers, chopped (or fresh, seeded peppers)
1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder or cayenne; more if desired
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
5 cups homemade or ready-made chicken broth, divided
1/4 cup heavy cream
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Mexican Crema, crème fraîche, or sour cream
2 corn tortillas, cut in fine shreds, toasted until crispy
1 lime, cut in wedges
In a heavy, medium pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add carrot, celery, and shallots; stir 2 to 3 minutes until shallots are soft. Add bell pepper; cook and stir 3 to 4 minutes more. Stir in tomato paste, paprika, ancho chili power, and cumin; cook 1 minute. Add 4 cups broth; partially cover and simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Season to taste. Puree mixture in a food processor, in small batches, using the steel blade; or use an immersion blender in the pot. Reheat soup; add the extra cup of broth to thin, if desired, and the cream. Serve warm with toppings and a lime wedge on the side.
Pan Roasted Salmon with Mango Corn Relish
Floribbean cuisine can be characterized by ingredients such as wild boar, alligator, mullet, swamp cabbage, and hearts of palm. Tropical fruits, generous spicing, fish, and seafood play an important role in this flavorful cuisine. For the Mango Corn Relish, the ears of corn can be grilled briefly outdoors over a hot fire for a smoky flavor. Quality, frozen, thawed corn can be substituted for the fresh corn. Substitute other kinds of fish like grouper, halibut, or sea bass if desired.
Mango Corn Relish (recipe below)
Cilantro Cream (recipe below)
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets with skin, lightly seasoned
2 ripe avocados, peeled, sliced
Prepare the Mango Corn Relish and Cilantro Cream. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Brush oil lightly in the bottom of a heavy-bottom skillet (like cast iron). Add salmon, skin-side-down, to the hot skillet and after 30 seconds, place pan in the oven for 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2 inch of thickness. Fish is done just before it begins to flake and the juices turn milky white. After roasting, the skins can be removed from the fillets, if desired. Arrange salmon on four plates. To each, add corn relish and a drizzle of Cilantro Cream; garnish with sliced avocado. Serves 4.
Mango Corn Relish
4 ears of fresh corn, shucked, boiled 3 to 5 minutes
1/2 to 1 jalapeno, seeded, minced
1 cup teardrop tomatoes, halved
1 cup mango, peach, or papaya, diced
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley or cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 to 2 medium limes, to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cut corn kernels off the cobs. Add to a large bowl; gently stir in remaining ingredients in the order given. Refrigerate any leftovers.
1/2 cup Mexican crema or sour cream or crème fraîche
Zest and juice of 1 or 2 limes
2 tablespoons fresh mint or cilantro, finely minced
Pinch of sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Combine all the ingredients. Refrigerate until needed.
Farro Grain Bowl with Herbal Dressing
The ancient grain farro is available in three forms: piccolo (einkorn); faro medio (emmer), which is the most common; and farro grande (spelt). Highly nutritious, whole grain farro requires overnight soaking and takes longer to cook. Semi-pearled farro has part of the bran removed, so it needs less cooking time. Pearled farro cooks the quickest. Trader Joe carries a precooked, 10-minute farro. Cook farro like pasta, in three times as much water. When it’s done, it’s done; keep tasting to decide how al dente you like it. Substitute grilled sliced chicken, steak, or salmon for the shrimp in this dish, if preferred; or eliminate the protein completely. The Mango Corn Relish from another recipe in this article is also a tasty topping.
2 cups farro, cooked
1/2 cup green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup basil, parsley, or cilantro leaves, chopped
1 pound shrimp, grilled and peeled
About 2 cups fresh arugula
1 large sweet potato, peeled, diced into cubes, simmered
1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1 cup teardrop tomatoes, sliced
1 avocado, sliced
1 lemon or lime, cut into wedges
Prepare all the ingredients. Combine cooked farro with green onions and herbs; divide among four or five bowls. Divide remaining ingredients into four portions. Top each bowl of farro with a quarter of each of the ingredients. Serve with the Herbal Dressing.
1/2 cup lower-fat sour cream
1/3 cup lower-fat mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill or basil, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 1/2 lemon
About 1/4 cup fresh buttermilk or milk or as necessary to thin mixture
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Combine all the ingredients. Store in the refrigerator.
Purchasing Note: Farro Piccolo is the smallest and oldest of these ancient Italian grains. Anson Mills in Columbia, the only grower in the United States, will ship it through mail order from its retail department. Recipes developed especially for this elegant, nutty-tasting grain are also available.
Cauliflower & Sweet Potato Pilau
Rice pilau, a traditional Lowcountry dish, descends from ancient Persia and probably arrived in South Carolina with the French Huguenots. Its flavor has been influenced by African, Indian, and Caribbean cooks. Also called pilaf, perloo, and purlow, it is a one-pot dish of rice, aromatic vegetables, and bacon, seafood, poultry, or game birds, such as quail or squab. Pilau was originally cooked in an iron pot over the fire then turned out of the pot to display a crusty exterior covering separate yet soft rice grains underneath. This easy, updated version with riced vegetables makes a simple side dish that can be paired with your favorite protein or enriched by adding 1/2 cup chopped bacon, pancetta, or ham to the onion as it is sautéed. Colorful, riced veggies can be found frozen in most supermarkets.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup regular long-grain rice
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon orange peel, freshly-grated
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 to 1/2 (10 ounce) bag Green Giant Riced Veggies Cauliflower and Sweet Potato
In a heavy, 2-quart saucepan, heat butter with oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes until tender and golden brown. Add rice, garlic, and orange peel; stir and cook 2 minutes more. Add broth, water, salt, and pepper. Increase heat to high. When the liquid comes to a boil, decrease heat to low and cover pan with a tight-fitting lid. Simmer 18 to 20 minutes or just until the rice is tender and absorbs the liquid. As the rice cooks, heat a medium, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat with the cauliflower and sweet potato mixture. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often, until hot. When the rice is done, remove from heat and gently toss in the veggie mixture. Cover pan and set aside 5 minutes to rest. Taste to adjust seasonings if desired. Rice mixture can be molded into fancy shapes or simply spooned onto serving plates. Serves 4.
The popular mountain salad known as “kilt” lettuce is made by pouring a hot vinegar and bacon fat dressing over wild greens or fresh spring lettuce. The tender greens were effectively “kilt” (killed) or wilted by the hot dressing. In the interest of health, substitute part of the bacon fat with an equal amount of safflower oil. You won’t see this dish in restaurants, but it has long been a staple in many Appalachian kitchens. It is equally delicious using a mix of organic, young winter greens like kale, turnip or radish tops. City Roots’ microgreens (e.g., kale, mustard, or radish) are packed with flavor and nutrients, and will add another tasty dimension. This dish must be served immediately.
10 to 12 cups mixed, tender, young greens (spinach, turnip greens, mustard, kale, chard, baby bok choy) rinsed, patted dry, torn into pieces if necessary
6 slices quality bacon
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
Sea salt and pepper, freshly ground
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, quartered
Toss the blend of tender greens and green onions in a large bowl. Fry the bacon until crispy; remove and drain. Crumble into pieces. Mix the vinegar and sugar into the bacon fat. Raise the heat until very hot, then pour boiling-hot dressing all over the greens; toss well. (The mixture can splatter while heating so take care.) Season with salt and pepper. Portion onto 4 salad plates; garnish each one with crumbled bacon and two egg quarters. Serves 4.