Make us your home page

Southern food can be healthy and delicious in these recipes

Southern comfort food queen Paula Deen took a beating last month when she revealed she has Type 2 diabetes, three years after her diagnosis, and an endorsement deal with diabetes drugmaker Novo Nordisk.

Listening to the fallout from the Food Network personality's announcement, a person might think all Southerners eat is fried chicken, Twinkie pie and bacon-and-fried-egg-topped burgers between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Not so, say Southern chefs and cookbook authors, who counter that the extremes make good television but don't reflect the cuisine or how Southerners eat today.

"Over the top sells. This is what the Food Network wants. This is what Paula is serving up. I don't think she's maligning Southern food. I think she is misrepresenting Southern food," said Chapel Hill, N.C., cookbook author Jean Anderson, who wrote the award-winning A Love Affair With Southern Cooking.

Many Southern classic and traditional recipes are nutritious and not overloaded with sugar, butter or eggs, Anderson said.

Some examples are fish muddles (stew), which is made with tomatoes and onions; ambrosia, a classic dessert made with fresh oranges and pineapple and freshly grated coconut; pickled anything; and vegetable dishes such as long-simmered greens, field peas over rice and juicy tomato sandwiches.

"Vegetables are so important in the South," Charleston author Matt Lee said. He co-wrote The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern with his brother, Ted.

"Edna Lewis was doing that back in the 1970s. You would think the more educated foodies would have absorbed that information. But the enduring image of fatty, lardy Southern down-home cooking has been the dominant image of the foods of the South."

Adds Ted: "It's so hard to sell a television show on delicious Southern vegetables. Lord, we have tried."

If all this attention to Southern food has any silver lining, Atlanta cookbook author Virginia Willis, author of Basic to Brilliant, Y'all, hopes it is this: "It's been exciting that all these people have been talking about Southern food. It's an opportunity to educate."

Their tips:

Blake Hartwick

Chef at Something Classic catering company in Charlotte, N.C.

Þ Replace the smoky flavor that bacon or ham offers by using roasted serrano chili peppers.

Virginia Willis

Author of Basic to Brilliant, Y'all

Þ If you must have meat as seasoning, use smoked turkey wings or necks. Or try a little bit of smoked salt.

Þ If a recipe calls for mayonnaise, replace half with low-fat sour cream or Greek yogurt.

Jean Anderson

Author of A Love Affair With Southern Cooking

Þ If you must have pork, use a country ham slice instead of a ham hock. It's leaner and smaller.

Þ Instead of a graham cracker crust for a pie, try spraying the pie plate with vegetable oil and then sprinkling graham cracker crumbs. It removes the fat from the crust and works just as well.

Þ Use angel food cake as shortcake. Bake in muffin tins, split apart and serve with fresh summer berries for a leaner dessert.

Þ Instead of a mayonnaise-based dressing for coleslaw, consider an oil and vinegar dressing or try a red slaw using barbecue sauce as a dressing ingredient.

Þ Instead of cheddar cheese in casseroles, use Parmesan. It has better flavor and less is required.

Þ Many vegetable dishes call for a white sauce, which can be made with 1 cup fat-free evaporated milk, 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon flour. It makes enough for 4 to 6 servings of vegetables.

Jay Pierce

Executive chef at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen in Cary and Greensboro, N.C.

Þ Try flavoring vegetables with sauteed shiitake mushrooms to create the rich flavor called umami.

Þ Instead of thickening a sauce with a roux of flour and oil or butter, try cornstarch dissolved in water. Or for creamed spinach, try cornstarch dissolved in Pernod, a licorice liqueur.

Þ Acid and salt work the same way by enhancing flavors. Use acid such as lemon juice or vinegar first, then taste. You will end up using less salt.

Matt & Ted Lee

Chefs and authors of The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern

Þ Another ingredient that can add a smoked flavor to dishes is smoked Spanish paprika.


Chicken Fingers

¼ cup coarse salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons dry mustard

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper, plus more to season

4 cups buttermilk

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 ½ pounds)

2 cups plain or whole-wheat fresh or panko bread crumbs

1 cup finely chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts

2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, then set a large wire rack on the foil.

Make the brine: combine salt, sugar, mustard, paprika and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper in a large plastic or glass container. Add buttermilk and stir until the salt is dissolved. Immerse chicken breasts in the brine and marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes. (Do not brine any longer or the chicken will be too salty.)

Combine bread crumbs and peanuts in a shallow dish. Season with white pepper. In a second shallow dish, whisk eggs until they are loose, not ropey.

Remove one chicken breast at a time from the brine and shake off any excess liquid. Transfer to a plastic cutting board and, using a chef's knife, cut the breasts on the diagonal into strips or fingers.

Dip chicken into the egg mixture, coating both sides. Place the chicken in the bread crumb mixture, sprinkle with crumbs to cover, and press so the coating adheres; turn chicken over and repeat the process. Gently shake off excess crumbs. Place coated fingers on the rack set on the baking sheet.

Bake until chicken is golden brown and juices run clear, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the rack and serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

Source: Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press, 2011)

By the way

Don't let the amount of brine scare you away from this recipe. There are 475 milligrams of sodium per chicken breast, well below the recommended daily allowance of 2,400 milligrams.


Lemon-Glazed Sweet Potatoes

2 pounds sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

½ cup fresh lemon juice, from about 3 lemons

teaspoon ground cinnamon

teaspoon kosher salt

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Peel sweet potatoes and cut them into 1-inch thick slices. Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with butter. Arrange sweet potato slices in a single layer in the pan. Mix brown sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Pour glaze evenly over the potatoes.

Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake until potatoes are fork tender, about 45 minutes. Remove foil and cook for 5 more minutes until the glaze has thickened. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Source: The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern by Matt and Ted Lee (Clarkson Potter, 2009)


Skillet Green Beans With Orange

1 large navel orange

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 pound green beans, ends trimmed

¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided use, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Grate zest of the orange and reserve it. Segment the orange and keep the sections and juice in a bowl.

Heat canola oil in a large cast iron skillet or saute pan over high heat, swirling it around so it coats the bottom thinly and evenly. When oil begins to smoke, add beans (in batches if necessary, don't crowd the pan) and scatter ¼ teaspoon salt over them. Cook, stirring only every 1 ½ to 2 minutes, until the beans are half blistered and blackened, about 8 minutes. Transfer beans to a serving platter or bowl. Lift the orange segments out of their juice, reserving juice. Scatter orange segments over the beans. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon orange zest over the beans and oranges.

Add vinegar, olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt to the bowl of orange juice and whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour dressing over beans. Toss and season to taste with remaining salt, black pepper and remaining orange zest.

Serves 4.

Source: The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern by Matt and Ted Lee (Clarkson Potter, 2009)


Sweet Potato Grits

2 cups water

2 cups low-fat or whole milk

1 cup stone-ground grits

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and grated

Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch of ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Combine water and milk in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Slowly add the grits, whisking constantly. Add sweet potato. Season with salt and white pepper. Decrease heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until the grits are creamy and thick, 45 to 60 minutes.

Taste grits and sweet potato to make sure both are cooked and tender. Add ginger, cinnamon and butter. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and white pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

Source: Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company by Virginia Willis (Ten Speed Press, 2011)

By the way

This recipe was

slimmed down by replacing cream with milk and water and using only 1 tablespoon

of butter.

Southern food can be healthy and delicious in these recipes 02/14/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 12:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours