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On Cooking Southern: Let’s Celebrate Our Foreign Food Roots

SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK

Sweet as pie: A descriptive term referring to a person with a pleasant nature. A high compliment when conferred by a Southerner, for we all love pie, and all good pie must contain its weight in sugar.

A cold wind swept through Oxford this past weekend. It had nothing to do with chilled political relationships or tepid sports endeavors.

Literally, the temperature dropped from balmy spring-like stickiness to a brisk autumnal dance of the falling leaves.

It was about time.

At last, the weather is season-appropriate and the clock has fallen back to its natural state. Just in time for the holiday season, a person can rightfully turn one’s thoughts to hot toddies, pumpkin-spiced everything and picturesque fires.

The weather change inspired me to start hustling for the holidays. And while compiling my belated list of dishes to make for Thanksgiving, I chuckled over a recent email exchange with my Canadian buddy Fern. Poor Fernie—all her family cookbooks were boxed for a move, and she needed my versions of several obligatory Thanksgiving “molded salads” (a.k.a. congealed gelatin-based salads). From past experience, she knew our Southern recipes were identical to her Canadian mom’s and auntie’s, albeit known by different names.

That started my own wheels turning as I contemplated the increasing globalization of food culture and how it reflects who our people are, where we came from, and where we seem to be going. It’s the sort of thing our Southern Foodways Alliance colleagues contemplate with every written or oral word seeping out of the Ole Miss Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

Foodways have merged so much that a person could experience related flavors whether dining in Marrakech or Manhattan, El Paso or Copenhagen.

Take, for instance, cauliflower, one of the trending foods of 2017.

More specifically, let’s talk about cauliflower soup, made from roasted, steamed or boiled cauliflower puréed with seasonings of salt, butter and, in most instances, first-rate chicken stock. Depending on personal taste, the soup may contain cream and other ingredients such as sautéed and puréed onions. Seasonings in the soup are tweaked according to cultural preference.

In March in San Francisco, Hubby and I, along with Fern and her hubby, Graham, dined on a lip-smacking chicken stock-based cauliflower soup prepared by a personal chef. Trained in culinary school and apprenticed for years under an Indian master chef, he embellished the San Francisco cauliflower soup with cauliflower florets sautéed in browned butter and vadouvan spice, a subtle Franco-Indian seasoning.

On a cold November day in Stockholm’s Old Town, we dined on a vegetarian version of cauliflower soup. This equally rib-sticking variation contained coconut milk and apple cider vinegar instead of chicken broth. Delicately flavorful, the Stockholm version omitted the curry usually added to coconut milk-enhanced Thai and Indian offerings.

We skipped the cauliflower in Copenhagen but devoured the nightly smorgasbord-style hors d’oeuvres prepared in our hotel for peckish travelers. One of my favorites was a Danish interpretation of every red-blooded American’s favorite party dip—Mexican guacamole. The Copenhagen version was piped as a swirled paste atop 1 1/2-inch blini rounds and topped with Italian-style roasted red pepper strips.

In fact, wherever we ate in London, Berlin, Copenhagen and Stockholm during our recent fall trip, we noticed a confluence of Mexican, Italian, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine. Fusion food was offered alongside “American” staples of nachos, burgers and wraps.

Desserts were another matter. There’s a reason why we Americans have appropriated French macarons, Franco-Catalan crème brûlèe, Italian tiramisu, Danish pastry and strudel. Even in Berlin, I experienced déjà vu over a raw apple “cake” dessert remarkably similar to my Appalachian kinfolks’ fresh apple cake.

Travel provides a wonderful lens through which to reflect upon one’s roots and, in the case of Hubby and me, be thankful for what we have and where we live. As fun as it was, I returned home from this latest trip just in time for Thanksgiving, grateful to be an American. I’m doubly grateful for the fusion of the many foodways brought here by our immigrant ancestors, who most definitely were not from around here.

The recipes listed below reflect a few of our recent global food fusions. Why not try them at this year’s holiday gatherings?

As my friend Fernie says, “It’s time to tweak tradition, eh?”

SAN FRANCISCO CAULIFLOWER SOUP

Ingredients
Unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
1 medium head of cauliflower, sliced thin; reserve a handful of florets
3 medium sunchokes, peeled and sliced thin
White pepper
Kosher salt
1 to 1 1/2 c. white wine
Chicken stock
1 c. crème fraiche or heavy cream
Canola oil
2 T. salted butter
*Vadouvan spice

Directions:
Melt unsalted butter in a skillet and add onions. Simmer until transparent. Add remaining vegetables, seasonings and wine. Simmer on medium-low heat until mixture reduces.

Add chicken stock to almost cover mixture. Bring mixture to a boil and cover, simmering 10-15 minutes.

Stir in crème fraiche or heavy cream and remove from burner. Purée mixture with immersion blender until smooth. Keep warm.

Heat canola or grapeseed oil in skillet until oil dances. Add reserved cauliflower florets and toss. Add salted butter and heat until butter turns brown, tossing florets. Add vadouvan seasoning and continue tossing in browned butter. Add a splash of water to browned mixture to foam it up. Remove from heat and reserve. Plate the soup into cream soup bowls and sprinkle with brown-butter florets. Top with a sprinkling of minced fresh chives.

*Vadouvan: You can make this seasoning with 1 T. powdered garlic and curry, 1 tsp. powdered cumin, cardamom, turmeric and mustard, 1/2 tsp. each red pepper flakes and nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp. ground cloves. (Ground fenugreek seeds are optional, but desirable.)

STOCKHOLM VEGETARIAN CAULIFLOWER SHOOTERS

Ingredients
1 T. olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom, optional
Dash of ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes 
4 garlic cloves, minced
32 oz. carton (4 c.) vegetable stock
1/2 c. water
1 large head cauliflower, chopped
1 c. canned coconut milk
1 T. apple cider vinegar
Fresh dill, optional
Fresh ground black pepper 

Directions:
Heat the olive oil in larger stock pot on medium-low. Add onions and next eight ingredients. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until onions become transparent, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic; sauté another few minutes.

Add broth and cauliflower; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook 15-25 minutes until cauliflower is tender.

Remove from heat and puree, using immersion blender until silky smooth. Add coconut milk and vinegar. Bring back to simmer but do not boil. Serve hot, topped with fresh dill and ground black pepper.

GUACAMOLE CORN BLINI BITES

Feel free to make mini pancakes, but these corn muffin cakes pair really well with the guacamole.

Ingredients:
8.5 oz. box of corn muffin mix
1/2 c. whole milk
1 large egg, beaten
Extra light olive oil for shallow frying
Guacamole (omit the chopped tomatoes)
Roasted red bell peppers, cut into strips
Chives

Directions:
Whisk the muffin mix, milk and egg until smooth. Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in skillet on medium heat until oil shimmers. Carefully drop batter by the teaspoon onto skillet, separating each by about 2 inches. Flip when bubbles appear on tops and bottoms are golden—about 2 minutes. Cook about 1 additional minute.

Remove carefully to serving platter. Continue making the corn blini, adding oil to hot skillet as needed. Pipe guacamole onto each. Top with two crossed strips of roasted red pepper and chives.

FRESH APPLE SHEET CAKE

Use a 9 x 13 inch baking pan, ungreased. This is an Americanized easy interpretation of German raw apple cake.

Ingredients:
15.25 oz. box of yellow cake mix
1 stick (1/2 c.) salted butter, softened
1/4 c. light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
6-7 apples (I use a bag of 7 Sweet Tango apples)
1 c. sour cream (low-fat is ok)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 c. golden raisins, optional
1 c. chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

Directions:
Heat oven to 350˚F. Combine cake mix, softened butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl until crumbly. It makes about 3 to 3 1/2 cups. Reserve 2 cups. Spread remaining crumble into bottom of pan and press lightly.

Peel apples and shred on large hole side of box grater. Pick out any stray apple seeds. Combine with optional raisins and pecans if desired. Spread apples evenly in pan over crumbled base.

Beat sour cream and egg together until blended. Spread evenly over the apples. Sprinkle evenly with reserved crumble mixture. Bake 25-35 minutes, until topping is light golden-brown. Remove from oven to cool before slicing. Feel free to cover when cooled and refrigerate up to 2 days. Serve topped with whipped cream and mint leaves. Feel free to drizzle with berry liqueur such as Chambord (raspberry). Yields 16 servings. Freezes well.


Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.