Alabama

Grandmother Phillips’ Fried Okra

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I remember my father’s paternal grandmother as a strong, Southern woman. She was a force. I only saw her on holidays but I will never forget her cooking, which we ate at home all throughout the year. She used to freeze her fresh-from-the-garden, hand-battered okra and we would take it home in bags every winter. That fried okra was a precious commodity, rationed carefully until the next Christmas.

Grandmother Phillips had a garden in her backyard. She grew everything in it. I remember describing her to friends as a farmer, though she did not sell her produce for a living. She canned and froze everything. She was an expert in preservation. Preservation of food and of tradition and of family.  The garage of her old home was lined with walls and walls of cans: cucumber, okra, squash, peas, peaches– you name it, she had it canned from her garden.

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At Christmas we would visit her home in (relatively) rural, northern Alabama and there would be an endless array of options. People would comment about how excessive the spread was, but Grandmother Phillips’ would never pare it down. Only after her death did I come to see how food is a love language for Southern folks, and I was (at least partially) descended from Southern folks, and my grandmother was showing her love for us by feeding us well.

After she died I remember looking into our freezer and seeing one last bag of her homemade fried okra. I don’t remember the last meal we ate with that one remaining batch of Grandmother Phillips’ okra, but I’ve been trying to recreate the recipe for most of my adult life.

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We recently joined a CSA program, which gives us plenty of fresh produce to consume weekly. Grandmother Phillips would probably call it lazy eating, but it gives us plenty of okra to experiment with and I have finally been able to get satisfactorily close to her fried okra.

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It has a ton of flavor and it freezes very well. It is easy to prep, as far as fried foods go, and it can be reheated in the oven, which I love for the easy clean-up.

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A single batch will serve five adults as a generous side portion, but we often dole out smaller portions and let half of it sit in the freezer for an easy side on another night.


Grandmother Phillips’ Fried Okra

(serves ~6)

Ingredients
1 cup whole milk*
1 tablespoon white vinegar*
2 pounds fresh okra
1 cup AP flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (just a dash if you don’t like spicy)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
canola or avocado oil
*OR 1 cup buttermilk


First, combine the milk and vinegar in a measuring cup. Let it sit for 15 minutes. (Alternatively: skip this step and use 1 cup buttermilk.)

Next, wash and slice the okra into 1/2″ – 1″ thick rounds.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the okra and milk. Let this sit for at least 20 minutes.

Then, in a large bowl, mix the remaining, dry in ingredients.

When your okra is done “marinating”, drain the excess buttermilk and toss it in the cornmeal mixture. I find it best to toss the okra in batches as to avoid the pieces clumping together.*

Pan fry in a high-temp oil over medium heat. I find that this, too, works best in batches and there is no need to keep the okra on one side and tediously flip every piece halfway through cooking. It is fine to toss them in the pan and shake it around every now and then to evenly brown each piece.**

Drain the okra on paper towels and sprinkle with a fine, table salt. After cooling, it can be placed in a bag and frozen for later.

*If you have the time and patience, batter each okra circle one at a time. Try to keep them as separate as possible!

**One of the greatest things about this okra is that each bite is a little different. It is fully homemade and thus “rustic” in both texture and flavor. Do not concern yourself over perfect knife cuts or even browning, as this okra should be a delicious, low-stress side!

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Vegetarian, Alabama-style Jackfruit BBQ

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I highly recommend trying this BBQ recipe, even if you are normally a meat-eater. Using jackfruit in lieu of pulled pork is nothing new in Asian cuisines, but we are bringing it down to the Deep South! We pair a braised jackfruit BBQ with traditional Alabama white sauce, and it is absolutely delicious!

This is a vegetarian spin on an old and classic BBQ sandwich. You can even make it vegan by leaving off the white sauce (or making vegan white sauce)!

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Jackfruit is a stringy, Asian fruit that can be eaten sweetened or in a brine. It can be bought fresh at supermarkets during certain times of the year- however it is difficult to find and doesn’t quite match the texture of BBQ, when cooked from the fresh fruit.

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That being said, you should try to look for canned jackfruit. Be very careful when you are looking for this product canned. Be sure that you find jackfruit in brine, NOT in syrup. You cannot use the syrup jackfruit for this recipe, so it’s a waste of your money (and personally, I think the syrupy jackfruit tastes awful). If you insist on finding it in a store- check an Asian supermarket. When my mom prepared this BBQ in Alabama, she was able to find it with ease at Birmingham’s Asian supermarket. Here in California, though we have multiple Asian markets, none of them carry canned jackfruit. All of that is simply to say: my recommendation is actually to just buy canned jackfruit from Amazon. You can be sure you are getting the right kind, it is reliable in terms of delivery dates, and you don’t have to drive anywhere!

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William and I had planned on making this months before we ever got around to it because we had the hardest time finding the right jackfruit. However, all of our efforts ended up being worth it because it is so yummy! It is also super easy!

Enjoy!

Alabama-Style Jackfruit BBQ

(makes 4-5 sandwiches)

Ingredients
1/2 Anaheim pepper
1 serrano pepper
1/2 large, yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 20 ounce cans jackfruit in brine
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons liquid smoke
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup traditional, red BBQ sauce (make sure this is vegetarian friendly!)
salt and pepper to taste

traditional buns and any fixin’s including Alabama white BBQ sauce (a recipe for this unique and amazing vinegar-based sauce can be found here)

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First, clean and mince the peppers. Make sure you clear out all those seeds, and I’d recommend rubbing your fingers with a bit of olive oil beforehand to prevent that burning from occurring afterwards.

Chop the onion finely- you can dice it if you like, it can be in pieces a bit bigger than the peppers!

Mince the garlic.

Combine the peppers, onion, and garlic in a large, shallow pan with the olive oil. Let these cook on very low heat for about 5 minutes.

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Next, tackle this jackfruit! You will need to rinse it in water to clean off the brine. Then, carefully cut out any pieces of the core that you can see. It is the whitest, most solid, and almost spongy part of the fruit. This part of the jackfruit isn’t bad to the taste, but it will mess with the texture of your BBQ, and we don’t want that! Once you have your jackfruit cleaned and de-cored, you can set it aside.

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Turn back to your pot and turn the heat up just a bit to get a simmer. Stir your onion mixture. Add in the cumin, paprika, and liquid smoke.

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If you are using a pre-made vegetable broth, add it into your pot. We use a bouillon base and added that with water. Stir everything together and turn up the heat to a good simmer.

Let this mixture simmer for a few minutes before adding in the jackfruit and BBQ sauce.

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After adding in the BBQ sauce and jackfruit, let the mixture cook on lower heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point you can season with salt and pepper. Do a taste test after 15 minutes and if it’s tender enough for you- you’re ready to build your sandwich! Let your own BBQ preferences be your guide to how long you should keep this on the stove!

Build a traditional sandwich using buttered, sesame seed buns, pickles, and Alabama white sauce!

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Make a mess and enjoy!

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Thanksgiving Series: Southern- Style Dressing

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I wanted to have a little Thanksgiving series on the blog for several reasons. I make unique, Southern, family-inspired recipes that are all vegetarian friendly. I have fiddled with the ratios and with veggie-friendly substitutions until I can find the right balance of flavors that best represent the culture that I come from, as well as our deep-abiding commitment to good food.

In addition, all of these dishes make only 3 or 4 servings. Now that I am living so far away from everybody, it is difficult to make it home for Thanksgiving. Here, we end up having small-portions (because there’s only two of us), so I also edited all of the recipes so that I’m not making enough to feed twenty people!

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I am posting the recipe for dressing first, mainly because it is very near and dear to my heart. This is an edited version of the recipe that my Mimi used when I was growing up.

We would always travel up north to Decatur, Alabama for Thanksgiving. There, my Mimi would make the best dressing you’ll find east of the Mississippi! Even better, she’d make me a special, little dish of meat-free dressing — with no chicken broth.

In the South, community is everything and food is a huge way that we bring people together and communicate our love for one another. The food culture out there is a really, really special thing that I have never experienced anywhere else. Each family has its own set of traditions and recipes that they follow. The recipe that I use has a little bit of my dad’s family in it, and a little bit of my mom’s. Homemade cornbread, in the tradition of the Deep South, and tons of fresh sage, a Sicilian flavor that (in my opinion) completes the dish!

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Before we get started with the recipe– a word about terminology. In the South, we are very particular about our Thanksgiving food vocabulary. Dressing is what we are making here. It will never ever go inside of a bird, and it is completely vegetarian! Stuffing is at some point inside of the turkey. It is never vegetarian, and often more crumbly than dressing. Southern-style dressing is very moist and really like nothing else you’ve ever tasted! Keep this in mind when you make the recipe- do not make it dry! It is not meant to be cake-y or like any other casserole, it is wetter than that and this is part of what makes the dish Southern and delicious!

 

Southern-Style, Vegetarian Dressing
[Recipe inspired by Mimi’s own dressing! (she even has her own blog, which you can check out here!)]

Makes only 4 servings!

Ingredients

1/2 stick salted butter
1/3 medium onion
2 stalks celery
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of herbs d’Provence
10 medium-large leaves of fresh sage
3 cups cornbread (you can make your own using my recipe for Johnny Cake— half of this recipe will make the perfect amount of cornbread you need)
3 cups of stale, white bread (I used a pugliese loaf)
1/3 cup mushroom gravy (be sure to check the ingredients to make sure it’s vegetarian!)
1 1/4 cups vegetable broth
1 egg

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Grease two, small pans with salted butter and preheat the oven to 350° F.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy skillet. Chop the onion and the celery.

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Sautée them in the skillet with the butter for several minutes.

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Add the salt, Cajun seasoning, black pepper, and herbs d’Provence.

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Wash and carefully slice the sage leaves into small strips. Finally, add them into the pan with everything else.

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Cube the cornbread and the pugliese loaf (you can measure out the cups by cubing).

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Put the cubed bread into a large bowl and add in the gravy and 1 cup of the vegetable broth. Stir everything together and use your spoon to break apart the bread cubes into smaller pieces.

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Add in the cooked vegetables and stir that together.  Finally, add in the egg as a binder. Stir everything together and use the rest of the broth to insure that the mixture is the correct consistency. You want to make sure that the dressing is wet but not soupy. It should be fairly mushy, like cooked grits or polenta.

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Pour it into your dishes and bake for 45-50 minutes or until the dressing is browned on the edges and solidified (but still moist). If the dressing becomes too dry, you can add a bit more broth and cook it for longer. If it is too wet, just cook for longer.

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Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!

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The Best, Buttery, Flaky, Easy-Peasy, Southern Biscuit

biscuitsWhat can I say about biscuits that does justice to how wonderfully delicious they can be? What can I say about biscuits that does justice to how incredibly dry and disgusting they can be? A good biscuit is like nothing else in the world. It’s not dry, it is delicate and flaky, but it won’t fall apart too easily; it’s buttery, it’s salty, and it is just slightly sweet! A good biscuit is so many things and it can be eaten in so many amazing ways.

You can eat a biscuit loaded up with eggs and cheese and meat (or veggie meat in my case!). You can eat a biscuit toasted with butter. Biscuits are great with honey, they are delicious with all kinds of jams and jellies. Biscuits are delicious just by themselves. You can even add a bunch of silly stuff to the recipe to cook into the biscuit!

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Okay, okay, I know I sound ridiculous. Seriously, though. I have missed biscuits. For some reason, California restaurants make biscuits that are more like scones. These biscuits are pretty dry and dense, and just not what I’m looking for when I am up super early in the morning interacting with people, “Can I have a biscuit please??” Now, don’t get me wrong, I love scones. It’s just, when I use the word biscuit, I am referring to something completely different.

So, several months ago I set out on a quest to find an amazing biscuit recipe. I read a bunch of sciency articles and thought about what kind of biscuit I was looking to make. This is the result! This recipe is incredibly easy to make, and if you aren’t in the mood to go out and buy cake flour for it, you can even use AP flour if you like. The cake flour just makes the biscuit more flaky, fluffy, and light- all qualities that I love in biscuits, and it keeps them from being too dry! Another flour alternative (for the purist) is White Lily. Personally, I am not always able to use White Lily because I have to special order it (California grocers don’t carry biscuit flour). However, White Lily is the flour of standard use for biscuits in the south. If you’re interested in a true, Southern biscuit experience, White Lily is the way to go. It is specially formulated for biscuit making, as it is lighter (think Italian 00″).

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Southern Biscuits
Makes about 8 large biscuits

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups cake flour/White Lily flour
3 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
9 tablespoons salted butter
3/4 cup  buttermilk
parchment paper for baking

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To start, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, kosher salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.

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Next, cut the butter into little chunks and melt it in the microwave on low power. You want to make sure it doesn’t sputter or cook too much, it just needs to be liquified. Pour the melted butter into the flour mixture.

With your hands, mix the butter in until it has a mealy, gritty texture. You want all of the flour to soak up butter so that it all looks wet, but it shouldn’t be smooth.

Finally, pour in the buttermilk and carefully mix everything together until you have formed a semi-smooth dough. It will still have some mealy bits in it, but don’t worry too much about this, they bake out!

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Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Prepare a baking sheet by covering it in parchment paper and buttering the parchment paper.

Next, prepare a rolling station. Cover a flat surface with flour and roll the dough out into a 1/2″ thick sheet.

Using the rim of a cup or a biscuit cutter, carefully shape your biscuits.

Note: Make sure when you do this that you push the biscuit cutter down into the dough but do not twist it to sever the dough. If you do that twisting motion (as natural as it feels), it will seal the edges of the dough and the biscuits will not rise to perfection!

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I prefer to do this in small increments. I take just a handful of dough and flatten it and only make one or two biscuits, then continue until I’ve finished with the dough. You can also re-incorporate scraps into the larger dough mass this way.

Next, take your sharpest knife and slice a shallow nick around the entire circumference of each biscuit. This will aid the rising process for the fluffiest biscuits possible!

Arrange the biscuits on the baking sheet, leaving enough space in between them for rising.

Bake them for 15 minutes, and then remove them. Butter them generously to make for the browned tops. (Alternatively, you can do a basic egg wash in the last five minutes of baking.)

Place them back into the oven for another 2 or 3 minutes just to let them brown.

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Biscuits are best when they’re fresh!

 

Dress them in whatever way you prefer and enjoy!

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