The food we grew up with stays with us forever.
Even if we’ve moved — sometimes far away to another state or country — the food from our childhood always provides an emotional connection to the past.
Growing up in Texas meant I consumed plenty of okra and black-eyed peas. At the time, I took them for granted. And now, having lived almost half my life in the wonderful state of Ohio, I sometimes wish I could retreat to the simple days of my youth and relive helping my mom shell a mess of black-eyed peas or dredge okra for pan frying.
Food is a powerful antidote for homesickness. Recently I was delighted to discover a new book that seems to have been written for me — “The Homesick Texan’s Family Table” by Lisa Fain. I know that I will reach for this book time and time again when I want to experience the feeling of being a Texan no matter where I am.
My grandfather had a large pecan orchard and won many ribbons at county and state fairs for his pecans, so I can’t wait to try Orange-Cinnamon Candied Pecans (page 68). At family reunions, we always had English pea salad so I’m looking forward to trying Spicy Pea Salad (p. 89) that adds a little lime juice, jalapeno and cumin to the obligatory cheddar cheese cubes and mayonnaise. In the fall I may try Venison Chili (p. 118) to see if it’s anything as good as my dad’s.
And about my mom — I lost her, too, and would give anything to be able to go back in time and thank her for all the sugar cream pies, fruit cobblers and candies she made, not only for us but for neighbors and church members going through a sickness, death in the family or other hardship. So I want to try Lemon Pie (p. 223), Plum Cobbler (p. 229) and Divinity (p. 236) because the beautiful photos accompanying those recipes remind me of things I remember so well.
Food heals the soul, and the food of our youth is our own, unique soul food. Sometimes, something as simple as a wedge of iceberg lettuce with a little dressing, bacon and ripe tomato (best, of course, from the garden) can cure a case of homesickness.
If you’re not from Texas, that’s OK. This book will take you on some interesting culinary adventures and earn you the right to call yourself a honorary Texan.
What we made:
CHIPOTLE-BLUE CHEESE WEDGE SALAD (Page 82)
Chipotle-Blue Cheese Dressing
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons buttermilk, plus more if needed
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder or 1 canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
¼ teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
½ cup sour cream or thick Greek-style yogurt
Salt and black pepper
1 head iceberg lettuce
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 cup diced red, ripe tomato
To make the dressing, combine ½ cup of the blue cheese crumbles with mayonnaise, buttermilk, garlic, chipotle chile powder (or canned chipotle chile), paprika and vinegar in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Stir in the sour cream and remaining ½ cup of blue cheese crumbles. Add salt and black pepper to taste. (If you want a thinner dressing, stir in more buttermilk until it’s the desired thickness.)
To make the salad, cut the iceberg lettuce into four wedges, lengthwise. Place each wedge on a plate and top each with crumbled bacon, diced tomatoes and ¼ cup of the dressing. (Any of the remaining dressing can either be served on the side or refrigerated for 1 week). Serve immediately.
The book: “The Homesick Texan’s Family Table: Lone Star Cooking from My Kitchen to Yours” by Lisa Fain; 288 pages, $29.99. Published by Ten Speed Press, 2014.
What you get: A variety of recipes as vast and colorful as the great state of Texas. This book has all meals covered; plus it includes a handy primer on chile peppers.
In her own words: “My approach to cooking is to make each dish as flavorful as possible. This can be achieved, for example, by using fresh ingredients, by adding an extra squeeze of lime juice or by throwing in a jalapeno slice or two. But while I may tweak the classics and create new dishes from old standards, their spirit and soul is always Texan.” — Lisa Fain
Our assessment: This dish is elegant in its simplicity and super-easy to prepare. Plus, the dressing is delicious beyond belief — a great upgrade from regular ranch dressing — and will keep for up to a week. Even non-Texans love it.
Video: Watch me make this salad on our website.