The rise of Southern cooking

Whether or not you’ve realized it, you’ve been eating more and more Southern-influenced cuisine.

The trend really took off during the Great Recession — remember McDonald’s Southern Rib and Southern Chicken sandwiches introduced in 2008? Since then, it’s expanded in the form of such things as chicken and waffles, barbecued green beans, shrimp and grits, pickles deep-fried in pancake mix, food in jars (like refrigerated overnight oatmeal), muddled cocktails and all things bourbon.

Southern cuisine oftentimes gets a bad rap for being heavy and greasy, and blamed for its contribution to the American obesity epidemic. I grew up in the South, and ate my share of pimiento cheese sandwiches, Frito pies and red velvet cake. But more than that, I ate vegetables. Lots of them. Lots of boiled vegetables we harvested from our own garden — everything from yellow squash and Irish potatoes to okra, black-eyed peas and greens. The reward for eating a half-full plate of vegetables was a little blackberry cobbler a la mode or a slice of sugar cream pie.

Dear to me are childhood memories of eating chicken fried steak, biscuits with white gravy and pecan pie with kinfolk and friends. I also have wonderful memories of my mama’s voice reminding me to eat more vegetables. “They’re good for you!” she’d say.

The following recipe comes from “The Southern Vegetable Book” by Rebecca Lang. It’s easy to make, very filling and tasty. Plus it’s great as leftovers. Serve it with cornbread, and be sure to save a little room for banana-and-vanilla-wafer pudding.

FALL VEGETABLE HASH

Makes 8 servings

4 thick bacon slices

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium-size sweet onion, chopped

1 medium-size sweet potato (about 10 ounces), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 pound small fresh Brussels sprouts, quartered

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1. Cook bacon in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon; drain, reserving 2 tablespoons drippings in skillet. Coarsely chop bacon.

2. Add oil to hot drippings in skillet. Cook onion and sweet potato in hot oil and drippings over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add turnips; cook, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes.

3. Combine vinegar and 2 tablespoons water. Add Brussels sprouts, garlic and vinegar mixture to skillet. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in bacon; add salt and pepper to taste.

From the book: “The Southern Vegetable Book: A Root-To-Stalk Guide to the South’s Favorite Produce” by Rebecca Lang; 256 pages, $27.95. Published by Oxmoor House, 2016.

What you get: This collection of recipes offers a modern twist on classic Southern recipes organized by season. Recipes include Pickled Ramps, Smashed Fried Okra, Pepper Jack Grits Poppers, Broccoli with Pimento Cheese Sauce, Southern Turnip Greens and Ham Hocks and Sweet Potato Casserole.

In her own words: “Our relationship with the vegetables we eat is ever changing. We’ve gone from a time when vegetables were planted, nurtured and harvested only by those who would eat them to a day when nearly every vegetable is available year-round in the produce section.” — Rebecca Lang.

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