New Southern Cuisine

fried green tomatoes brightenedFor far too long, food in the south has been regarded as anything but gourmet. It was considered cheap, scraps, whatever those poor Southerners could hunt, poach, catch, or find, things no one can pronounce, and in many cases, gross. Interestingly, I’ve eaten things that would probably fall into most, if not all, of those categories..deer, rabbit, alligator, turtle…ham hocks & turnip greens, swamp cabbage, okra & tomatoes…smoked mullet, mullet roe, fried mullet & grits…clabber, chitterlings, hog head cheese, pickled pigs feet… The list could go on forever.

Ironically, our Southern food is finding its way into specialty markets, and those who supply it are making a fortune doing so. Maybe it’s thanks to the Southern chefs like Paula Deen and Justin Wilson who brought the humble fare to the masses through their charm, thick accents, and small town anecdotes. Maybe it’s because someone somewhere finally tried smoked mullet and realized that the weird smelling, oily fish, wrapped in paper, and a ziploc bag was actually tasty (yes, that’s a reference to my Ohio-bred husband).

Regardless of the reason or responsible party, Southern ingredients, Southern dishes, and even, the Southern attitudes of cooking have FINALLY gained the respect of the culinary world. And, with that respect, traditional Southern dishes are gaining becoming more creative and ingredients are being combined in more creative ways.

Growing up, my comfort foods were fried fish, grits, dried beans, okra, tomatoes, rice, and greens.  My mom & granny cooked everything from scratch.  Hell, I never had greed beans from a can until I went to public school and I didn’t know what instant mashed potatoes were!

Today, with my own kids, I cook dinner every night, most of what I cook is from scratch, and I do my very best to introduce the “weird” Southern foods I was raised on.

Last night was no different. On the menu…fish & grits.  In the South, fish & grits is an anytime meal…breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I decided, however, to mix it up a bit.  Yes, I fried fish (dredged in cornmeal). Yes, I made grits (the kind you actually cook–not instant). But that’s where tradition stopped.

Fried Green Napoleons w/Mandarin Cole Slaw

Fried Green Tomato Napoleons

2 medium green tomatoes–a little pink will be fine

1/4 c. all purpose flour

2 eggs beaten with 3 TBSP water and a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce

1-2 c. dried bread crumbs

1 c. pimento cheese-store bought is fine.  I like Price’s.

Pepper Jelly-store bought. I like Braswell’s.

Slice tomatoes into 1/4-1/2″ rounds.  Dredge in flour.  Dip in egg wash. Dredge in bread crumbs.  Set aside until all are finished.  Heat 1- 1 1/2 inches of oil in a skillet to approximately 350 degrees.  ( I can tell when it’s up to temperature by sprinkling in a few breadcrumbs.  If they sizzle, the oil is ready.)  Gently place coated tomato slices into a single layer in the hot oil.  Cook for 1 minute and turn.  Cook for an additional minute.  Do not let them burn.  Turn more frequently if needed.  Remove from heat and drain on a paper towel.

Mandarin Cole Slaw

2 TBSP sugar

1/3 c. mayonnaise

4 TBSP white vinegar

2 tsp salt

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp black pepper

Small 11oz can mandarin oranges-drained

1/4 c. finely chopped onion

1 bag tricolor cole slaw (no sauce–jsut veggies)

In a large bowl, whisk to combine sugar, mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, garlic powder, and black pepper. Add mandarin orange segments, mashing them with  your fingers as you add them to the bowl.  Stir in onions.  Add entire bag of cole slaw and carefully stir to coat.

To assemble napoleons…

Spoon 1 TBSP pimento cheese spread onto a tomato slice.  Top with another tomato slice. Spoon another 1 TBSP pimento cheese spread and top with a teaspoon of pepper jelly.  If you want taller napoleons, continue stacking and layering.  Pepper jelly goes on top of the last layer of pimento cheese spread.

Place napoleons on a bed of cole slaw.

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