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Siren Song of the South (July 3, 2003)


It's an extraordinary love story and a great, classic cookbook. The Gift of Southern Cooking is the work of two remarkable people who have pooled their unusual cooking talents to create this unique collection of recipes. What memories they brought back from my Southern childhood! And I loved what T. Susan Chang, a Boston Globe correspondent, had to say about The Gift of Southern Cooking:

"For many people otherwise wholly unconnected to the South, the idea of Southern cooking has an irresistible allure. The phrase 'creamy grits,' for instance, is enough to start the juices flowing. And each year as the weather warms, we look forward to fried chicken and barbecue; by picnic season here, the table looks as if it were lifted straight out of Georgia.

"It's an irony of Southern cooking that in a climate where the last thing you want to do is hover for hours over a deep-frying pan, much of the food is a world of trouble. Yet time and again we return to those down-home recipes, brimming with flavor and so infernally good that they command us to defy all good sense and dietary discipline.

"If you're going to do it, you might as well do it right, and that means listening to Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock in 'The Gift of Southern Cooking.' They have no shortage of advice: Don't buy smoked ham hocks from the supermarket (they're full of chemicals). Make your own baking powder, grind your own nutmeg, and while you're at it, make your own coconut milk. This suspicion of commercial products, coupled with a disdain for shortcuts, would be off-putting if it weren't expressed with such charm. Lewis's and Peacock's directives simply convince you it would be foolish to do things any other way."

Thank you, T. Susan Chang. We agree completely and feel it would be foolish for you not to get this book right away! Start those southern juices flowing with these simple-yet-perfect recipes!

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (62 KB)


Breakfast Shrimp for Supper

Quickly sautéed shrimp over rice is a very old, traditional breakfast in the Carolina low country. But it would also make a nice, quick and easy luncheon or supper dish, rounded out with a salad and maybe cornbread.

Makes enough to serve 4

  • 4 Tbsp (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 small onions, chopped (about 1¼ cups)
  • 4 Tbsp thinly sliced green onion or scallion
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ½ cup water

Heat the butter in a heavy skillet until hot and foaming. Add the onion, scallion, garlic, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir well, and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for 1 minute, stirring often. Pour in the water, and simmer gently for 2–3 minutes, just until the shrimp are cooked through. Taste carefully for seasoning, adding more salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed. Serve hot over plain rice.

Note: if using frozen shrimp, thaw them slowly in the refrigerator. After thawing, they benefit from a 5-minute soak in lightly salted ice water with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
A crisp dry white, medium-bodied wine – Chablis, non-oaked Ontario Chardonnay, Soave (Veneto).


Okra Pancakes

These pancakes, pan-fried like fritters, are delightfully crispy, so even those who are not crazy about the texture of okra will enjoy them. They make a great cocktail nibble, side vegetable or bread to go with your Breakfast Shrimp.

Makes approximately 16 2-inch pancakes

  • ½ cup stone ground white cornmeal
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 cups thinly sliced okra
  • Oil for frying

Put the cornmeal, flour, 1 tsp of the salt, and baking powder in a mixing bowl, and stir well with a whisk to blend. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and water, then stir into the dry ingredients, mixing only until moistened. Sprinkle the remaining ½ tsp salt and the freshly ground pepper over the onion and sliced okra, and toss lightly. Fold the vegetables into the batter.

Pour 1 inch of oil into a heavy skillet and heat to 340°F. Spoon the okra batter by heaping tablespoons into the hot oil; do not overcrowd the pan. Fry until golden brown on one side, then carefully turn and continue frying until both sides are browned. Remove from the skillet and drain well on a draining rack or crumpled paper towels.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
A Sauvignon Blanc – from the Loire or New Zealand or Ontario.

We wish to thank Random House Inc. for permission to publish material from The Gift of Southern Cooking, by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. Copyright © 2003 by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. Photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer.


Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (62 KB)




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