When you say "Southern" food we think, collards, crowder peas, okra, sweet potatoes, peaches, lima beans...and so does Stephens. Southern cuisine is built on the ingredients that come form the ground. If Southern cooks have a fault, it would be taking these ingredients and cooking them the same way week in and week out. We cook them the same way mama cooked them. Mama cooked them the same way her mama cooked them. And so it goes.
Check out the Piggly Wiggly. They will have okra, sweet potatoes, and lima beans just like mama's did. But check again. They will have coconut milk, fish sauce, habaneros, pomegranate, and on and on. Brys Stephens has spent a lot of time roaming those grocery isles and thinking of ways to make the familiar, new. He has done a great job.
Take a look at okra. My mama grew up in Alabama and spent much of her adult life in the cold, dark North. She would beg grocers to get in a mess of okra. Often when she did get it, it was a mess, but she was undeterred. After all that effort, she made okra two ways. Sliced and fried into chewy almost black rounds and steamed on top of field peas into a slimy mush. Needless to say, okra was never a favorite. Then one day, we saw an okra recipe from Africa. The recipe kept the stem end in tact and thinly sliced the pod in long vertical strips. When fried it resembles calamari. A simple variation in slicing made all the difference.
Flip through The New Southern Table and you find recipe after recipe of the familiar turned on its head. There is perloo with quinoa, purple hull tabouleh, and watermelon pudding Sicilian style to name a few. And what about the okra? According to Stephens this recipe is simple and concentrates the flavor. It sure beats those little blackened nuggets.
Roasted Okra with Olive Oil, Lemon, and Sea Salt
2 pounds okra, any tough stem ends trimmed away and discarded
3 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 450F. In a bowl, toss the okra with the olive oil to coat. Arrange the okra in a single layer on a large sheet pan. Roast 8 to 10 minutes, or until bright green, barley tender, and brown in spots. Serve immediately with sea salt and lemon wedges.
Those who believe they just know it all about Southern cooking, be prepared to be wrong.
The New Southern Table will make you a rock star in the kitchen from Alabama to South Carolina and all those Yankee states out there, too.