Tuesday, September 22, 2020

On Cooking Southern: Fall Veggies

kalesalad&veggiesDSCN5765Squash and more rock to the beet.

By Laurie Triplette

ldtriplette@aol.com

SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK

Go around your elbow to get to your thumb:  An expression referring to not thinking something through  — doing it piecemeal, and as a result making the process of reaching a conclusion time consuming and difficult. As in, “Jake finally realized he needed his team to assemble and present all the data for the Board to review, rather than going around his elbow to reach his thumb by hiring outside consultants to study each component separately.” The term is synonymous with around the world and back. 

A FEAST FROM ROASTED VEGETABLES

Some folks look at the changing leaves to gauge the advancement of Autumn and the approach of the American holiday season. Others monitor the weather thermometer or which game we’ve reached in the football calendar. Not me.

I check out Mother Nature and our beloved old-timey Southern ladies. For example, the other day I glimpsed a little old lady wandering across a yard with a bag, bending over from time to time. A stranger might judge her as loopy. I knew what she was doing. Like my own mother and mother-in-law, and like my grandmother, she was picking up nuts from underneath her canopy of pecan trees.

This check-it-out attitude has been engrained in me and my fellow Southern Belles. This time of year we can’t prevent ourselves from searching the ground, and the trees and shrubs around us for Nature’s agricultural gifts to humankind. I confess that I found myself scanning the quince trees at Cedar Oaks Mansion this past week to see if any mature quinces had survived the fruit-killing Spring. (We Southern cooks-in-the-know do love to make quince jelly.) And after the hard killing frost the other night, I don’t even have to call to know that my friend with an old-fashioned persimmon tree has been working hard to gather frost-ripened persimmons.

These signs are how I know it’s time to turn our culinary attention to Fall veggies. The Old Bride considers Autumn’s fruits and vegetables to be as wonderful as our summer produce. Perhaps they are a bit less glamorous than those flashy hot weather tomatoes and elegant peaches. But these Fall crops and native food-bearing plants have nourished and sustained Southerners since the earliest of times.

Such fare gave rise to some of our most beloved holiday foods in the South. We all know what they are: Sugared pecans. Candied sweet potatoes. Squash casserole or stuffed squash. Wild rice dressing. Persimmon pudding. A mess of greens cooked down with ham hock, chicken schmaltz, or salami. Fresh apple cake and apple crisp.

One MIGHT observe that most of us are stuck in these long-standing food traditions every Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and Christmas. But savvy Southerners have embraced the growing national farm-to-table movement and the new twists on cooking up old-timey foods. I’m proud to say that Lafayette County is at the forefront of this movement in our region.

This week’s column features fall squash, once-lowly tubers and root vegetables, coupled with common leafy greens. The trick for the veggies is roasting them with olive oil and light seasoning, such as honey or balsamic vinegar. Once roasted, the veggies can be added to baby kale salads, or converted into soups.

ROASTED BEETS AND/OR SWEET POTATOES

This recipe calls for either beets OR sweet potatoes. I make both, but do not roast them in the same pan because beets stain everything red.

1 bunch of large fresh beets (usually 3 beets per bunch)

OR

2 to 3 good-sized sweet potatoes

1/4 c extra light olive oil (1/3 c for 3 potatoes)

1 tsp Kosher salt

8 peppermill turns of fresh ground black pepper

1/4 c honey

Line a pyrex baking pan with parchment paper to prevent sticking. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Peel the beets or potatoes and slice about 1/2-inch thick. Cube the slices and toss in a bowl with the olive oil and seasonings. Place evenly in the lined pan and roast about 40 to 50 minutes until fork tender, tossing and turning the veggies after 25 minutes to prevent sticking.  Remove from oven and gently toss with the honey.

Serve immediately while hot as a side dish, or allow to cool, and add the cubed beets and sweet potatoes to salads.

VARIATION: Puree the baked veggie cubes while still hot. Add hot chicken broth and crème fraiche or sour cream to convert into a cream soup.  Serve the potato soup hot with garlic-buttered croutons and shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve the beet soup chilled with chopped chives.

BABY KALE SALAD WITH HONEY-BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

kalesalad&dressingDSCN5771This is a Southern twist on a traditional spinach salad. Kale has become a food star, and packges of baby kale are now available in the grocery stores under the organic farm labels. 

1 T Dijon mustard

1 T honey

1/4 c balsamic vinegar

1 c extra light or extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp sea salt

8 twists of fresh ground black pepper, to taste

5-oz package of organic baby kale, rinsed and spun dry

5 oz fresh beet greens, rinsed and loosely chopped

1/4 c roasted cubed beets

1/4 c roasted cubed sweet potatoes

8 -10 sugared OR salted pecan halves

1 Clementine orange, peeled and segmented

4 T crumbled feta cheese

Sea salt to taste

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Combine first 6 ingredients together in a small non-reactive bowl. Whisk together until an emulsion has formed honey-balsamic vinaigrette.

Place about 2 cups of the greens on a salad plate. Evenly sprinkle the beets, potatoes, pecans, orange segments, and feta over the greens, spreading evenly. Add salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle with the honey-balsamic vinaigrette.

ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

butternutsquashsoup-DSCN5779Butternut squash is very tough when raw, so get out your heavy-duty cutting board and sharpest big knife. Once roasted, the squash has a delightful sweet-savory flavor.

4 lb whole butternut squash (about 2 medium squash)

4 T butter, room temperature

1 medium Granny Smith or Honey Crisp apple

1 medium yellow onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 tsp ground thyme

4 c chicken broth (or 2 cans of low-sodium, MSG-free broth)

1 to 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt, to taste

1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 to 1 c plain Greek yogurt

1 T lemon juice

Dash of cayenne pepper or hot sauce, to taste

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Rinse and cut the squash in half. Use a large spoon to scoop out the seeds. Place the squash, cut-side up, in a baking dish and use fingers to coat entire top surface with 1 to 2 T of the room temperature butter.  Lightly season the squash with salt and pepper, to taste. Roast about 1 hour, until squash is fork tender.

While squash is baking, peel, core, and dice the apple. Dice the onion. Melt remaining butter in large skillet or large saucepan on medium heat. Add the apple, onion, garlic, thyme, and a dash of salt and pepper; stirring regularly for about 7 minutes until softened. Remove from heat and set pan aside until squash is baked.

Remove fork-tender squash from oven and cool long enough to be able to handle it. Scoop softened squash flesh from the skins and combine with apples and onions in pan on stovetop. Add the broth and additional salt and pepper, as needed, along with cayenne or hot sauce, bringing it to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up squash chunks. Remove pan from heat and use blender, or immersion blender, or hand mixer, to puree the soup until smooth. When blending, covering top of container with a towel to prevent splatter. Stir in the yogurt and lemon juice until blended. Serve the soup garnished with roasted pumpkin seeds or buttered garlic croutons.

Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian, and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ),Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA)  and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ web site: www.tripleheartpress.com and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@LaurieTriplette).