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Updated Southern Cooking
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to write more about the foods of my
region. Growing up on a farm in the hills of rural eastern Tennessee gave me
a deep appreciation for foods that are close to the land.
I still grow my own
vegetables, primarily for the unbeatable taste.
Over the years, I have learned a lot about Southern food, and I look forward to sharing with you some
of my favorite Dixie-style recipes.
Creole cooking is the “grand cuisine” of the South. Here are two “nouveau
Creole” dishes to help you fulfill those New Year’s resolutions to eat
healthier. You could substitute a serving of fat-free scrambled eggs for the
poached eggs, reducing the fat content even more. Enhancing the vegetable
stock with the juices saved from soaking dried mushrooms, such as porcini,
really deepens the flavor of the soup, but you’ll have a great dish without
this extra touch.
Vegetarian Creole “Minestrone”
In a heavy saucepan or kettle, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and saute a medium
onion, chopped, until translucent. Add 1 medium carrot and 2 ribs of celery,
chopped, and saute about 3 more minutes. Continue to cook, for about 3
minutes each, additions of 1/2 cup each of diced zuchinni, diced yellow
squash, and boiling potatoes such as Yukon Gold, Red Pontiac, White Rose, or
When the potatoes have been cooked add 2 large garlic cloves,
thinly sliced, 1/2 cup chopped bell peppers, and a half teaspoon or more
Creole seasoning mix. Saute an additional 2 - 3 minutes.
Add 4 cups vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes, loosely
Add 1 cup chopped cabbage or bak choi, 1 cup pickled okra pods, rinsed and cut
into 1/2 inch pieces, 1/2 cup fresh or frozen shelled peas, 1/2 cup fresh or
frozen corn kernels, 1/2 cup canned or frozen string beans, broken, 1/2 cup
canned white beans, rinsed well, 1/2 cup chopped canned tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon
dried basil leaves, and, to taste, additional Creole seasoning. Simmer 10
minutes more, then keep below the boiling point until ready to serve. Add
more stock if the soup is thicker than you like.
As with most soups, this one benefits from spending the night in the
This is an original recipe modeled after the hundreds of New Orleans dishes
featuring poached eggs. The Creole sauce is adapted from a recipe in the
Commander’s Palace New Orleans Cookbook by Ella and Dick Brennan.
Commander’s Palace is perhaps the best restaurant in the United States, and is
undoubtedly the high temple of Creole cooking.
To poach eggs perfectly requires both practice and fresh eggs. Fill a large
non-stick skillet about three-quarters full of water and add a pinch of salt
and 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar. Set out the eggs to come to room temperature.
Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so that the water remains at the
slowest possible simmer. There should be occasional bubbles of steam rising
from the bottom of the skillet, but no vigorous surface movement of the water.
If the water is boiling too vigorously, the eggs will be broken up into a
mess. If the water is too cool, they will flatten out as if fried, and while
perfectly edible will ruin your presentation.
Once the water is hot, crack an egg into a coffee cup and gently slide it into
the water. Repeat with a second egg. Cook about 3 minutes, or until the
whites are done and the yolk is still runny. Remove carefully from the
skillet and transfer to a bowl of water. They will hold this way for an hour
or more. You will need one egg per serving.
Prepare the Creole sauce. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or butter in a
saucepan, and add 1/2 cup each chopped onions, celery and green bell pepper, 1
sliced clove of garlic, and a bay leaf. Saute 3 minutes, then add 1 teaspoon
paprika, 2 cups chopped canned tomatoes with their juices, 2 teaspoons
Worchestershire sauce, and a dash or three of hot sauce. Cook at a quick
simmer for 6 minutes. Combine 2 teaspoons cornstarch with 1/4 cup water and
stir into the simmer sauce, stir and cook 3 minutes longer, or until the sauce
is thickened and shiny. The sauce may be used at once, or will keep, covered
and refrigerated, for several days.
When you are ready to serve the dish, prepare a vegetable patty , such as
Gardenburger(TM), according to the manufacturer’s directions. You can also
use your own vegetable patty recipe, of course, and the dish will be even
better. You can even substitute sausage if you don’t care about the fat gram
count. You’ll need one patty per serving.
Reheat the Creole sauce, if needed, in a double boiler. To assemble the
dish, place a patty in the center of a plate. Reheat the eggs by placing them
briefly in boiling water, using a slotted spoon. Top the patty with a
poached egg, and mask with the Creole sauce. Sprinkle with chopped fresh
parsley and serve immediately. Pass extra hot sauce.
Serve the soup as a first course over steamed rice. Follow with the eggs,
perhaps accompanied by a salad, and then finish the meal with simple, low-fat
dessert, such as a fruit compote.
John Tullock is an expert gardener and self-taught cook who likes to
develop new recipes using his own fresh produce and the best from the local
market. His interest in plants and horticulture begin in childhood, and he
holds a masters degree in biology from The University of Tennessee. Now a
full-time freelance writer and author of six books, Tullock also co-owns
"Gardener and Gourmet," a retail business that specializes in rare plants
and fine food products.
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