Cooking with Nathalie

Nathalie Dupree has an issue with how the traditional, historic Southern diet is remembered.

This was a very typical dinner.

Sure, folks ate fat back, or streak o’ lean.  But it wasn’t a slab on a plate, it was in a big pot of greens.  And likely the only other food on the menu was a piece of cornbread.  The pork was the sole protein.  A meal didn’t contain  3 or 4 proteins, like fried chicken, ham, and fish.  Those were special occasion foods that most were lucky to eat once a week.

This is not how your average Southern family ate every day.

Life was not a fancy Southern buffet with 20 or 30 different foods.  Families made do.

When it comes to Southern food, cooking, and history, doyenne Nathalie Dupree knows her stuff.

Friday night I attended a cooking class at the Southern Season in Chapel Hill, taught by Nathalie.  There was quite a bit of laughter—she’s really funny.  But there was an equal amount of gasps and “Oh wow!’s”.  Because what Nathalie has forgotten, most of us would be lucky to know.

Here is just a small sampling of what I learned.

A little iodized salt will not kill you–and will prevent this.

1.)Did you know goiters, those thyroid-related neck growths from the mists of time are making a comeback?  The small amounts of iodine in table salt essentially eradicated them.  But since everyone has switched over to fancy sea salt sans iodine, doctors are seeing a resurgence.

2.)When you chop herbs, the smaller pieces fall to the bottom of the pile, so keep moving the pile around to get a uniform cut.

Change the season or the venue–try indoor cultivation.

3.)Speaking of herbs, ever wonder why the tender herbs like cilantro and parsley are a bear to grow, yield little, and play out quickly?    It’s because we don’t live in Maine.  All of those plants do great above the Mason Dixon in the summer.  But down here, not so much.  In actuality, soft, leafy herbs are a fall or spring plant.  Just make sure they don’t stay out overnight in a freeze.

4.)Okra has more protein than any other vegetable.  To eliminate the much feared and loathed slime, cook with acid, like vinegar, lemon, or even tomato.  Okra and bacon taste great together, as shown in the delicious cakes Nathalie made for us.

Here’s her recipe:

Okra Griddle Cakes

okra griddle cakes4 slices cooked bacon, drippings reserved

1 cup cooked okra, finely chopped

1 ½ cup self-rising cornmeal

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 cups buttermilk (Nathalie likes old-fashioned, full fat buttermilk)

3 tablespoons butter, melted

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Shortening or vegetable oil for frying

Sour cream (optional)

Finely chop the cooked bacon and okra.

Up to 2 hours before serving, whisk together cornmeal, flour, and sugar in a bowl.  Stir in buttermilk, butter and eggs until just mixed.  Add bacon and okra to batter.

Heat a griddle or large iron skillet until hot.  Add enough oil to coat the bottom.  Sprinkle on a bit of batter to test that the griddle is hot enough to sizzle (Nathalie says that you cook with your ears and your nose) and the batter is of pouring consistency.  Add more water if necessary, 2 tablespoons at a time.

Ladle ¼ cup batter for each griddle cake onto hot griddle and cook until the top of the cake is dotted with large bubbles and the bottom is light brown.  Flip with a large spatula, and cook until the other side is lightly browned.  Keep warm in a 200 degree oven on a rack over a baking sheet or serve immediately.  Continue with the rest of the batter until it’s all gone.  Serve hot with optional sour cream.  Variations:

Top with sour cream and a little extra chopped bacon and okra.  Or, substitute a little chopped turnip greens and hot pepper, a few chopped shrimp or crab in the batter for the okra and bacon.

5.)To check if potatoes are cooked and ready to be mashed, rub one between your fingers, they should be smooth.  If not return to the boil.

6.)Thanksgiving was never meant to be healthy.  Go for broke.  As Nathalie said, “When you’re dead and gone, you want them to lie in bed and say, ‘I wish she were here to make that’.”

7.)And season with love.

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Thanks for your time

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