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Updated Southern Cooking
John Tullock

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. creole photo 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 All Blue. 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 photo Creole seasoning mix. Saute an additional 2 - 3 minutes.

Add 4 cups vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes, loosely covered.

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 refrigerator.

Eggs Contessa

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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