Ninth-generation Southerner Rebecca Lang, author of The Southern Vegetable Book: A Root-to-Stalk Guide to the South’s Favorite Produce, joins us to talk about seasonality in southern cooking and using vegetables root to stalk.
When you think of Southern food, you might think first of fried chicken and barbecue rather than vegetables. But Rebecca Lang is here to set us straight. Warm weather allows for a long growing season in the south, which means lots of fresh produce. Vegetables have been an integral part of southern cuisine from the beginning, and the tradition of local and seasonal eating is innate. Here are a few of Rebecca's tips for southern vegetable cooking.
1) The fresher the vegetable, the more it needs to just shine on its own. Rebecca looks forward to the delicate and colorful vegetables of late spring, and leans on light preparations for vegetables that need little done to them. Focus on enhancing the tender freshness of spring. For example, she makes a lemony beet hummus with pecans and garlic that's vibrant pink and delightful garnished with a sprinkle of feta cheese.
2) Cook vegetables based on the way you're comfortable cooking everything else. Roast them like poultry, grill them like pork chops, and enjoy the same flavors you enjoy in your meat dishes.
3) Bright colors on the plate are appealing for kids of all ages. Adding more colors into your diet is good for you, as those vibrant colors signify nutrients in vegetables that are as good-for-you as they are pretty to look at.
4) Save the leaves! Carrot tops, beet greens, and leaves of other root vegetables are great for sauteeing or adding to salads. But make sure when you bring your vegetables home from the market that you remove the greens from the roots immediately and store them separately. They're pulling nutrients out of the roots, so you want to make sure you separate them to keep both parts of the vegetable fresh. Carrot tops are also a lovely garnish for carrot cake, placed around the edge of your cake plate.
5) Save cabbage cores! Slice thinly and add to your slaw or use as a crudite to serve with a tip. Rebecca also skips peeling her carrots, both to reduce food waste and to hold onto all the nutrients in the carrot skin.
6) Vegetables like to be stored in the fashion they were grown. Put asparagus stalks in a large measuring cup and stand them straight up with just a little bit of water in the bottom to keep them fresher longer.
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Author photo by Ian Bagwell