Vanilla Honey Fig Jam (Small Batch)

There’s nothing like the aroma wafting from a ripened fig tree during the peak of its harvest; this delightfully floral vanilla honey fig jam is the perfect way to capture that ethereal scent. This recipe is sweetened in part by honey which contributes aromatics as well as flavor and even helps to cut down on the white sugar content.

Why You Should Love Figs

If you’re anything like me, you’re an avid fig fan. Tender, sweet insides covered with soft skin are a flavorful burst of texture with each bite–a wonderful playground for the culinarily-inclined! Rich in fiber as well as calcium, phosphorus, iron, and potassium, figs are also a good source of prebiotics, which are essential for maintaining gut health. Though I think there is nothing better than digging into a perfectly ripe fig, they fortunately are fairly forgiving with different methods of processing and preserving, such as drying, making fig newtons from scratch, fig ice cream, or turning your figs into sweet fig chutney.

Where Are Figs From?

While the common fig hails from an area extending from Northern India to Asiatic Turkey, ficus carica also grows well in Mediterranean and and warm-climate areas.

The fig was one of the first fruit trees ever to be cultivated, at once so popular in the Mediterranean, it was called the “poor man’s food” because it was abundant and cheap, fresh or dried.

Nowadays, it’s not too altogether uncommon to walk down an urban street and see a neighborhood fig tree complete with broad, lobed leaves and its characteristically droopy fruit. When you break a fig from the tree or snap free a leaf, you may notice a viscous, white liquid emenating from the site of injury–this is, in fact, liquid latex. This is why some folks suggest boiling your green, unripe figs twice with fresh water to rinse away the milky substance–but that’s a blog post for another day!

How Figs are Pollinated

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time around vegans, you may have learned some or most of them don’t eat figs. But why? You may be thinking, Aren’t figs a fruit? 

While you are correct in the assertion that figs are a fruit (and therefore should be vegan-friendly), figs have a tangled relationship with that of the wasp reproductive cycle. When figs aren’t self-pollinated (the method used in the United States to produce figs), unripe figs invite pollen-carrying female wasps into their ostiole, the small opening at the base of the fig. From there, the female wasp will lay her eggs amongst the unpollinated flowers, pollinating other flowers as she moves along. The female wasp then dies, and her exoskeleton breaks down within the fig thanks to an enzyme called ficin. Fortunately, this teeny-tiny lady wasp is only about 1 1/2 milimeters long–so if you take a bite out of a fig pollinated through mutualism, you may end up eating, in one way or another, the remains of the female wasp.

As for her eggs, these are concealed within the fig’s flowers; the males hatch first, going around and fertilizing any unhatched females, dig an escape tunnel to the outside world, and die. When the females hatch, it’s their turn to find a fig to die in. It’s one heck of a life cycle, yo.

Why Figs Aren’t Considered Vegan

Point being, some vegans think eating figs is unethical, or that it breaks the rules as you may be inadvertently eating animal with your fig. Weird? A little bit. Kinda gross? Definitely. Miraculous? Big yes. And it’s still not enough to keep this lunatic away from sweet, delicious figs…

For those of you that are now completely freaked out by figs, rest assured–most likely, any figs provided in the grocery store are going to be self-pollinated. That is to say, wasp-free!

So…Where Can I Buy Figs?

Figs tend to be elusive until the season is upon us, at which point they are EXPLOSIVE and you have to make use of the bounty quickly so it doesn’t all rot or go to waste. Figs enjoy two seasons: the first few weeks of June, then a second wave spanning August through October.

Check in with grocery retailers like Whole Foods or Publix to see if they carry figs during the peak weeks of summer. Otherwise, you may be lucky enough to find vendors selling sweet, sweet figs at a local farmer’s market. I hate to direct you to Amazon, but apparently you can even buy fresh figs there! Who knew?!

But the best way to get your figs and eat them too is to make friends with somebody who enjoys a fig tree on their property and has more figs than they know what to do with! I’m not saying you should scope out someone’s yard before introducing yourself, but I’m saying it wouldn’t hurt to make a new friend who happens to have a robust fig tree…edible trades are a lot of fun. 🙂

Another option is to plant your own fig tree. Yes, you will have to wait a while…maybe several summers…to have your figs, but then you have a legacy tree that just keeps giving. Once you’ve been bitten by the fresh fig bug, you will come to love this time of year–trust me!

How Many Different Kinds of Figs Are There?

Well, with over 700 known different kinds of fig trees, there’s quite a lot! To make it easier, botanists have broken figs into four groups:

  1. Caprifigs: These produce male flowers which never bear fruit; their primary function is to fertilize female fig trees.
  2. Smyrna: These are the female fig trees, which must be pollinated by caprifigs.
  3. San Pedro: These kinds of figs produce two crops: the first is on leafless mature wood and requires no pollination, and the second is on new wood requiring pollination from a male flower.
  4. Common Figs: These are the most common figs you might see while on a neighborhood walk. Common figs don’t require another tree for fertilization.

Now that we know our fig types, let’s talk about some common figs you may have seen growing lately. Here are some varietals you may be able to identify:

  • Celeste figs–these are smaller, brownish-purple figs grown on large trees; these ripen earlier in the season than other figs
  • Brown Turkey figs–medium-sized, plum-colored figs with vibrant pink flesh
  • Alma figs–these large figs are brownish-purple teardrops with green tips and light pink insides
  • Purple Genca–sometimes referred to as Black Spanish figs or Black Genoa figs, these large, dark purple beauties have vibrant red flesh
  • Mission figs–also called Black Mission figs, this extremely popular varietal is medium-sized and has a mottled purple/green combination exterior
  • Bourjassotte Gris figs–these large, purple figs with a green tip have a lush, dramatic purple flesh

For this fig jam recipe, I used Celeste figs–yum!

How To Tell When Figs Are Ripe

Some figs, like mission figs, will split when they are at their peak ripeness. Green figs, like kadota figs, can be slightly trickier to figure out, as they are green from their initial formation through their maturity.

Ripe figs should be soft to the touch and give slightly when squeezed. There should be little resistance when plucked from their tree or bush, without much white latex oozing from the tip. If you have to tug, the fig isn’t ready!

Will Figs Ripen Off the Tree?

The short answer is yes! Figs that are picked just before peak ripeness will continue to soften and grow sweeter if left in a dry place.

If you pick extremely unripe figs, however, they will not reach maturity on your countertop! This is part of the lovely, ethereal nature of this sweet natural treat.

How To Eat Your Abundance of Figs

When figs arrive, they arrive all at once! You will know a tree’s fruit is mature when all of the insects move in–figs attract a wide array of bees and wasps, which come to feed on the sweet fruit.

Here are some ideas for ways to use up your figs before they spoil:

Small Batch Vanilla Honey Fig Jam

Part of the beauty of this recipe is how simple it is. With a few high-quality ingredients, you will be amazed at how much divinely aromatic flavor this wonderful, chunky fig jam presents.

Start with an abundance of ripe figs.

ripe celeste figs

Gather your ingredients and a heavy-bottomed dutch oven. Chop the figs into quarters. I like a chunky jam, so I cut some of the figs in half for variety.

fig jam ingredients

Cook the figs down gently, stirring so they don’t scald or cook unevenly.

gently simmering fig jam

When your fig jam has thickened considerably and passes the cold plate test, it should look something like this:

cooked fig jam

Ladle your warm jam into sterile jars. For a more detailed breakdown of how to properly can your jam, check out my post on canned small-batch apricot jam.

halfway through canning

It’s a messy process, but made easier by my canning funnel which fits atop an empty jar perfectly.

canning vanilla honey fig jam

You can totally reuse old jars to can your fig jam as long as you properly sterilize them beforehand in the oven or in boiling water for 10 minutes. I used the boiling method for this round of jam.

vanilla honey fig jam

Boom, fig jam!

Ways To Eat Up Your Fig Jam

Sweet, complex, aromatic, and delightfully textured, there’s a lot to love about this fig jam. Fortunately, you can throw it into sweet and savory dishes to add high floral notes and a kiss of sweetness. Here are some easy ways to eat up your vanilla honey fig jam:

  • stirred into whole milk yogurt
  • spooned atop vanilla ice cream
  • dolloped over seared pork chops or chicken breasts
  • stirred into oats or porridge
  • spread over toast with a layer of ricotta and sea salt
  • bake it into pound cake, muffins, or cornbread

Get eating! 🙂

cooked fig jam

Small-Batch Vanilla Honey Fig Jam

Sweet figs, aromatic vanilla, and floral honey all come together in this delightfully chunky, not-too-sweet, small-batch fig jam! I used Celeste figs, but any tender, ripe figs will do!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Canning Time (optional) 15 mins
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course Appetizer, Seasoning, Side Dish, Snack, Spice, Vegetarian
Cuisine American, Comfort Food, Intuitive, Southern Cooking, traditional

Equipment

  • heavy bottomed dutch oven
  • canning funnel

Ingredients
  

  • 2 lbs ripe figs, halved and quartered (I used Celeste figs, but any ripe figs will do)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup local honey
  • 2 lemons, juiced (seeds removed)
  • 1 Tbs vanilla bean paste (or 1 1/2 vanilla beans, seeds scraped)

Instructions
 

  • Wash your figs and cut into quarters. I like a chunky jam, so I cut about 30% of my figs in half. Juice lemons, minding the seeds, and set juice aside. Place a small plate in the freezer.
  • Place figs, sugar, honey, and lemon juice in a heavy-bottomed dutch oven over medium-high heat and bring ingredients to a boil, stirring until combined. (If using vanilla beans, add seeds and pods, taking care to remove the pods after the jam has cooked. If using vanilla bean paste, add now. If substituting vanilla extract, wait until the jam has thickened before adding.)
  • Lower heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened considerably (between 45 minutes and an hour). You will know your jam is ready to ladle into jars when a small drop of jam placed on the freezer plate wrinkles under your finger. (Dollop a small amount of jam onto the cold plate. Return to the freezer for a few minutes. Drag your finger through the jam--if it wrinkles, it's ready to can!)
  • If canning for long-term storage, ladle jam into sterilized jars, lightly screwing lids onto your jars. Place in a large pot and completely cover with water, boiling for 10 minutes. Using tongs, remove jars from hot water and allow them to cool on your countertop. You should hear the "ping" of your jam jars sealing! When jars have cooled, tighten the lids and label. If any of your jars did not fully seal, try re-boiling them or replacing with different sterilized lids and repeating the process.
  • If making quick-batch jam for short-term storage, simply ladle the hot jam into clean jars and place in the fridge. This fig jam keeps in the fridge up to 1 month once it's been opened.
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This recipe based off the one found here, from Flavor the Moments!

Nik Sharma’s Spicy Collard Greens and Legume Soup

A few days ago I woke up with a splitting headache and an achy kind of nausea. I say “woke up” loosely, because I laid in bed for several hours just trying to figure out what’s what. Even though it is July in the South, and plenty hot, and plenty humid, I knew what I needed. The answer? Hot, nourishing soup with plenty of collard greens, which happen to be the state vegetable of South Carolina.

You may be thinking, “You crazy woman. It’s 1000 degrees outside where you live and 900% humidity. A walk halfway ’round the block is enough to get you sweating. Why are you making hot soup?”

And reader, I must say: valid point…

However, the body needs what the body needs, and sometimes silver-green bunches of bitter collards and turmeric-coated chickpeas can work some of the profoundest miracles.

I leafed my way through the picture-rich Flavor Equation gluttonously, lingering over pages that contained ingredients I’d never heard of. If you need some magic injected into your culinary life, consider this beautiful book by Nik Sharma. He breaks down some of the science of what makes ingredients big players in the kitchen and throws in some really interesting recipes for adventurous eaters intent on culinary play.

I saw the picture of this chili-spiced soup and just knew it would cure me.

What’s not to love about stewed greens in bright tomato and tamarind, with spiced chili, turmeric, cinnamon, and black pepper seasoning two kinds of legumes?

I ate not one, but two bowls of this for early dinner and was back on track by 8.

Health Benefits of Collard Greens

These broad, leafy greens have more to offer than meets the eye. Here are some of the top nutritional benefits to eating collard greens regularly:

  1. Liver Detox: Collard greens are rich in glucosinolates, which cleanse cells of toxins and gradually purify the body over time.
  2. Vitamins and Minerals: Rich in vitamins A, C, K, and B-6 as well as iron, magnesium, and calcium, collard greens offer your body the building blocks to do everything from producing hemoglobin in your red blood cells, to boosting the immune system, to improving skin health.
  3. Fiber: High in both water content and fiber, collard greens are very beneficial to your gut in “keeping regular.” Fiber not only cleans out your lower intestine but also slows down your liver’s processing of sugars, lowering the chance that sugar will be converted to fat. Fiber also lowers cholesterol levels and may even have associations with bolstering mental health.

In South Carolina, it’s standard to purchase collard greens in giant bunches, too large to fit in the average grocery bag. Most folks cut the tough rib out of the center of the leaf, chop the greens into forkable chunks and stew them in a deliciously seasoned liquid. Here is a recipe for classic Southern Collard Greens from Grandbaby Cakes.

The Recipe

Collards aren’t all this dish has to offer. From the healing punch of warming spices to the healthy protein contributed by the chickpeas and lentils, this soup will have you going back for another bowl.

First, I prepped all of the ingredients. I thawed my homemade stock…diced the onion…soaked the red lentils…peeled and chopped the ginger and garlic…washed and cut the collards….etc. It was my day off and I had all day to make magical soup, as far as I was concerned. A mini “vacation,” if you will.

(If you are looking for other ways to use up your gorgeous red lentils, check out this recipe for dal from one of my previous posts!)

Once the ingredients were prepped, it became a matter of bringing out the best in all of them. Sauteeing the onions until translucent, just cooking through the ginger and garlic, caramelizing the tomato paste and blooming the spices, stewing the tomato and collards…then adding the beans and stock to simmer until everything married together.

Serve yourself a bowl, add a healthy amount of fresh herbs on top, and you’ve got yourself a wellness boost:

Bet you can’t eat just one bowl.

Nik Sharma's Spicy Collard Greens and Legume Soup

Nik Sharma
This collard-packed soup is doubled down on legume-y goodness with both red lentils and chickpeas. With warming spices and brightness from fresh tomato and tamarind, this vegetable stew will leave you both refreshed and comforted!
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course dinner, Main Course, vegan, Vegetarian
Cuisine Comfort Food, Intuitive
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • heavy bottomed dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric powder
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 7 oz collard greens, rinsed, midribs removed, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 quart low-sodium vegetable stock, or chicken stock
  • 1 Tbs tamarind paste
  • salt, to taste
  • chopped parsley, to taste
  • chopped cilantro, to taste

Instructions
 

  • First, rinse your lentils in a fine mesh colander and pick out any impurities. Cover lentils in a bowl with 1 cup of water and let soak for 30 minutes.
  • While the lentils are cooking, peel and dice the onion, garlic, ginger, and tomato and set aside. Remove the midribs from the rinsed collards and roughly chop.
  • Heat oil in the bottom of a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sautee for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add ginger and garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add cinnamon stick, pepper, chili, and turmeric followed by the tomato paste and cook 2-3 minutes.
  • Drop in the diced tomato and collard greens and stir until the leaves are bright green and begin to wilt, about 1 minute. Drain the soaked lentils and add to the pot along with chickpeas and stock.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still retain their shape. Season to taste with salt.
  • Garnish with freshly chopped herbs and serve immediately.
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Everything But The Kitchen Sink Baked Mac & Cheese

Some people say “I love you” with cards and flowers. Others do it with mac and cheese.

Here in the South, baked mac and cheese seems to be a dietary requirement; it’s on nearly every menu that in any way boasts a connection to “soul food” and can be found both as dressed up rotini with a fancy cheese sauce made from gruyere AND unfussy elbows tossed in a Velveeta solution. One thing all of these versions have in common is their unequivocal deliciousness…one doesn’t even mind that with each forkful their arteries are clogging and, with each second helping they are solidifying a pending commitment at the gym. Sometimes, the heart just wants cheesy carbs and, being a heart-leading individual, I find this echo of longing hard to stave off for more than a week or two.

If you are reading this, chances are you too enjoy a sinfully large heap of steaming, cheese-coated noodles from time to time. I won’t bother you with the nutrition facts of today’s recipe, as sometimes it truly is better not to know.

What I will say is, it is really hard to have a bad day when you’re eating bacon, cheese, hamburger meat, and spiced breadcrumbs all in one bite. Believe me. I tried. And I wasn’t even mad to eat this as dinner for several days in a row…or lunch, for that matter. Mac and cheese is just kind of magical that way.

If you have children or are trying to pinch pennies, this recipe is especially for you. Each serving is incredibly filling and offers a significant amount of protein, and definitely has enough, erm, caloric value to keep even your most athletic family member going from lunch until dinner. Add a vegetable and a salad to your plate and you’ve got a “balanced” meal! (If you’re feeling particularly virtuous, throw some chopped cauliflower into your pasta water in the last few minutes before al dente and mix in with the ground beef and cheese sauce…but let’s just say this dish has no intentions of claiming to be “healthy”…)

Mac and Cheese Facts

  • Thomas Jefferson’s black chef, James Hemmings, is the first known person to cook mac and cheese in America.
  • Cheese dates back around 10,000 years and was originally made as a way to preserve farm fresh milk.
  • The first cheese factory opened in the United States in 1851, which caused cheddar cheese to be one of the first foods affected by the Industrial Revolution.
  • Velveeta cheese has over 22 ingredients and is no longer regulated as a cheese.
  • Kraft mac and cheese was originally created in order to provide the cheapest protein to American families possible.
  • The recipe for macaroni and cheese likely originated from Northern Europe, though the first record of a recognizable recipe dates back to 1769.

For more on mac and cheese, check out this article from the Smithsonian.

Good lord, it looks like nearly equal parts cheese and pasta…oh well. Who’s complaining about this? I ask the reader! Bacon and lean hamburger meat make delightful additions to the bubbling, cheesy pasta, which, as you can see here, consisted of two different pasta shapes I was trying to get rid of. This is a comfort food, not a gastronomic masterpiece, after all.

I cooked the bacon slices then snipped into bits using kitchen shears, then browned the beef in the bacon fat, which I reserved when the meat was done. Featured next to these two plates is a bowl full of panko breadcrumbs, seasoned with oregano, garlic salt, onion salt, and paprika.

What we have here is cheesy, meaty noodles. 🙂 I made a simple roux using the reserved bacon/beef fat and butter, then added milk and grated cheese. In go the cooked noodles and ground beef, then bacon bits, breadcrumbs, and a sprinkling of grated parmesan for good measure. Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes or until the breadcrumbs are beginning to brown. Broil on hi for a few minutes if you want it extra crispy.

Add something green to your plate to pretend you are a grown up and enjoy the fruits of your labor; now pull out your colander and get ready to make mac and cheese! 🙂

Everything But The Kitchen Sink Baked Mac & Cheese

Cheesy noodles nestled with bacon and ground beef are topped with crispy, spiced breadcrumbs for comfort food perfection!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Total Time 55 mins
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Comfort Food, Southern Cooking

Equipment

  • Dutch oven

Ingredients
  

  • 3-4 pieces thick cut bacon, cooked, chopped, and with rendered fat reserved
  • 1 16 oz package of ground beef, lean is ok
  • 1 1/2 cups panko, unseasoned
  • 1 tsp paprika, smoked or unsmoked
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning (or substitute equal parts dried oregano and parsley)
  • 3/4 tsp garlic salt
  • 3/4 tsp onion salt
  • freshly cracked pepper, to taste
  • sea salt, to taste
  • 16 oz pasta, shape of your choice--rotini is great for maximum sauciness
  • 4 Tbs butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups grated cheese, tightly packed (cheddar is classic but feel free to sub gruyere or gouda)
  • 1 cup grated parmesan

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • In a large pan over medium-high heat, cook bacon until cooked but not quite crispy. Snip into 1/4" strips or roughly chop and set aside.
  • In the same skillet used to cook the bacon, brown the ground beef over medium heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove beef and drain on a plate covered in paper towels. Pour any remaining fat from the pan into a dish to use later. You should have about 1 tablespoon.
  • Mix breadcrumbs and spices in a small bowl and set aside.
  • Bring a pot of heavily salted water to boil on the stove. Meanwhile, grate the cheese. Boil pasta until just cooked, 8-12 minutes depending on the shape. Drain in a colander over the sink. If you are worried about the pasta sticking into one mass while you make the roux, reserve enough cooking water to keep the pasta wet while you prepare the cheese sauce. Pasta cooking water contains starch which prevents the pasta from sticking together.
  • In a medium-sized dutch oven, heat butter and reserved bacon fat over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, turn heat down to low and add flour, whisking until incorporated. Cook the flour over low heat until it foams and turns a golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  • Slowly add milk, whisking continuously, until fully incorporated. It may seem liquidy at first; add the grated cheddar (or alternative) cheese and whisk until the cheese has fully melted.
  • Add cooked ground beef and drained pasta to the dutch oven and stir until fully incorporated.
  • Dress the top of the mixture with the cooked bacon bits. Sprinkle the spiced bread crumbs over the top of the pasta until fully covered. Add an even layer of parmesan over the top and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. If you desire crispier breadcrumbs, broil over high heat for several minutes. Serve immediately!
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One Pot Creamy Coconut Collards

Sometimes, you move across the country and have to coast on very limited funds until your first paycheck.

Sometimes, you have to shop at the grocery store with your brain instead of your heart (isn’t that a lucky thing, to be able to say “sometimes” about that?) and choose cheap and abundant over exoticism or quality.

Sometimes, this is a great challenge. Other times, it is a great challenge. Am I being clear?

So when I went to the grocery store wondering how I was going to pick up sustenance for the next month or so while my finances slowly regulate, I had to choose my purchases very carefully.

Already blessed with an abundance of spices, grains, flours, condiments, and dried beans, I chose several things very deliberately such as a can of full fat coconut milk, chicken thighs, and a laughably large bundle of fresh collard greens. (The leaves leapt out of the bag towards my elbow during the way to the car and would not fit in the vegetable drawer in the fridge when I got home, point blank.)

This recipe came together beautifully after a full day at work. Best of all, it all gets thrown into one pot.

I started by flavoring the broth I used to cook the rice.

big hunks of ginger, lemongrass, smashed garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes flavored this turkey broth, but any mild broth works great too

After this simmered gently for a few moments, in goes the rice, then chicken, coconut milk, soy sauce, sweet chili paste, and mirin.

if it bothers you to have large, inedible chunks of lemongrass in your rice, feel free to strain them out before adding rice and chicken to your hot broth. i find these chunks continue to season any leftovers you may have as they sit together in the fridge and make for an even better meal the next day.

In go chopped collards…

cover with a lid, stir, cover, and wait until chicken reads at least 155°F on a thermometer

One dirty pot later, is dinner!

just what i wanted after a long day

Creamy Coconut Collard Greens (A One Pot Dinner)

Coconut milk, rice, chicken thighs, and collards come together for this delicious one pot meal.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 55 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Healthy, Intuitive
Servings 2 people

Ingredients
  

  • 2 1/4 cups chicken broth, or other mild broth
  • 1 inch ginger root, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 lemongrass stalk, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1 Tbs low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 Tbs sweet chili jelly
  • 1 tsp mirin
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup jasmine white rice
  • 1 14 oz full-fat can of coconut milk
  • 2 bone-in chicken thighs, skinless
  • salt (to taste)
  • 1 small bunch collard greens (or 1/2 of a large bunch)

Instructions
 

  • Combine broth, ginger, lemongrass, lime juice, soy sauce, mirin, red pepper flakes, and sweet chili jelly in a large, heavy bottomed saucepot with a lid and stir. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the ginger and lemongrass release their odor and chili flakes begin to bleed color into the broth.
  • While the broth is developing flavor, salt both sides of the chicken thighs with a pinch or two of salt each. If desired, strain flavored broth using a collander into a large bowl to remove chunks of lemongrass and ginger, then pour broth back into the warm saucepot.
  • Add rice, chicken thighs, and coconut milk, taking care to scrape coconut fat in with the rest of the can. Stir to combine, then cover with a lid. Cook 10 minutes over medium heat.
  • Meanwhile, remove the stalks of the collard greens and roughly chop them into approximately 1" thick pieces. Add chopped collards and cover. Cook another 20 minutes or so, until rice is al dente and chicken thighs register at least 155°F on a thermometer. Serve immediately. Keeps well in the fridge for up to one week.

Southern Key Lime Pie

After wandering through an antiques store in Little Mountain, South Carolina, I managed to emerge with only three vintage cookbooks. This, truth be told, was nothing short of a miracle. As it turns out, there are a lot of antique cookbooks to be had here, which, as a newcomer, I found terribly hard to resist.

I leafed through the recipes hungrily, looking for different culinary influences in the ingredients which might have contributed in some way to southern cooking’s unique charm. I suspected to encounter a lot of butter and refined sugar–and it’s true, those ingredients were star players on many of the pages–but I was excited to see ingredients more on the “earthy” side, like turnips, greens, root vegetables, and grains.

Colonialist ingredients clearly do not stand on their own, in this cuisine: the more “rooted” ingredients add a lot of richness to a well-rounded palate, much fuller than the myopic view fast food chains would lead us to believe.

When I saw a tantalizingly simple recipe for key lime pie, I figured I’d best give it a shot. I’m trying to pinch my pennies right now, after all. The South is a pretty good place to do this; plus, freshly made key lime pie makes it easy to forget one is doing so.

here are most of the gathered ingredients (note: i did not end up using all of the limes)

This was a great excuse to break in my new food processor, besides…blitzing the sleeve of graham crackers was delightfully easy, and made perfectly uniform pieces.

pulverized graham crackers, salt, and quality butter baked for 7 minutes and smelled divine

This recipe was dead simple. Only a handful of ingredients, and just a few steps. The hardest part was waiting for the pie to chill…

I managed to let this simple beauty chill overnight, no small feat

Because you need whipped cream on a key lime pie, I added a few finishing touches, and…voila! Will definitely be eating this for breakfast until it’s gone…

Southern Key Lime Pie

This recipe based off of a vintage Southern Living cookbook, as simple as it is sweet!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 7 mins
Chill Time 2 hrs
Total Time 2 hrs 22 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine Southern Cooking
Servings 12

Ingredients
  

Crust

  • 1 sleeve graham crackers
  • 6 Tbs butter melted
  • 1 pinch finely ground salt

Filling

  • 2 14 oz cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Blitz graham crackers in a food processor or blender until they are uniform in texture and size. Add melted butter and salt and combine until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
  • Press graham cracker mixture into a 9-inch pie dish until it is evenly dispersed in a thin layer across the bottom and up the sides.
  • Bake for 7 minutes, or until the tops of the crust are golden brown and releasing a pleasant aroma. Cool at least 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, beat sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and freshly squeezed lime juice in a medium bowl with a whisk until combined. Pour the mixture into the cooled pie crust. Zest fresh lime peel evenly over the top of the custard mixture, and chill at least two hours.
  • Before serving, whip cream and powdered sugar in a deep bowl and beat with an electric mixer. Using either a piping bag or a spoon, place 12 dollops of cream around the edges of the surface of the pie in a circle, then one dollop for the middle. If desired, zest more lime peel over the top. Serve immediately.
Keyword classic, dessert, key lime, key lime pie, simple recipe, southern cooking, southern cuisine, southern food, whipped cream

South Carolina Shrimp and Grits

Within the first week of arriving in the South, I made it a priority to track down a hot serving of shrimp and grits. Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard to find a place producing this southern classic.

I was amazed by the flavor such simple ingredients can pack; it’s safe to say I’ve never tasted anything like it, having rarely encountered southern cuisine in my daily life until recently.

When I saw locally-sourced blue corn grits, I felt inspired to give this dish the old college try. I purchased my first ever container of Cajun seasoning (made in Louisiana!) and prepped my ingredients as I let my thoughts wander backwards to what it was that made that first forkful taste so…significant. Perhaps a splash of cream over the top added to the sweetness of the moment?

blue grits from the congaree milling company

There’s no shortage of dairy and salt in this take on the classic. Go easy on the Cajun seasoning if you are sensitive to spice. Don’t skip the bay leaves. Cut your peppers and onion uniformly. And remember: relax! Southern cooking and stress do not go well together (don’t ask me how I know !)

Best served immediately. A spicy red wine would be a divine compliment to this dish.

South Carolina Shrimp and Grits

I added quite a bit of Cajun seasoning because I like my food spicy–however, it's important to taste as you go.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Southern Cooking
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • mandolin
  • Dutch oven
  • Cast iron skilled

Ingredients
  

Grits

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups corn grits stone ground
  • 2 whole bay leaves dried
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7 Tbs unsalted butter cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese grated
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

Meat Sauce

  • 1/2 red bell pepper large
  • 1 jalapeño large
  • 1 white onion small
  • 2 smoked sausages or andouille sausages
  • 5 pieces thick cut bacon
  • 1/2 can light beer
  • 1 tsp Cajun seasoning
  • 1 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • fresh watercress leaves for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Place water, milk, grits, bay leaves, and salt in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and cook, whisking attentively, 30-40 minutes, adding small amounts of water and lowering heat as needed if grits begin to stick to the bottom of the pot. Remove bay leaves, and add butter and parmesan and stir into the grits, tasting for salt. Stir in heavy cream and simmer about 1 more minute, or until the cream is incorporated. Cover until ready to serve.
  • Meanwhile, finely slice red bell pepper, jalapeño, and onion into uniform slices. In a large cast iron pan, sauté bacon over medium high heat until crispy, then drain on paper towels. Add the two sausages to the pan with reserved bacon fat and sear on both sides of the sausage until crisped and browned, about 4 minutes each side. Add sliced vegetables and sear, about 3 minutes. Add beer and Cajun seasoning and stir until vegetables and sausages are coated. Cover and turn heat to medium, leaving undisturbed for 5 minutes. 
  • Remove lid, remove sausages using tongs and place on the same draining plate as the bacon. Add butter and heavy cream to the pan and simmer until sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. While sauce is reducing, snip drained bacon into 1” pieces and add to the pan. As soon as sausages are cool enough to handle, cut each lengthwise, then into half-inch-thick half-moons. Add to the pan and stir.
  • Partition grits into bowls and ladle meat and sauce over the top. Garnish with a pinch of watercress and serve immediately.
Keyword blue corn, Cajun, crumbs, crumbs on crumbs, crumbsoncrumbs, from scratch, grits, homemade, intuitive eater, intuitive eating, shrimp and grits, South Carolina, southern cooking