Growing up in Illinois, I couldn’t wait to move somewhere where harsh winters would be a distant memory. After college, I decided Florida would be that place. When you think of Florida, you may think of palm trees and theme parks. Well, I didn’t pick that part of Florida. I ended up in a sleepy town just shy of the Alabama line in the very northwest tip of the Panhandle of Florida. Since recently returning to Chicago, one thing I've found I miss is the Southern food. Being in the Deep South and so close to New Orleans, I was always able to get my southern and bayou favorites whenever I wanted.
Fortunately, I work at a cooking school where my coworkers are constantly cooking up delicious food. One of my favorite dishes, Fried Green Tomatoes, was recently featured right here in our blog, so that solved one part of my problem. I can now make them at home!
Another of my favorite Southern foods I make at home is fried okra. It may seem intimidating to prepare fried food at home, but it is actually really simple. You just need okra, cornmeal, grapeseed oil and an egg to make this dish.
First, cut your okra into ½-inch pieces, crack the egg in a small bowl and put the breading in a bowl. Beat the egg in the bowl to mix it thoroughly. Put a little over ½ inch of grapeseed oil (I like the Vilux we carry at The Chopping Block) in a large cast iron skillet and begin heating.
The oil is ready when you add one drop of water and the oil pops. Be sure not to overheat the oil as it will begin to smoke. Dip the okra pieces in the egg, and then roll in the breading. Put the okra into the pan and cook until the outside is a deep golden brown. This step takes very little time, so you can easily overcook it. I usually cook the okra in several batches to prevent burning. Be sure to salt the okra while it's still hot.
While you have all of these ingredients out, you can also use the same supplies and oil to make some fried chicken livers, another personal favorite of mine. Batter and fry the exact same way you do the okra, but you will need to flip them halfway through cooking (about two minutes a side).
Another one of my Southern favorites is sweet tea. This is really easy to make and actually very hard to find in Chicago. I have a large glass container that I put my tea in. I don’t like plastic as I am concerned the boiling water may leech plastics into the tea.
Heat the water in a tea kettle. While the water is heating, put the amount of sugar you desire on the bottom of the jug. That way when you pour the hot water over it, the sugar will dissolve. Immediately after pouring your hot water into the jug and onto the sugar, add four standard black tea bags. My preferences are Lipton and Luzianne. I keep the bags in there for about 20 minutes and then remove them. Allow to cool completely on the counter before putting in the fridge. Otherwise, there's a chance your glass container could break and you'll have sticky tea all over your fridge.
If you are not in the mood to cook, there are several excellent Chicago restaurants serving good Southern style food. I have heard rave reviews about Luella’s Southern Kitchen on Lincoln Avenue, Lillie Q’s in Bucktown and if you are in the mood for Southern-style BBQ, I highly recommend Smoque on Pulaski Road.
The Chopping Block also offers cooking classes for Southern recipes and New Orleans' favorite food. Here are just some of our upcoming offerings:
Having tasted some of the food made in these classes, it's as good as anything I had while living down South so give them a try!