From the rolling hills and hollows in Appalachia to the flat salt marshes of South Carolina to an urban farm in metro-Atlanta, the South has a strong tradition of good food and generous hospitality. The region is well known for fried chicken, grits, and biscuits, but there are some Southern food-ways that many may find surprising: There have been Chinese Americans living in the Mississippi Delta since the 1800s; at one time more Italians lived in New Orleans than New York City, and an Atlanta suburb is known as the “Seoul of the South.” The South is rich in cultural diversity and the food of the modern global South reflects this.
In Secrets of the Southern Table, chef and award-winning cookbook author Virginia Willis shares a one-of-a-kind collection of classic and new recipes: Pimento Cheese Tomato-Herb Pie, Chicken and Butterbean Paella, West African Chicken Stew, Greek Okra and Tomatoes, Mississippi-Style Char Siu Pork Tenderloin, Brown Butter and Thyme Whole-Grain Cornbread, Catfish Tacos with Avocado Crema, and much more. Along the way, she introduces you to the Southern farmers, purveyors, chefs, and small business owners who are growing and making this extraordinary food. These recipes celebrate the delicious diversity and ever-evolving heritage of Southern cooking.
Tomato-Ginger Green Beans
Serves 4 to 6
Green beans are also known as string beans or snap beans and are traditionally simmered for a long time with a hunk of some kind of pork—bacon, fatback, or hog jowl. My grandfather could eat a mountain of green beans and planted his garden accordingly. My grandmother would cook them in her pressure cooker, which would transform them from a bright green, crisp vegetable into soft-as-silk, army-green vegetable noodles. I remember the safety valve emitting little bursts of steam and the meaty, vegetal aroma that filled the air. There’s always going to be a place in my heart and at my table for those old-fashioned Southern recipes, even as I appreciate the influences on Southern food and cooking from different cuisines and cultures.
Tomatoes are actually a fruit, not a vegetable, and marry particularly well with spicy ginger in this dish. While most ginger is imported, the sandy soil and hot climate of the Southeast is conducive to growing ginger, and a number of farmers are adding both it and turmeric to their crop rotation. And no, it’s not a typo. I’m suggesting ¼ cup chopped ginger in this Southeast Asian-inspired side dish.
1 pound string beans (French-style haricots verts work especially well), stem ends trimmed
1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ cup very finely chopped fresh ginger
1 shallot, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
½ jalapeño, or to taste, seeded and chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set it nearby. Line a plate with paper towels.
- Add the beans to the boiling water and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well in a colander and then set the colander with the beans in the ice-water bath to set the colour and stop the cooking, making sure the beans are submerged. Once chilled, transfer the beans to the prepared plate. Pat dry with paper towels and then transfer to a bowl.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the tomatoes and jalapeño and cook until warmed through 5 minutes.
- Add the cooked green beans and toss to coat and combine. Cook, tossing and stirring until the green beans are heated through 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cilantro; taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. This dish is delicious served hot, warm, room temperature, or cold. If served cold, make sure to taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper, as chilling a dish dulls the seasoning.
TOMATO-GINGER GREEN BEANS is excerpted from SECRETS OF THE SOUTHERN TABLE © 2018 by Virginia Willis. Photographs © 2018 by Angie Mosier. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.