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Healthy Versions of Tasty Southern Dishes

Southern cooking gets a bad rap, but it’s not all fried, greasy foods. We’ve got the healthy recipes to prove it.

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February 22nd, 2012

What you call a trend, they call tradition.

Southerners eat local foods as a way of life, not because it’s trendy. “Where I live in Mississippi, we are locavores because we live in the middle of nowhere, not because of a fad,” she says. If you don’t grow it yourself, you’re limited to the veggies available on a truck or stand by the side of road.

Not everything is deep fried.

While Foose often travels to teach a popular cooking class she calls Fear of Frying, there’s not as much deep-frying going on at home as you’d think. “People eating a lot of fried stuff are probably going out,” Foose says. “Southern home cooking being all fried is not really accurate for these reasons: It’s a pain to deal with the grease and frying smells up your house.”

Mac ‘n’ cheese is not the only “vegetable.”

Most Southern dinner tables are laden with vegetables, such as boiled or pickled okra and in particular, marinated cucumber salad with onions, according to Foose. “We eat a lot of Jerusalem artichokes and pole beans,” she says. “It’s much more common in the summer, but we eat a lot of root vegetables and baked sweet potatoes in winter.” And legumes are often on the menu, including red beans and rice, pigeon peas and soybeans, which Foose’s cousin grows on his nearby farm.

RECIPE: Healthy Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Meat doesn’t have to be fatty and greasy.

“I have a Prawns in Dirty Rice recipe and when I make at it at home, I use turkey sausage instead of pork,” she says. “Little changes have a big impact. We eat a lot of venison, which is very lean. Farm-raised ducks are fatty, but not wild ones—we eat a lot of quail and ducks.”

Courtesy of Random House
A Southerly Course

Healthier changes are underway.

Foose notes that some local restaurants, such as the roadside lunch place Miss Pat’s, which has several customers with diabetes, are making healthier swaps in subtle ways. “[The owner of Miss Pat’s] doesn’t say ‘This is a healthy option,’ but she uses smoked turkey wings in her greens instead of a ham hock,” says Foose. “And for dessert, she’s making a lot more cobblers with fruit than she used to do. There are subtle changes that don’t get recognized.”

Foose also mentions a recipe dilemma that came up when she was food stylist for the movie “The Help,” which was set in 1962. For the bridge luncheon scene, Foose wanted to surround plates of tomato aspic with fresh steamed asparagus. “But I realized I didn’t see that until I was in high school,” she says. “You saw canned asparagus and were right proud of that, too. So a lot of positive things have happened in Southern food in the past 20 years.”

MORE: Emma Stone Talks Inner Beauty in "The Help”

Hankering for a taste of the South? Try these healthy recipes from Foose’s "A Southerly Course: Recipes and Stories from Close to Home."

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