These traditional southern comfort sides are uncomplicated, delicious

Susan S. Johnson
Joshua Dineen

Joshua Dineen

When I first started really cooking, I was obsessed with all the “fancy” dishes. The more complex the recipe, the greater the joy I felt. During culinary school, and on my travels, I only wanted to think about food concepts that required complex cooking techniques and rare ingredients. At one point in my journey, it was nothing to eat a spoonful of caviar or a bit of foie gras, as though it was a casual exercise in consuming calories.

My wife and I married during this time. I had already lived and worked on both coasts, experiencing and cooking some of the most amazing foods I thought the world had to offer. We were young and in love, and I wanted to show off my culinary skills cooking for her in our first home. I would make these fabulous dishes that we would enjoy. But eventually, she started craving comfort foods that she grew up eating.

I remember the first time I made a Sunday roast for her. It was rich and complex; I was so proud. She was not impressed. “Can you cook regular food? It’s great, but it’s too complicated.”

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At first, I thought I could just create these traditional dishes. I was wrong. Though they tasted good, they didn’t have the satisfaction of traditional comfort foods. I really struggled with this.

This was one of the epiphanies of my life. I remembered my grandmothers. In my journey for knowledge, I had lost perspective on how amazing their food was. It wasn’t complicated, and it was delicious.

I made a point to cook with my grandmothers. I watched them and silently appreciated their abilities in the kitchen. I hope they both know how much my respect for them grew beyond the already immeasurable amounts. They didn’t care about the intricate science. They just knew how to make delicious foods that families gathered for.

I spent the next many years learning about comfort foods. At one point, I began to feel confident about this concept of cooking, and holidays were all the better for this bounty of tasty dishes.

For my wife’s milestone birthday, we drove south for a couple of weeks. It was at this point that I realized I had missed something. This would be another major epiphany in my love of cooking. I had not considered comfort foods in their entirety. Everyone had their own comfort foods, often inspired by dishes grandmothers cooked. This was a basis for kindness and sharing. Being thankful and hopeful is universal, and the hospitality we experienced on our trip was just as wonderful as the food.

I came home from this trip and did a deep dive into southern foods. Eventually this led to comfort foods of the world that bring families and communities together. As much as the main dish can be exciting, I found that all the wonderful side dishes are what everyone really looked forward to.

Here are a couple of my family’s favorite side dishes from my delightful journey through traditional southern cooking.

Baked Mac and Cheese

* 1 pound macaroni

* 1 stick of butter

* 1 teaspoon onion powder

* 1 teaspoon garlic powder

* 1/4 teaspoon paprika

* 1 pound cheddar cheese, shred in a box grater

* 1 pound Monterey jack cheese, shred in a box grater

* 2 cups of milk

* 3 eggs

* salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Cook macaroni according to box directions. Strain. Put in a large bowl with stick of butter.

2. Add onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and shredded cheeses.

3. Taste. If it needs salt and pepper, this is a good time to correct seasoning.

4. Combine milk and eggs. Pour over pasta mixture. Add more milk if needed. Don’t fill dish more than halfway with milk.

5. Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown on top.

6. Take out of oven and let rest.

Braised Greens

* 2 bunches collard greens

* 1 small onion, diced

* 1 celery stalk, diced

* 1/2 bell pepper, diced

* 1 Smoked ham hock, or smoked turkey leg or neck, or smoked pork chop

* 1 teaspoon onion powder

* 1 teaspoon garlic powder

* 1/4 teaspoon paprika

* salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste

Directions

1. Clean the greens. Remove the rib for the center of the leaf.

2. Wash the leaves in cold water.

3. Chop to a bite size piece. Reserve.

4. Cook onion, celery, and bell pepper with a bit of oil until tender.

5. Add meat of your choice.

6. Add cleaned and chopped greens.

7. Add seasonings. Use cayenne only if you want some heat. Be careful.

8. Cover and bring to a simmer.

9. Cook on low until tender. 40- 60 minutes.

10. At this point, you can pull some of the meat off the bones, discard the bones, and fine dice the meat. Add back to the greens.

11. Taste and correct seasoning if needed.

Black Eyed Pea Salad

* 1 can black eyed peas

* 1/4 red onion, fine diced

* 1 stalk celery, fine diced

* 1/2 bell pepper, fine diced

* 1 tablespoon diced pimento

* 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

* 2 tablespoon sugar

* 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

* 1/2 teaspoon onion powder

* 1/8 teaspoon paprika

* salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Rinse and strain black eyed peas.

2. Combine everything.

3. Taste for seasoning. Let rest for at least an hour.

4. Taste for seasoning.

Joshua Dineen is the chef specialist at Lincoln Land Community College.

Want to know more?

Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in culinary arts and hospitality management, certificates in culinary arts and baking/pastry and non-credit community classes through the Culinary Institute.

Information: bit.ly/Culinary_LLCC

Questions? Email [email protected]

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Southern comfort sides are uncomplicated, delicious

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