Down Home Cookin’

March in Georgia is unpredictable, but we know two things – the month will start with daffodils and end with dogwoods and azaleas. We might get snow or a heat wave, ice or wind, or (almost certainly) rain. Even when the skies are gloomy, though, we can see spring coming in the quickening green leaves. It’s a nice time to be here at home.

The damp cool spring weather always puts me in the mood for hearty food, like barbeque, collard greens and cornbread, biscuits, and macaroni and “cheese.” I save the cool foods for the warmer weather ahead. Right now I still want comfort food.

Making seitan (wheat gluten) used to be an all-day affair. Now that you can buy vital wheat gluten in a powder, seitan production is quick and easy. The hardest part will be trying to decide which barbeque sauce you want to use to flavor it. My family is from the foothills (the Upstate) of South Carolina, so most of the folks I know were raised on red, ketchup-based barbeque. In the Midlands and down into the Low Country, folks are a bit more partial to yellow, mustard-based barbeque sauce. It doesn’t matter whether you coat ‘em red or yellow, though. These Bar-b-que Bites will be chewy and flavorful.

Collards, turnip greens and mustard greens are a natural this time of year. The only problem with collards is that they take too long to prep and they take too long to cook. At least that’s what I always thought until a wonderful old grandmother I used to work with showed me the light. (Thanks, Ida!) See her tips in the recipe below. Making collards her way, we could prep and cook enough for an army every morning, and still have time to make cornbread.

The macaroni and “cheese” recipe is a vegan classic, from the New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook. It’s not as quick and easy as some I’ve tried, but it’s the closest thing to dairy macaroni and cheese I’ve found. It’s a definite stick-to-your-ribs dish!

The biscuit recipe uses 100% whole-wheat pastry flour. As some of you might know, I have had a prejudice against using whole-wheat flour in biscuits because I’ve had so many that were like little rocks, but since I read some more, worked some more on my recipe, and my technique, my whole-wheat biscuits are much lighter. The keys are using whole-wheat pastry flour, a wet dough, and a hot oven. They aren’t going to threaten to float off your plate, but they’re nice and flaky, and are more wholesome than the white-flour ones that I still love. For more recipes (Southern and otherwise) go to my new website at I’m slowly but surely posting all my old Co-options columns there as well. My cornbread recipe is in the “Southern Basics” column from March, 2002.

If you want crave even more Southern recipes, check out Ann Jackson’s Cookin’ Southern Vegetarian Style and Heart of the Home. Her story-telling would make the books worthwhile, even if they weren’t packed with great (mostly vegan) recipes.

Also – don’t miss my cooking class on March 13. We’ll be making candy, including vegan marshmallows. I’m taking requests on what to teach in coming months, so e-mail me and let me know what you’re interested in learning.

Southern Bar-B-Que Bites
These are even better the next day.
Recipe By: adapted by Lisa Bennett from Soul Vegetarian, Ann Jackson, and Ron Pickarski
Serving Size: 6
Preparation Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

1 pound vital wheat gluten powder or flour (about 3 cups)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (optional)
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
2 tablespoons paprika
1 large onion, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
1 cup your favorite barbecue sauce (or more)

In a large bowl, mix vital wheat gluten powder, water, and toasted sesame oil (if using). Mix well with a wooden spoon or your hands. Knead until it comes together as a dough. Knead for 2-3 minutes until it is smooth and elastic.

Add peanut butter, nutritional yeast, and paprika to raw gluten. Mix well by pulling and stretching.

Sauté onions and garlic in canola oil. Add onions, garlic, and hot oil to seasoned gluten. (Hot oil breaks the gluten down and helps seasonings to penetrate.)

Taking care not to burn yourself with the hot oil, continue to mix gluten well by pulling and stretching until consistency is stringy but doesn’t tear apart.

Pull off small pieces of gluten and stretch and shape pieces into bite-sized nuggets.

Place bites on lightly oiled cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until crispy and brown on bottom. Brush bites with barbeque sauce and bake 10 minutes longer.
Alternative: Instead of baking gluten, you can fry bites in a skillet with a little canola oil. Then, pour enough barbeque sauce over the pieces to cover them, and simmer on the stove for 30 minutes, or heat everything up on the stove, then put the contents of the pan (plus a cup of water or two) into a slow cooker (crock pot) and simmer on high for 2-3 hours or on low all day.

Per serving (excluding unknown items): 557 Calories; 23g Fat (35% calories from fat); 67g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 471mg Sodium

Not-Quite-Your-Granny’s Collard Greens
Removing the tough center rib makes these collards quicker to cook and easier to eat!
Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Serving Size: 4
Preparation Time: 1:00

1 bunch collard greens
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons nori flakes (or other seaweed)
umeboshi plum vinegar or hot pepper vinegar, to taste

Soak the collards in cool water. Drain them, taking care to rid them of any clay or sand. Next (I learned this trick from a nice older woman I used to work with): Pull the leaves off the collards one by one. For each leaf, after you remove it from the bunch, grasp the stalk in your weaker hand. Circle the thumb and forefinger of your other (working) hand at the base of the leaf and pull it to the top of the leaf, stripping the leaf off the stalk. Discard the stalks. Stack 5 or 6 leaves together, roll into a long “cigar” shape, then cut across them, cutting the leaves into narrow strips. Cut once or twice across the strips (lengthwise to the leaves) to cut the strips into bite-sized pieces.

Pile the prepared collard greens into a large saucepan, add 2 cups of water, the toasted sesame oil, and the nori flakes. These give the greens a deep, rich flavor. Bring the greens to the boil, cover the pan, then lower the heat. Cook the greens on medium heat for 30 minutes or so (longer if you like, but they’ll be done quickly because you’ve removed the tough center rib). Watch the water – don’t let the greens cook completely dry. Add umeboshi vinegar or hot pepper vinegar at the table to taste, and salt and pepper if you like.
Notes: Rolling the leaves and cutting across them is called “chiffonade” and is often done to smaller herb leaves like basil for garnishes.

You can subsitute mustard or turnip greens, but they don’t need to have their center ribs stripped.

(nutritional analysis unavailable)

Macaroni and “Cheese” Casserole

Recipe adapted from The New Farm Cookbook, by Louise Hagler, 1988
Servings: 5 as a main dish, 8 as a side dish
Preparation Time 35 minutes

3 1/2 cups macaroni (uncooked)
1/2 cup margarine (Earth Balance)
1/2 cup unbleached flour
3 1/2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder (or two cloves fresh, minced)
pinch turmeric
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup nutritional yeast flakes*

Cook macaroni according to directions, leaving it a little al dente. While macaroni cooks, pre-heat oven to 350 F.

In a saucepan, melt the margarine and stir in the flour to form a roux. Cook until smooth and bubbly. Whisk in boiling water, salt, soy sauce, garlic, and turmeric, beating well.

Cook sauce until it thickens and bubbles. Whip in oil and nutritional yeast flakes.

Mix part of the sauce with the noodles and put in casserole dish. Pour a generous amount of sauce on top. Sprinkle top with paprika and bake for 15 minutes. Put under broiler for a few minutes until “cheese” gets stretchy and crisp.
Notes: *don’t confuse brewers yeast with nutritional yeast. Brewers yeast is bitter and very unpleasant tasting, while nutritional yeast has a pleasant nutty or cheesy tang.

Per serving (side dish): 365 Calories; 19g Fat (47% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 797mg Sodium

Light Whole-Wheat “Buttermilk” Biscuits
Make sure you use whole wheat pastry flour, or your biscuits will not be light at all!
Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Servings: 12
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

2 cups soy milk (up to 2 1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup Spectrum Organic shortening

Pre-heat oven to 450 F. Spray a 9X13 pan lightly with pan spray or grease lightly with shortening.

Add vinegar to soymilk and set aside to sour. This is your “buttermilk”.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large mixing bowl.

Cut shortening into flour until it resembles coarse meal with a few pea-sized pieces of shortening remaining. Mix in 2 cups of soured soymilk quickly. Don’t overmix the dough or your biscuits will be tough. Dough should be wet, but still hold its shape when scooped. Add more plain soymilk if necessary. Spoon dough into 12 equal pieces. Quickly shape each by hand into a biscuit, dredging the dough in a bit of extra flour if necessary to hold its shape. (My mother just drops hers from a spoon into the pan and flattens the tops lightly with her hand.) Bake ’til lightly browned, 12 – 15 minutes.

Makes 12 large (“cathead”) biscuits or 24 two-bite hors d’oeuvres-sized ones.
Notes: Placing the biscuits close together will cause them to rise up and will yield tall biscuits with soft sides (classic Southern biscuits). Leaving a little space between them with make them crusty all over and a bit shorter and wider.

This biscuit dough is quite wet. The extra moisture creates steam on the inside of the biscuits after the outside has begun to set from the high heat of the oven. This steam causes the biscuits to rise high and light.

Make sure you use whole wheat *pastry* flour, not bread flour. The pastry flour makes much lighter biscuits because it’s lower in gluten. (see my March 2002 article on Biscuits and Cornbread to understand why this is important.)

Variation: Substitute Earth Balance for Spectrum Organic Shortening for a more “buttery” flavor. Omit salt, as the Earth Balance is quite salty already.

Per serving: 301 Calories; 19g Fat (53% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 259mg Sodium

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