Coast Cooking

‘Soul Food isn’t anything other than good country cooking,’ says Nana J

Cornbread and collard greens are delicious and healthy.
Cornbread and collard greens are delicious and healthy. Special to the Sun Herald

Although many cultures influenced the Southern food tradition, the heart of this cuisine is what has become known as soul food.

Black eyed peas, cornbread, collard greens and sweet potatoes were the foods of poor folks who worked the farms of the wealthy or were tenant farmers.

Their lot was about simple and it is the way my father grew up in the Mississippi Delta, just outside of Tutwiler. Hard as life was, good food, and in some quantity, was essential.

Most often soul food is found in the home kitchen, but there are a few exceptions. One of my favorite local examples is Nana J’s in Ocean Springs.

I visited Nana J’s recently and talked to owner, Karen Newkirk. I asked her to define Soul Food and she said, “Soul Food isn’t anything other than good country cooking.”

I couldn’t agree more. Its good country cooking that is made by someone with a passion for cooking and feeding family and friends.

Here are a few simple recipes that might get you started.

Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is not of Southern origins, but we have made it our own. I can hardly imagine a Southern table loaded for Sunday supper without it being served.

4 cups cooked and drained elbow macaroni (consider using a different pasta shape)

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon sour cream

2 cups grated yellow cheddar cheese

1/3 cup cream cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

1/4 cup milk

Make sure the pasta is still hot! Combine the ingredients, use a double boiler if you like, mix well over medium low heat until creamy and hot. Season to taste.

Fried Catfish

Please use the best quality catfish you can find, certainly Mississippi raised. Simmons from the Mississippi Delta is much preferred.

1-2 catfish filet per person

2 cups milk

1 cup yellow corn meal

¼ cup flour

2-3 pinches salt and an equal amount of black pepper

Oil for frying

Place the catfish in the milk and allow to stand while you get everything else together. Fill a thick bottom pot only half way with oil. Heat to 360 f. Combine the dry ingredients, and seasonings. Toss the catfish in the dry mix, shake off excess, and deep fry until golden brown. Make sure to fry in small batches. Serve with coleslaw and French fries.