The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Charro Beans

I’ll be honest, I don’t actually know the history of Cinco de Mayo, I just know it’s a perfect excuse for a slap-up Mexican meal, and that is always a good thing.  And there is something so friendly and communal about a Mexican feast.  It’s a great way to gather friends and family, its interactive eating that everyone can enjoy. So for your own celebration, serve up some Smoky Beef Tacos or Green Chicken Chilaquiles, along with a side of Charro Beans.  Start your party off with some Green Chile Cheese Puffs.  And of course, don’t forget the Fresh Citrus Margaritas!

I have found some gorgeous red kidney beans at my local Latin/Asian/Caribbean/Middle Eastern supermarket from Guatemala called Frijol Pilay, but look for any dark burgundy, plump beans. Epazote is a popular dried herb in Mexican cooking, and I have been told that not only does it improve the flavors of beans, it aids in their digestion – and some of the impolite side affects. You’ll find it in the herb and spice section of Latin markets, but I pick it up at Penzey’s.  Mexican oregano has a more distinct flavor than standard (usually Turkish) oregano and is worth having around if you cook a lot of Latin dishes. My favorite restautant charro beans come with diced pieces of jalapeno floating in the broth, but I prefer a halved, cleaned pepper in to flavor the cooking liquid, instead of biting into pieces.  Do what you like, and add another pepper if you like it spicy.

Mexican chorizo is a soft, well-seasoned sausage (Spanish chorizo is hard and dry).  I buy freshly prepared at the Latin market, but it is readily available at many grocery stores.  It can range from mild to spicy, and if it’s labeled, choose mild so you can monitor your own flavor level.

Charro Beans

3 cups dried red kidney beans

1 small onion, diced

1 teaspoon epazote (optional)

1 teaspoon Mexican oregano

1 jalapeno pepper, stem, seeds and ribs removed

5 cloves garlic

Handful cilantro (stems and leaves)

1 pound fresh Mexican chorizo, casings removed if necessary

6 strips bacon, cut into small pieces

Sort through the beans and pick out any that are shriveled or imperfect.  Soak the dried beans in 6 cups of water, uncovered, overnight. The next day, drain the beans, rinse well and place in the crock of a large slow-cooker.  Add 6 cups of water, the diced onion, epazote, oregano, jalapeno pepper and garlic cloves and stir well.  Cover the crock and turn the pot to high, 6 hour setting.

When the beans are halfway cooked (3 hours), sauté the chorizo until brown, breaking it up into small pieces.  Remove to a heavy layer of paper towels on a plate to drain using a slotted spoon.  Drain off the oil, then sauté the bacon pieces until crispy.  Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain.  Pat the chorizo to remove as much grease as possible.  With a good chorizo, it will be bright red, so try not to stain your clothes.  Add the chorizo and bacon to the beans in the slow cooker, stir, replace the cover and continue cooking until the beans are tender.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can cook the soaked beans in a large Dutch oven over low-heat for 2 – 3 hours until tender.  Check the beans occasionally and stir to prevent scorching on the bottom, adding water as needed.

Serves 8- 10

Boiled Peanuts

This week, the farmers market was looking a little forlorn as summer moves into fall.  The tomatoes and beans are fading, but the winter squash and pumpkins aren’t quite in yet.  But I did find a nice treat at one of the stalls.  Raw peanuts.  Nice, big fat ones just waiting to be boiled up.  A big ol’ batch of goobers.

Boiled Peanuts are a love-or-hate kind of thing.  They are not crunchy like roasted peanuts, but soft and wet.  Some people just can’t get into the texture, and the fact that sometimes a little juice might squirt out when you open them up. Generally, you find someone selling boiled peanuts on the side of the road, or at a country gas station.  I myself had never considered boiling my own peanuts until I overheard a conversation about boiling them in the slow-cooker.  So I had to try. It works, it’s easy, and it’s a great treat when I find raw peanuts.  Pull out a brown paper bag of goobers at a party, and a conversation about the merits or drawbacks is sure to ensue. I like my goobers with plenty of Creole seasoning and salt, but you could use just salt or any flavor combo you like. 

Boiled Peanuts

I find raw peanuts, also called green peanuts, sometimes at farmers markets, but most often at Asian grocery stores.  They are peanuts in the shell that have not been roasted.  You can make as many peanuts as you want.

1 pound raw peanuts

5 cups water

2 Tablespoons Creole seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)

2 Tablespoons salt

Place the peanuts and the water in a slow cooker and stir in the seasonings.  Cook on low for 10 hours, turn off the slow cooker and leave the peanuts in the seasoned water for another 10 – 12 hours.  Drain the peanuts and enjoy!

Boiled peanuts will keep covered for up to three days, but the drained peanuts can be frozen for up to two months.  Reheat the peanuts in salted water to thaw.