Unpacking a Southern treasure

Published 1:11 am Wednesday, May 28, 2008

With all the trouble that comes with moving — changing addresses, locating enough boxes — it’s nice to find something positive. I managed to throw away some things that were long past being needed, even though my kids said I didn’t get rid of nearly enough stuff. I also found a cookbook that I had recently borrowed from a friend and hadn’t had the time to stop and read. I packed it in a box and made a mental to note to browse through it and get it returned.

Luckily for her and me, I unpacked it this weekend and got a chance to go through it. And I can tell you that I can’t wait to get one for myself. It’s called “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook” by Matt Lee and Ted Lee. These two young men started life in New York City but moved to Charleston, S.C., when they were pre-teens. It didn’t take them anytime at all to acclimate to the South’s cuisine.

Now the brothers split their time between New York and Charleston and are the proprietors of the Lee Bros. Boiled Peanut Catalogue.

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Out of curiosity, I Googled the catalog and was instantly a fan — homemade pickled peaches, pear chutney, stone ground grits and more. I’ve already placed an order for the Carolina Gold rice. This is the rice that was originally grown in the Carolinas and had been considered extinct. Grains were traced down in a Texas seed bank and repropagated. The rice is now grown in small plots in Arkansas. They also sell boiled peanuts but I’ve got Grandpa Bobby who handles that for us.

This first recipe from their book I loved. If you’ve spent much time in the Eastern Georgia or the Carolinas you have probably had red rice. At its best the rice is cooked with tomatoes and chicken broth as this one is, at its worse, well, let’s just stick with the best way. I’m giving you the recipe as it is in their book, but next time I make it I will leave out the red pepper flakes.

Red Rice

2 slices thick-cut bacon cut into a small dice

1 large yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 1/2 cups long grain rice

2 to 2 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 28-ounce can whole Italian tomatoes, drained

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, fry the bacon until firm and barely crisp, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer to a small bowl and reserve. Sauté the onion and garlic in the bacon fat until softened, about f minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant and slightly translucent. Add 2 cups broth and turn off the heat. In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatoes. Stir in the red pepper, paprika, salt and pepper, and pour into the skillet. Stir to combine the ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer vigorously until the rice is tender but soupy, about 20 minutes. Add more broth 1 tablespoon at a time if the rice is not soupy. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake on the middle rack for 25 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Serve the rice with the reserved bacon for garnish.

Christina Hall writes a weekly column for The Democrat. She can be reached at christina.hall@natchezdemocrat.com.