Dozens of Southern food cookbooks have been published in the last 20 years as the culinary traditions of the American South have migrated around the country. There isn’t a big city in the U.S. where chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and banana pudding can’t be found.
Chef Deborah VanTrece of Atlanta’s Sweet Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours has managed to bring something new to the table with The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food with Global Flavors. Her world travels imbue familiar recipes and each page drips with flavor mashups. A grilled T-bone steak is draped with green tomato chimichurri, marrying the iconic Southern tomato with the uncooked Argentinian herb sauce. The Italian rice balls called Arancini are stuffed with a whole oyster before frying. And how about Duck Schnitzel with Sweet Potato Waffles? The schnitzel is likely a nod to the chef’s time living in Europe and elsewhere as an American Airlines flight attendant.
The word “soul” in the title reminds us of the dueling descriptions of Southern food and brings us back to its roots in the kitchens of black cooks and families. Many Southern culinary traditions that originated with enslaved people cooking in plantation kitchens are now iconic and revered, if not always credited correctly.
In the forward of the cookbook, VanTrece writes about her search for commonalities in food rather than differences. The Twisted Soul Cookbook is a delightful manifestation of this. Noah Fecks’ photography captures VanTrece’s love affair with food in all its global glory (a photo with every recipe!) and the pictures of the chef herself exude energy. If they don’t inspire you to head to the kitchen, they night encourage a trip to the chef’s Atlanta restaurant.
The main dish recipes run the gamut from weekend warrior fare (Candied Duck Wings with Apple-Cranberry Mostarda) to fast weeknight ideas (Arrabbiata Spaghetti with Bacon). If you can wait three weeks, tackle the Duck Prosciutto. There are recipes for salads, side, desserts and condiments, too.
Grandma Lue’s Spinach Rice is a cheesy take on spinach and artichoke dip. I like it for its versatility as a side dish or appetizer that can be served with sturdy dippers. If serving as a dip, consider baking in two smaller baking dishes that can go from oven to table for serving. Keep one for yourself and take one to the potluck with sturdy vegetables dippers and crispy crostini. You’ll be the star.
Grandma Lue’s Spinach Rice
- 3 cups cooked white rice, chilled
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
- ½ cup chopped celery
- ½ cup red bell pepper
- 1 cup chopped red onion
- 4 lbs fresh baby spinach, washed and trimmed
- 1 cup chopped marinated artichokes
- 12 oz cream cheese, room temperature
- ½ cup sour cream
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Generously grease a deep casserole or 9 by 13-inch baking pan.
- In a large bowl, stir together the cold rice and beaten eggs.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the celery, peppers, onions and spinach and cook, stirring occasionally for 2 to 3 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the spinach is wilted.
- Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the artichokes, cream cheese, sour cream, Parmesan and garlic. Cool for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cream cheese has melted and all of the ingredients are well combined.
- Add the spinach-cheese mixture to the rice. With a wooden spoon, stir in the black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and salt.
- Spoon into prepared baking dish, and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.