If you are from the South and do not own a Lee Brothers cookbook, then you’re not really a southern. Perhaps I’m being a bit extreme. And as someone who has lived a third of her life above the Mason-Dixon line, I probably shouldn’t be judging ones southern-ness. But seriously, if you love southern food as much as I do, then you need to familiarize yourself with Matt and Ted.
Like me, the Lee Brothers were born in New York. Also like me, they moved down south as young children, ending up in Charleston, SC, the mecca of low country southern cuisine. Their first cookbook, “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook“, tells the story of falling in love with Charleston through recipes, anecdotes from their childhood and bits of culinary history.
Both brothers moved back to New York for college. In a city that has an Italian, Moroccan, French, Japanese, Chinese, Ethiopian and a Jewish deli on every block, there was just one thing they couldn’t find – boiled peanuts. So, they started making and selling their own. Soon after, they founded the Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue, where they sold artisan southern foods like sorghum syrup and pickled peaches to displaced southerners. Eventually, this led to a career as food and travel journalists, and finally, cookbook authors.
The Lee Bros. hawk legit southern food. No Paula Dean style “let’s-throw-in-another-stick-of-butter-deep-fry-it-and-call-it-southern” recipes here. Many of the recipes have been passed down generation after generation from places all over the south – small family-run farms in Tennessee, bayou-dwellers in Louisiana, Mexican immigrants in Texas, or from another must have southern cookbook, “Charleston Receipts.” In “Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook,” you’ll find recipes for perfect jambalaya, baked country ham, low country boil and of course, boiled peanuts.
What I like most about their recipes is that they aren’t too stuck on finding “The Most Authentic ______.” Just the version they think tastes best. Many of the recipes, like this one, are modernized but inspired by traditional southern foods.
The other thing I love is that they dispel the myth that all southern food is all lard, butter and white flour. Sometimes that’s correct, but the south has it’s roots in agriculture so southern food was traditionally plant-based with very little meat – think collard greens, red beans and rice, pickled veggies. Although you won’t find the Lee Bros. cookbook in the diet section of your bookstore, (not with that four-layer red velvet cake on page 466!), you’ll find many whole food recipes with an emphasis on plants. Cornbread and tomato salad, squash and mushroom hominy, whole roasted fish with sweet potatoes and scallions and pickled okra – all dietitian approved!
This recipe was inspired by the chiles rellenos the Lee brothers enjoyed from a random gas station cantina on Johns Island. =It catered mostly to Mexican farm workers, so the food was authentic. As they point out, southern food and Mexican food have a lot in common – corn, squash, hot peppers, pork and cheese! The pairing of cheese grits and mildly spicy poblanos is perfection!
- 2 cups 2% milk
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup stone-ground grits
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
- ¾ cup coarsely grated cheddar cheese
- 1 14-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes, drained
- 4 large poblano peppers
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
- 2 large cloves of garlic, unpeeled
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar (ditto on above)
- First, make the grits. Bring the milk and water to a boil on medium-high heat in a medium saucepan. When it comes to a boil, slowly pour in the grits and salt while stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring every 2-3 minutes, for a total of about 30-40 minutes until thickened, soft and creamy. Turn off the heat, add the black pepper and cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted into the grits.
- While grits are cooking, preheat the broiler to high. Arrange the peppers, onion and garlic on a large baking sheet. Brush the vegetables lightly with olive oil. Place in the oven about 3 inches from the heating element. Turn the peppers about every 3 minutes until the skins are blistered and well-charred on all sides, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 400 degrees. Transfer the peppers to a large bowl and cover with saran wrap. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, gently rub away the skins. Cut a slit into each pepper and carefully remove the seeds.
- When the tomatoes, onions and garlic are cool enough to handle, transfer to a food processor and puree into a chunky sauce. Season with salt and black pepper.
- Divide the cheese grits evenly between each pepper half. Press the grits into the pepper lightly with your hands or a spoon. Place in a baking sheet and pour the tomato sauce over the peppers.
- Place in the oven and bake at 400 degrees until the sauce is bubbly, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese on top and place under the broiler for about 1-2 minutes until the cheese is browned and melted.