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Southern-style dinner party ideas?

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We are organizing a party where we'll be serving fried chicken (courtesy of a great Ina Garten recipe) and multiple types of pie. I'm trying to fill in the rest of the meal with some lighter options, but am getting a bit stuck. So far I'm also serving sweet potato biscuits and lemonade, but I'd love to get some healthy veggies in there somewhere...thoughts?

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  1. If you can find a healthy way to fry okra -- perhaps breaded and baked? -- that would rock.

    Collards of course, though the addition of bacon fat wouldn't make them too healthy. . .
    Squash is always good, find some sweet recipe but go easy on the fat.
    If you can find great corn on the cob (I haven't yet) go for that.
    Green beans seem like they would go well with chicken, maybe try a low-fat amandine recipe.
    If you've got good tomatoes, you don't need to fry them -- just slice and sprinkle with salt.

    1. Collard greens or fresh green beans. Unfortunately southern style means frying, like fried green tomatoes and fried okra, also mashed potatoes and gravy.
      I personally love grilled zucchini that's healthy.
      Good luck with your party!

      1. Sigh. I had the very same dilemma not long ago when my husband wanted to smoke ribs. I was in charge of sides. My conclusion was that until tomato season, "light" and "Southern" are almost mutually exclusive. I did see a couple recipes for cucumber salad/pickled salad type things in my research, but in the end I just decided to bag the whole light idea. I did collards (with a pork stock made from a ham hock), macaroni and cheese, baked beans and skillet cornbread. Oh, and one other thing -- hardly anyone touched the collards. I doubt okra would've been a hot seller either. For some reason, a lot of people seem not to like either.

        Good luck and let us know what you end up doing!

        5 Replies
        1. re: msbo78

          Good point, msbo: Since the OP has to ask, I guess it's safe to assume she doesn't live in the South. In which case, the okra -- which would be gobbled up down here -- might not fly.

          1. re: msbo78

            Foods that are stereotypically Southern, particularly special occasion items, may tend to be heavy, but if you looked at everyday food you would not necessarily find that.

            My Mom always cooks tons of veggies. Cut off corn, green beans, some sort of pea, slices of canteloupe...all this would typically be in the same meal. None of it cooked w/ pork (I never knew people did that 'til I was grown...possibly we were the odd ones out on that.) My grandmother cooked very similarly.

            One tradionally fried dish that my Mom makes is okra. Very lightly coated in flour/cornmeal mixture, pan fried in cooking spray on a teflon pan. My Yankee inlaws went INSANE for it.

            Slaw is a common southern dish, and can be made as healthy or unhealthy as you like.

            The ambrosia thing is a pain in the ass if you do it right. Section and remove the membranes from various citrus fruits, add coconut (fresh if you're real serious).

            1. re: danna

              Rather than ambrosia, I suggest pineapple upside-down cake -- made in a cast iron skillet, of course!

              1. re: Covert Ops

                Do you think that qualifies as a "lighter option" ? ;-)

                If we're going to talk about dessert, I have to vote banana pudding. Or coconut cake.

                1. re: danna

                  Or pecan pie. Or lemon chess pie. Or red velvet cake (though not created in the South). We're getting sidetracked here. :-)

          2. How about cole slaw? If you use low fat mayo, it will be pretty healthy.

            1 Reply
            1. re: mojoeater

              A vinegar slaw is also an option for a lighter version. I actually prefer vinegar slaws.

            2. Fresh corn on the cob? Black-eyed peas? I've been told fruit salad known as "ambrosia" is popular, although I've never eaten it down here, and I suspect the marshmallow & canned fruit concoction I've had up north isn't really the same thing. Oh, and if you try greens, I suggest googling for the recipe (I think it's on Food Network, probably Paula Deen or Ina Garten) using smoked turkey wings instead of hamhocks -- my mother-in-law made them that way and completely converted me.

              1. Oh gosh, I was pouring over one of my old cookbooks, Lee Bailey's Southern Food and Plantation Houses the other day. Such a wonderfully photgraphed book with tons of interesting history about Natchez, Mississippi and the people that lived in the city's wonderfully gorgeous antibellum plantations.

                Even casual lunches or BBQs were small feasts, it is chocked full of sides, and lovely ideas for a luncheon or dinner party I am sure that most libraries would have this book in its collection. I have cooked a few of the desserts like the chess pie, and the spicy milk fried chicken with pan gravy. But you asked for ideas for a few side dishers:
                Cat head or Kissed rolls with sweet butter
                Onion tart
                Baked honey tomatoes
                Green pea and dill salad
                Chopped salad with pepper mayonaise
                Tomato aspic with mayonnaise
                Skillet fresh corn or skillet asparagus
                Green beans in a mustard marinade
                Mustard greens and pepper vinegar -mmmmmmm!!

                1. Green Bean and Sesame Seed Salad:

                  2 lbs. trimmed tender young green beans, leave the tip on, they will look nicer. Cook in boiling salted water until just tender. Taste them after 3 mins. you don't want to over cook them but don't want them to taste raw either. When done plunge in to ice water to stop the cooking. Then drain well. When well drained pat with paper towels to remove excess water and place in a bowl. Toss with 1/4 c. tosted sesame seeds, 1 tsp. hot pepper flakes (if desired) 1/4 C good quiality olive oil 2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice, a couple of finely minced cloves garlic and S&P to taste. Combine well and serve at room temperature.

                  If you don't want to use red pepper flakes, some chopped pimento (like 1 jar of the Osage kind) will add nice color and taste good too.

                  1. Peas is another one I just thought of. I'm not from the South, so the variety of peas down there was a huge surprise to me. (Mr. msbo's from southern AL so he was shocked that I didn't know about all the peas.) Since my MIL doesn't believe in cooking with fat, and she made great field peas when we were down there, I'm virtually certain it can be done on the light side. I'm going to have to defer to some true Southerners, though, for methods/recipes.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: msbo78

                      Just water, peas, salt. Not too much water in the pan, you try to time it so the water evaporates about the time the peas are the right degree of tenderness. My Mom serves Chow Chow with hers (pickled shredded cabbage and bell peppers and a tiny bit of hot pepper.) I prefer pepper jelly (all things sweet, you understand).

                      1. re: danna

                        I second the idea of peas. Black eyed peas were the first thing that came to mind when I read the OP. There is a terrific recipe for a healthy hoppin john in the Moosewood International cookbook. Basicaly, cook and lightly drain the peas. Saute onion and garlic. Add to slightly soupy peas along with some soy sauce, freshly ground allspice, cayenne and black pepper. Sounds funky but it works really well. The soy takes the place of the smoky meat flavor.

                        We like this so much that we serve it every New Year's Day. It is traditional over rice, but it is delicious just on its own.

                        1. re: LizATL

                          White Acre Field Peas

                      2. re: msbo78

                        Just what I was thinking--fresh field peas. I make a salad that I won't claim authenticity for, but it's very light and colorful. Just posted a "recipe" in the summer salad thread. I also like to make a salad of cucumbers and grape tomatoes. You peel and slice the cucumber in half, and scoop out with a melon baller; halve the tomatoes; sprinkle with sugar and let sit for a bit to create its own dressing. It's lovely and very light.

                      3. Sweet potato biscuits sound amazing! I also recommend:

                        Texas Caviar -- a cold black eyed pea salad with vinaigrette.

                        I second the pie dessert option. Lemon Meringue is good. Down South, we call it Ice Box Pie. Um, because it's cold, I guess.

                        Mint juleps are a MUST if you're drinkers!

                        1. you can wilt greens in a skillet w a little evoo and garlic rather than cooking it all day with a hamhock, corn on the cob is always a winner, you could do hoppin' john, dirty rice, red beans & rice, homemade pickles, drunken apples, watermelon ice-- there isn't anything wrong with serving a green salad with a southern menu, or sauteed seasonal veggies spiked with cajun mustard. . .

                          you MUST serve homemade sweetened iced tea with mint!--who am i fooling-- JULEPS!

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: soupkitten

                            Soupkitten is correct that another traditional way to eat greens is sauteed in some oil or fat (EVOO or bacon grease). I make my collards this way, and it's much healthier than boiling the poor things to death and losing all the nutrients in the water. My version, from Louisiana, calls for wilting chopped onion in the heated fat, then add torn and washed greens with the water still clinging and stir or cover until wilted. Add marjoram, pepper, and salt to taste, then cover the iron skillet and cook on low heat until the greens are done to your taste. I usually give them about 20 minutes. On the farm in the summer, we never had fried vegetables -- they were either served fresh or boiled and came straight from the garden. For the men who helped with haying, my grandmother would have a lunch with the fried chicken with biscuits or cornbread, and then set out corn on the cob, sliced cucumber and onion in vinegar, sliced tomatoes, green beans (maybe with little new potatoes boiled with them), crowder peas, cole slaw, and/or stewed okra with tomatoes. Dessert might be banana pudding, homemade chocolate pudding, or a pie. Our favorite dessert was her caramel dumplings. I've talked to a lot of 50+ year old Southerners here in the upper south, and none of us can remember being served iced tea at home with the sugar already in it. Everyone always added sugar to taste at the table.

                            1. re: TNExplorer

                              I was sitting here knodding my head at the no-fried-vegetables, sliced tomatoes, green beans w/ new potatos, crowders...basically everything...UNTIL you got to the unsweetened tea thing. Freaky! In Tennesee? I'm not 50+ but I sure can't remember ever seeing any unsweetened tea in anyone's home as a child in SC, (grandparents from WNC) How do you get the sugar to dissolve? I'll ask my Mom if she can ever remember that.

                              1. re: danna

                                Danna, I also recall getting sweetened tea in everyone's homes when I lived in SC. Adding sugar to your glass was our Illinois thing. And yes, the dissolving is a problem. I keep simple syrup on hand now.

                                1. re: debbiel

                                  My granny always had sweet tea done with simple sryup in KY

                          2. I guess I'm southern with a Texas influence, but the sides that are lighter are our favorites. We like coleslaw. It can be any sort, but we tend toward the KFC copycat recipe. Broccoli-raisin salads are big down here, as are congealed salads of most sorts. One of my family's favorites side dishes is called fried corn, but there is little actual frying. I buy a package of frozen corn and a package of cream style corn(here they sell it frozen), you could use a can of it. Anyway, chop half an onion pretty fine and saute that in some olive oil in a skillet until it is opaque. Add both types of corn and "fry" until heated through and the cream-style corn thickens a bit. Add a teaspoon of sugar, salt and freshly ground pepper. I believe Southern Style green beans are cooked too long, but we like fresh green beans cooked just until bright green and served with a bit of butter, salt and pepper.

                            1. This is a south Texas corn dish that I have made many times to rave reviews. It's medium lite.
                              Cut sweet corn off the ears squeezing as much liquid as possible from the cob. In a large saute pan, melt 1 TBL. of butter. Add corn and juice. Saute until corn starts to soften. Add a chopped yellow onion (not a sweet onion), chopped red bell pepper and a can of mild green chiles, drained. Continue to saute on low until corn is cooked. (You can add a little water, if needed to help in the cooking process) Add a couple of tablespoons of Mexican crema, creme fraiche or sour cream, whatever is available. Season with salt and pepper and sometimes a little ground cumin. There is never any leftover.

                              1. I forgot to add that deviled eggs would be most appropriate!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: FeedingFive

                                  HAHA! How could I forget deviled eggs??

                                  My friend made sausage balls at a party. . .I had never had them (I'm a Jersey girl, married to a southern boy). Sausage + Bisquick + cheese = LOVE! :-P

                                  BTW, even with all the NY transplants at the party, there were no leftovers. . .

                                2. Collards, green beans (slow cooked with onion, bacon, vinegar), cucumber and onions in sour cream and vinegar, coleslaw, pea salad, texas caviar, sweet corn pudding, some fresh ripe tomatoes drizzled with a good vinagrette, just some suggestions...

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: jinet12

                                    second the cuke/onion thing - only my mom would always also add fresh tomatoes. you can leave out the sour cream and just do oil and vinegar, S&P.

                                    substituting a smoked turkey wing or leg is a great make-it-healthier idea for slow cooked pots of greens or beans.

                                    i never liked black eyed peas, but loved pinto beans.

                                    to this day i still make a meal of pinto beans, collard greens and corn bread. (used the bad evil smoked pork fatback in the veggies though)

                                    make sure to add a couple of hot peppers and some onions (either tabasco or datil) to any cabbage, bean or greens dishes!!!!

                                    1. re: hitachino

                                      We love lettuce and onions as a side: lettuce , green onions with a bacon vinager dressing....yum!
                                      Also corn pudding is always a hit!

                                      1. re: LaLa

                                        Yes indeed, there is a terrific corn pudding in the River Road Recipes book. Great sides in there too! Oh and how about a slo gin rickey to sip on..

                                  2. I am in Louisiana. I recommend potato salad to go with the fried chicken. Or mashed potatoes with gravy. Neither of those are light, but how often are you going to serve a "southern" menu? My specialty for dessert is pecan pie made with Dark Karo Syrup. mmmmmmmmmmmm...so good.
                                    We usually serve some type of green salad, just so people feel the meal is balanced.
                                    As for light side dishes, try a cole slaw made with a vinegar based dressing instead of mayonnaise.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: marchperson

                                      My husband is from Virgina, can't get enough Pah! And like youm, I use the dark syrup as well.
                                      I like your choices mp, and the coleslaw, can I get that recipe? I love vinegar based slaw and cabbage fixed anyway it can be. I even eat it raw! But your dressing, sounds really good!!!

                                      1. re: chef chicklet

                                        App: Pimiento cheese on homemade crackers (jalapeno or chipotle pimiento cheese even better)
                                        Salad: wilted cucumber salad (cucumbers and onions in a sweetened vinegar dressing)
                                        Pie: Buttermilk pie (lighter than chess pie -- really good with fresh raspberries and a fresh raspberry sauce)