Side Dish: Pecans and Buttermilk

The University of North Carolina Press has begun a delightful series of little cookbooks (each is 83/4 inches by 51/2 inches) that will look at the favorite foods and culinary traditions in the American South. Each cookbook in the “Savor the South” collection will offer about 50 recipes from the classics to more current versions.

The series’ first two books, “Pecans” by Kathleen Purvis and “Buttermilk” by Debbie Moose, are now available. They both open with a short history of their subject and some cooking tips, plus a few surprising facts. For example, dip colored chalk into buttermilk and use it on paper like you would tempera paints. And the pecan is a native American species distantly related to the hickory.

Purvis’ 94-page “Pecans” book features 52 recipes for appetizers and party foods, main dishes, salads and desserts. They range from the basic salted pecans and chicken salad to fresh cranberry relish and pecan pie.

Moose’s 85-page book, “Buttermilk,” includes 50 recipes from Craig’s Sweet Potato Pancakes With Orange Butter to Lynn’s Homemade Ricotta. In between are such treats as cinnamon spice muffins, marinated curry chicken, roasted red bell pepper soup and buttermilk pie.

Recipes in both books are clearly written and easy to follow, but don’t include any nutritional information. There also aren’t any photographs of completed dishes. However, both books offer an enticing mix of recipes. They also will make terrific choices for the lucky cook on your holiday gift list.

It should be noted that both authors are fellow members of the Association of Food Journalists, but I promise I would be saying the same good things about their books even if I didn’t know them.

Next up in the “Savor the South” series are books on peaches, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, catfish and barbecue. If they are as interesting as the first two cookbooks, I look forward to collecting them.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s Food editor. Her email address is
Advocate-tested recipe

Pecan-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Serves 4. Recipe is from “Pecans, a Savor the South Cookbook” by Kathleen Purvis, who writes, “Boursin-style cheese is so handy to keep around. Either the herb flavor or the garlic flavor will work for this dish.”

1⁄3 cup Boursin-style cheese

1/4 cup toasted, chopped pecans

1 tbl. chopped green onion tops

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tbl. unsalted butter

1 tbl. vegetable oil

1. Combine the cheese, pecans and green onions in a small bowl.

2. Place the chicken breasts on a work surface. Slide a knife point horizontally along the thickest part of the breast, making a pocket without cutting all the way through. Divide the cheese and pecan mixture between the breasts, filling the pockets. Bring the edges together and insert a toothpick through the edges to hold the pocket closed. Sprinkle each breast with salt and pepper.

3. Combine the butter and oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the butter is melted. Add the chicken, top-down. Cook for 5-6 minutes on each side, turning carefully with tongs. Remove from pan. Cover and let stand for 1 minute before serving.

Advocate-tested recipe

Sweet Potato Pie With Ginger and Orange

Makes 1 (9-inch) pie. Recipe is from “Buttermilk, a Savor the South Cookbook” by Debbie Moose, who writes, “Sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving is a Southern tradition, but many sweet potato pies simply echo the flavors of pumpkin pie. I decided to make something different by using buttermilk, fresh ginger and sweet orange. You can either boil or roast the sweet potatoes. I like to roast them because I think it adds a richer flavor.”

1 (9-inch) pie crust, unbaked

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger

11/2 tsps. finely grated orange zest

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

11/2 cups mashed cooked sweet potato

2 large eggs

2 tbls. melted unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch pie pan with the crust.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, ginger, orange zest and salt until combined and no lumps remain. Add the buttermilk, sweet potato, eggs and melted butter. Use an electric mixer to blend all the ingredients until the mixture is smooth.

3. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the edges have puffed up slightly and the center does not feel liquid when tapped lightly with a finger.