Janine Gilbertson's Granite Kitchen: Southern inspiration all started with breakfast at Waffle House ...

By JANINE GILBERTSON February 20. 2018 11:31PM
Okra and crowder peas — a type of bean — are the touches that make this a Southern-style tomato soup. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

I made a road trip to South Carolina last week to pick up my son, who wanted to move back home after moving there several months ago. It was my first trip to the South (except for a few trips to Florida here and there), and I discovered that when you’re on the road down South and hunger strikes, chances are you are close to a Waffle House.

Naturally, I had to check it out, so we stopped in for some breakfast. Waffle House is a chain of diner-style restaurants, and, not surprisingly, waffles (and breakfast in general) are their specialty.

Breakfast comes with many options, including grits, a traditional Southern dish that can be served sweet or savory. Grits are made from cornmeal and are similar to Italian polenta, though the texture of polenta is more coarse than grits.

Grits have about as much fiber as a slice of whole wheat toast and also provide minerals such as magnesium and folate, making them a nourishing option as a side dish or a hot breakfast cereal.

Our grits came topped with a little butter and there were jellies and honey available to mix in. Savory toppings usually include different kinds of cheeses.

We loved the waffles we tried, and even decided to purchase a waffle maker when we came home. I got busy coming up with a waffle recipe that included some whole wheat flour for a nutrition boost. My first attempt was made from all whole wheat, and that didn’t win any awards with my family, so I switched it to one cup of wheat flour and one cup of unbleached white flour that resulted in a lighter, fluffier waffle. These disappeared in no time.

Another dish that’s popular in the South is okra, an odd looking vegetable that’s served many different ways. Okra is said to improve digestive health and vision, promote healthy skin, and strengthen bones. I picked some up at the grocery store when we got back (if you can’t find it in the produce section, it’s usually available with the frozen vegetables) and used it in a Southern-inspired vegetable stew packed with tomatoes, carrots, barley and brown rice. I don’t think anyone even noticed the okra since no one made a weird face when they ate the soup or even asked what it was.

That makes it a winner in my house.

Tomato Okra Soup

3 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 onion, chopped

3 stalks of celery, chopped

4 large carrots, peeled and sliced

1 1/2 cups okra, chopped

28 oz can ground peeled organic tomatoes

1 1/2 cups frozen crowder peas (a Southern bean in the “cowpea” family)

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

8 cups low-sodium vegetable stock (substitute chicken or beef stock if preferred)

3/4 cup barley, cooked

3/4 cup rice, such as brown jasmine, cooked

2 cups collard greens, chopped

Add the olive oil and garlic to a medium stockpot over medium high heat and cook for one or two minutes until the garlic is lightly browned. 

Add the onion, celery and carrots and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. 

Add the canned tomatoes, vegetable stock, okra, crowder peas, bay leaves, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes. 

Add the barely and rice and cook for an additional 10 minutes, then serve.
Depending on what you add in, grits can be served either sweet or savory. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

Fruit and Honey Grits

2 cups water

1 1/4 cups milk

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup grits

4 tbsp butter

1 tbsp honey

fresh fruit for topping, if desired

Add the water, milk, and salt to a medium saucepan and set on the stove over medium high heat. Bring to a boil. 

Stir in the grits until well combined. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to medium and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the grits are smooth and creamy, stir in butter and remove from heat. 

Drizzle with honey before serving and top with fresh fruit, if desired.
Half white flour and half whole wheat flour make this waffle fluffy and healthy. (JANINE GILBERTSON)

Easy Waffles

2 eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup wheat flour

1 3/4 cups milk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tbsp sugar

4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla

Add the eggs to a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the flour, milk, vegetable oil, sugar, baking powder, salt and vanilla, and beat until smooth. 

Preheat a waffle iron according to manufacturer’s directions and add the suggested amount of batter to the waffle maker. 

Cook until lightly browned, then remove and serve with desired toppings such as fruit and maple syrup or lightly dust with powdered sugar.


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