On first read, we didn't believe it ourselves when we decided to include a hybrid cookbook/anthology from an academic publisher, The World in a Skillet, and what boils down to a promotional cookbook from a cast-iron skillet maker, The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook, in the same post. But give us a second to make our cornbread case.
The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook, compiled and edited by Pam Hoenig, landed on our desk first. We pushed it aside as soon as we saw the "author" is Lodge Manufacturing in Tennessee, a company that has been making cast iron cookware for 116 years and has published numerous cookbooks on the subject over the decades. Sounds like yet another promotional supper.
Or so we thought, until we got sucked in by not only the recipes but also, and more significantly, who those recipes are from. It's a diverse table of folks ranging from Lou Fuller, wife of the president of the National Cornbread Festival (Southern greens soup with white beans), to culinary historian Jessica B. Harris (skillet-fried porgies), as well as Southern chefs, okra farmers, the occasional blogger and the winner of the National Cornbread Cook-off 15 years ago (chicken and dressing cornbread skillet bake). Even an Alabama wildlife specialist pipes in on how to skillet-fry a rabbit when you're cooking outdoors.
Sure, there are the occasional promotional forays by the Lodge, as to be expected, but there was clearly some serious recipe research to get to the refreshing catfish cake diversity in this cookbook. Yes, the recipes are primarily Southern ingredient-inspired, with a few fresh mussel stews in between, but for the most part, they're interesting enough to engage a modern iron-skillet fan.
Which gets us to The World in a Skillet: A Food Lover's Tour of the New American South by bloggers Paul and Angela Knipple (published by UNC Press, available in March). Despite the photo of a cornbread-filled skillet on the cover, it's hardly the same old iron skillet-focused cookbook, either. It's a compelling hybrid book of reporting profiles and recipes from Vietnamese, Bosnian and Mexican-American Southerners. Or as John T. Edge explains in the Foreward, "The South can no longer be defined by the tensions and complements of people with roots in western Africa and western Europe. ... Despite what the moonlight-and-magnolia fabulists would have you believe, the region is not static."
And so in a chapter on Kurdish immigrants in Nashville, which the Knipples say is the largest population of Kurds in the United States, we read about Hamid Hassan of the House of Kabob, whom the Knipples tell us came to Tennessee from a refugee camp in Turkey when he was 8 years old. And Mahir Ahmad of Mazi Market, who shares his recipe for dowjic (Kurdish-style chicken and rice soup), as well as Rauf Ary of Tara International Market and his selim ba gosht (Kurdish lamb stew). It's one of the most interesting Southern-centric food profile/cookbook hybrids we've seen in years.
As Edge sums up, "At [the authors'] table, you will glimpse a true New South in the making, where the best barbecue in Kentucky is grilled by a first-generation Korean restaurateur, and the best okra in Tennessee is fried by a recent Indian immigrant." We'll eat a mess of biscuits -- or sure, this Chinese cuisine-inspired version of "hot and numbing rabbit" -- to that.
Hot and Numbing Rabbit
From: Paul and Angela Knipple.
Note: Per the Knipples, "This is one of what we call our 'deleted scene recipes,' recipes that are great but that we didn't have room for in the book."
Makes: 4 main-dish servings.
For the marinade:
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
For the sauce:
½ teaspoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
½ teaspoon chili oil
For the main dish:
12 ounces boneless rabbit (meat from 1 26-ounce whole rabbit) or 4 boneless chicken thighs, cubed
1 ¼ cups peanut or canola oil
¼ cup peanuts
1 dried Tsin Tsin chili, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
3 scallions, sliced thin
¼ teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
2 teaspoons whole Szechuan peppercorns, crushed
1 teaspoon sesame oil
To prepare the marinade:
1. In a small bowl, blend together the cornstarch and cold water until no lumps remain. Stir the Shaoxing wine and light and dark soy sauces into the cornstarch and water mixture. Stir the cubed rabbit into the marinade to rest while you are preparing the remaining ingredients.
To prepare the sauce:
1. In a small bowl, blend together the cornstarch and cold water until no lumps remain.
Stir the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chili oil into the cornstarch mixture, combining thoroughly.
1. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Carefully add the marinated meat to the hot oil and fry for 30 seconds. Remove the meat from the wok and allow the oil to reheat. Return the meat to the hot oil and fry for 3 minutes or until golden. Remove the meat from the wok and carefully drain all but 3 tablespoons of the oil.
2. Return the wok to high heat. Working quickly and stirring constantly, add the peanuts, scallions, ginger, chopped chili, chili flakes, and Szechuan peppercorns to the hot oil, cooking just until toasted, no more than 30 seconds.
3. Return the meat to the wok and stir into the pepper and scallion mixture. Carefully add the sauce to the wok and stir to coat the meat. Add the sesame oil to the meat and stir to combine.
4. Serve with cooked white rice.