Local Ingredients, Global Roots


There are certain ingredients in every culture that are so central to its essence that they practically define it. Try to imagine Southern cooking without okra, black-eyed peas or collard greens. Attempt to visualize the cuisine of Florida without citrus. These are some of the ingredients that are the soul of Florida-Southern cooking, yet not one of these is indigenous to the United States. Okra likely hails from West Africa or South Asia; black-eyed peas are also West African. Collards have been traced all the way back to ancient Greek and Roman times, and citrus is native to South Asia, but came to America via Spain. Yet all have been cultivated here for hundreds of years, brought over by explorers, immigrants and slaves.

This is an exciting time for food lovers in Florida and in the South. A renaissance of sorts is well under way, and chefs, farmers and non-profit groups like the Southern Foodways Alliance are working not only to educate the public about the origins of the ingredients that we have come to know as mainstays, but also to preserve the traditions surrounding these ingredients and their uses here in the United States. By testing the boundaries that define our local foodways, we gain knowledge, insight and an understanding of how food connects all the cultures of the world.



Sambal Okra

Serves 6 as an appetizer or 4 as a main course

In the American South, okra is most commonly eaten fried or pickled, or is used as a thickening component in soups and stews. Mucilage—the mixture of sugars and proteins found naturally in okra—is what makes it such a great thickener, but is also what often causes it to become slimy when cooked. In Malaysia, where okra is known as “ladies’ fingers,” the pods are sliced thin and stir-fried over high heat. Slice your okra just before you cook it, use high heat and serve immediately to avoid a slimy texture. Alone, Sambal Okra is a light appetizer, but over steamed rice, it is substantial enough to be a main course.

3 dried red chilies (such as arbol)

1 tablespoon belacan (Malaysian shrimp paste)

1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons canola oil

3 shallots, julienned

4 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon salt

24 small Florida shrimp (such as Canaveral White), cleaned

20 okra, sliced thin on a bias

1  Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Pour boiling water over dried chilies and let soak until softened. When soft, remove chilies from water. Slit chilies lengthwise and remove seeds. Then slice into ½-inch sections.

2  Measure belacan and place in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons hot water. Mash with a fork until mixture becomes as smooth as possible.

3  Dissolve sugar in lime juice.

4  Heat oil in a wok or heavy sauté pan until it begins to smoke slightly. Add shallots, garlic and chiles; stir fry, tossing frequently.

5  Add shrimp and belacan. Stir-fry until shrimp begin to turn pink. Add okra and cook 1 more minute before adding lime-sugar mixture. Cook another minute and remove from heat. Serve immediately.


Black-Eyed Pea Harira

Serves 6

HariraHearty North African harira is traditionally made with a mix of chickpeas and lentils, tomato, aromatic vegetables and spices. Here, black-eyed peas, the legumes commonly served alongside pork and greens, are a pleasing alternative. Paprika lends a bit of smoky Southern complexity, and the flavor of the finished soup is brightened by lemon juice and fresh herbs. Make this recipe a day ahead to allow time for the flavors to meld.

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, diced

3 stalks celery, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes plus juice

2 fresh bay leaves

6 cups chicken stock

1 pound dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight

½ cup dry orzo pasta

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 3 lemons

Cilantro, chopped

Flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Lemon wedges, for garnish

1  Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot until it shimmers. Sear chicken thighs on both sides until they are browned and release easily from the bottom of the pot. Remove seared thighs from the pot and set aside.

2  Add onions, celery and garlic. Add salt and stir. Sweat until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add spices; stir and cook until aromatic. Add tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until tomato paste begins to darken. Add canned tomatoes, bay leaves and chicken stock. Add seared chicken thighs and drained black-eyed peas to the pot.

3  Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes or until black-eyed peas are cooked through but not mushy.

4  Uncover, add orzo and simmer another 25 minutes.

5  Adjust seasoning, adding more kosher salt if necessary. Stir in lemon zest and juice.

6  Ladle into bowls and serve garnished with fresh chopped cilantro and parsley, and lemon wedges.


Dirty Rice Dolmades

Makes 12 to 15 dolmades

Collard greens are an excellent substitute for grape leaves in this Southern take on the classic Greek mezze. Look for young collards—their smaller, more delicate leaves are less fibrous. Brining tenderizes and adds tartness to the greens, and grilling the finished dolmades adds a little char and crispness to the collard wrappers. Comeback Sauce, an all-purpose tangy-spicy dipping sauce that hails from Mississippi, is said to have been first served in a 1930s Greek diner in Jackson.

Collard-DolmadesFor collard green wrappers:

1 bunch young collard greens

3 quarts water

¼ cup kosher salt

½ cup sugar

Juice of 3 lemons


For dirty rice filling:

½ pound chicken livers

Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ pound pork sausage, removed from casing

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ medium onion, diced

2 ribs celery, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1 pinch cayenne

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

1 (8-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1½ cups chicken stock 

2 bay leaves

¾ cup long-grain white rice

1 cup pecans, toasted and crushed

½ cup currants, soaked in hot water

Zest of 1 lemon


For Comeback Sauce:

Makes 3 cups

2/3 cup Crystal hot sauce

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup mayonnaise

¼ cup ketchup

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

1 teaspoon Worcestershire

1  Using a sharp knife, trim the stem out of each collard leaf. Rinse collards with cold running water to remove any dirt. Place collards in large, heat-proof storage container.

2  Combine 3 quarts water, salt, sugar and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Pour hot brine liquid over cleaned collards. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. Let collards soak in brine overnight.

3 Drain chicken livers. Remove any obvious veins and chop as fine as possible. Season chopped livers liberally with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil until shimmering in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add sausage and cook halfway before adding seasoned livers. Cook through and reserve for later.

4  Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pot. When hot, add onions, celery, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Sweat, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent. Add spices and sweat a couple of minutes more.

5  Add tomatoes, chicken stock and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and adjust seasoning if necessary before adding rice. Cook, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes or until rice is cooked through. Spread cooked rice on sheet pan and cool to room temperature.

6  Transfer cooled rice to a large bowl. Fold in cooked sausage and liver mixture, pecans, currants and lemon zest.

7  Drain brined collards. Lay flat on a clean work surface. You may have to shingle a couple of leaves to make a large enough wrapper for the filling. Scoop a scant ¼ cup of dirty rice filling into the middle of the collard wrapper. Use your fingers to shape the filling into an oval about 2 inches long. Fold right and left sides of collard wrapper over onto the filling, then fold bottom up and roll into a cigar shape. Finished dolmades should be rolls with tucked-in sides that fully contain filling.

8  For Comeback Sauce: Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until well combined.

9  Heat grill. Rub dolmades with a little olive oil, and grill on medium heat until wrappers are slightly charred. Serve warm with Comeback Sauce on the side for dipping.



Pork Belly Adobo with Kumquat

Serves 6

In the Philippines, the word “adobo” refers not only to a marinade, but also to a method of cooking. The technique is Filipino in origin, but was named by the Spanish during their colonization of the Philippine islands during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Traditionally, adobo is made with soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns. At Scratch American Tapas in Winter Park, executive chef and co-owner Dustin Haney prepares his signature pork belly adobo with the addition of the tart and fragrant citrus fruit calamansi. The tart flavor of the citrus adds a pleasing brightness to the finished dish. This recipe, inspired by Chef Dustin’s citrusy adobo, substitutes the more readily available kumquat for calamansi.

¼ cup toyomansi* (soy sauce with calamansi juice)

1¼ cups sukang maasim* (vinegar infused with chilies)

6 cloves garlic, smashed

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

12 kumquats, cut in half, seeds removed

3 pounds pork belly

2 cups chicken stock 

6 cups long-grain white rice, steamed

Chopped cilantro, for garnish

Halved kumquats, for garnish

1  Whisk together toyomansi and sukang maasim. Add garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, kumquats and pork belly. Marinate for 24 hours.

2  Preheat oven to 300°F. Place marinated belly in a pot or braising pan and pour marinade over. Add chicken stock. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop, cover loosely with foil and then transfer to the oven. Braise 2½ hours or until pork belly is very soft. Remove from oven and let braised belly cool in the braising liquid until it is room temperature.

3  Once belly has cooled to room temperature, remove from liquid and place on a flat baking sheet. Cover with wax or parchment paper and top with another baking sheet and about 2 pounds of weight (canned beans or vegetables work well). Reduce braising liquid until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain liquid to remove solids.

4  Cut compressed belly into 6 portions. Heat a heavy-bottomed sauté pan and add belly, fat side down. Render fat, basting frequently, until fat side is crispy and the meat is hot throughout.

5  Serve over rice, topped with sauce and cilantro, with kumquat halves on the side.

*Look for toyomansi and sukang maasim at Asian grocery stores.