Maybe I’ve mentioned it before.
Did I tell you that I live in the South? North Carolina to be exact.
I moved here about 10 years ago, when I was an angsty teenager. I hated it immediately. My parents had made the decision to move and, in my mind, they had wrongfully separated me from my friends and everything else I held dear and familiar.
It honestly didn’t take long for the South to sway me. At first, I was resentful. I thought cowboy boots and country music was nauseating and Bojangles was stomach-turning (if you don’t know what Bojangles is – it’s a local fried chicken fast food joint. It. Is. Life.). I thought the word ‘yall’ was annoying and people were TOO friendly.
It wasn’t until I went away to college at Appalachian State (yay Mountaineers!) and experienced a small and quiet mountain-town kind of life that the beauty and profundity of the South really hit me. But – truly, living in ANY mountain range will make you re-evaluate your life, it’s just that affecting.
I came back from college a different person. I was absolutely obsessed with where I lived. I even resolved to get myself a pair of cowboy boots (still working on it!). Regional Southern cooks like Vivian Howard and Sean Brock became my heroes. I even considered becoming a Southern historian (my college major was History). I had as many meals with families of friends from the area as I could. I realized that Southern food is a lot of things. It’s the slow-cooked and the pork-fat laced happiness on a plate. It’s also the hand-shucked beans and peas kind of life. There is a lot of homemade jam and apple butter going around. There is always a debate whether pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie is better. There is also the, “Ya’ll sit down and have some food,” kind of welcome at all Southern hearths.
I couldn’t possibly sum up in words how beautiful, complex, turbulent, and delicious the South is.
But. I sure can eat all of it’s food.
Have you ever made pinto beans from scratch? Not from the can, but from the dried beans itself. I’m sure you’ve thought about it and read that you need to soak all of your beans for hours and then you gave up and decided to order a pizza. No? Was that just me?
Well. Let me tell you, pinto beans cooked from their dried state have a flavor that the cans can’t possibly convey. I’m also not sure why but – beans in the South are a staple. There is always some sort of bean at every gathering or pig-pickin’ (a bbq where they roast a whole pig).
AND. To pair the beans with a warming, slightly sweet emblem of the South, cornbread. Your food will never make it to the plate. You’ll stand at the pot itself, spooning beans onto giant wedges of corn cake and have bean juices dripping down your chin and forearms.
Still just me?
Anyways. Even though the beans have to cook for 2 and half hours, you don’t need to do a dang thing. They store well in the freezer and make great for eating by themselves or in quesadillas, chillis, burritos, or literally anything.
And this corn cake is…well…it’s magical. It’s corn CAKE as opposed to corn BREAD because it’s a little denser and a little sweeter. Not too sweet, but the sweet potatoes do give the cake a little saccharine hit that compliments the naturally sweet cornmeal.
Best Ever No-Soak Beans
What You’ll Need
- 1 1lb of dried pinto beans, rinsed and checked for any debris
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tblsp of ketchup
- 1 tblsp of balsamic vinegar
- 1 tblsp of honey
- 1/2 medium onion diced
- 1 tblsp of bacon grease (or two strips of bacon diced, or if vegetarian – leave out and use a tsp of liquid smoke)
- 1 tsp salt
- Water for the beans
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
- In a small bowl, stir together your ketchup, balsamic vinegar, and honey. Set aside.
- Put your rinsed beans in a dutch oven or a heavy soup pot with a heavy lid. Fill the pot with enough water to cover 3 inches over the beans. Stir in your ketchup mixture, the bacon grease, onions, and the bay leaf. Cover and set in the oven on the middle rack and cook for 2.5 hours.
- When done, remove from the oven carefully. Taste and check if the beans are tender and done – if not, leave in the oven for 20-30 more minutes. Add more salt if needed.
*While the beans are cooking, whip up your corn cake!
Sweet Potato Skillet Corn Cake
What You’ll Need:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 4 tsp of baking powder
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- 2 large sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed (equivalent to about 1 1/2 – 2 cups of mashed sweet potatoes)
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 3 tblsp of melted butter
- 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit
- In a large mixing bowl – mix all of your dry ingredients together: flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon. In a medium mixing bowl, mix all of your wet ingredients together: sweet potatoes, eggs, sour cream, butter.
- Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry mixture. Do not over mix. Pour into a greased 10-inch skillet or a similar sized metal pan. Bake until golden brown and done, about 15-25 minutes. Check by inserting a clean butter knife into the middle. If it comes out clean, the cake is finished.
Slice you a peace of sweet potato heaven and devour with your bacony, savory, beautiful beans.