North and South: Regional Thanksgiving Flavors

Go ahead — try a taste of the ingredients and dishes that give this holiday Northern flavors and Southern spice.
Lee Brothers
Thanksgiving, steeped in tradition as it may be, is a good time to taste the best that our country has to offer. To help understand what makes Southern and Northern dishes taste so good — and so different from each other — we turned to award-winning cookbook authors Matt Lee and Ted Lee, authors of Simple Fresh Southern.

The Lee brothers offer insight on the flavors and ingredients that make a Thanksgiving spread taste distinctively Southern or Northern. They're also sharing menu ideas, suggesting lighter takes on traditional Southern dishes, and offering up a few mouthwatering recipes from their books. And to round things out, we're including plenty of regionally flavored recipes from

"To give Thanksgiving Southern flavor, we immediately think smoky, sweet-and-sour, and spicy," says Ted Lee. "And when we imagine a northern Thanksgiving — although we haven't celebrated one there in recent memory, we both attended colleges in Massachusetts — we think of foods that taste earthy, woodsy, and herbal." Here is a list of ingredients and tones for both:

A Southern Thanksgiving A Northern Thanksgiving
Piquant (sweet and sour)

Fresh jalapeño
Sorghum syrup
Collard/mustard greens
Sweet potatoes

To Snack Upon
Newsom's country ham, on buttermilk biscuits
Pickled shrimp
Cheese straws

Turkey and Trimmings
Smoked paprika rubbed turkey with madeira gravy
Cornbread and oyster stuffing
Mayhaw and vidalia preserves

Collard greens with ham hock
Lemon-glazed sweet potatoes

Sorghum pecan pie with bourbon whipped cream

Biltmore Estate Reserve Blanc de Blancs (Asheville, NC)

Southern-style recipes from Weight Watchers
Creole-Style Stuffed Mushrooms
Pecan Tartlets
Salmon Cakes with Fiery Bell Pepper Salsa
Santa Fe Salad with Chili-Lime Dressing
Skillet Corn Bread
Spicy Corn Muffins
Tequila-Lime Shrimp

Maple syrup
Yukon Golds

To Snack Upon
Cotuit oysters on the half-shell
Jonnycakes with Great Lakes golden caviar
Spiced walnuts

Turkey and Trimmings
Maple-chile glazed turkey with cider gravy
Sausage and sage stuffing
Cranberry-orange relish

Roasted turnips and pears
Mashed salt potatoes with leeks

Chestnut-apple tart with applejack
Whipped cream

Chateau Frank Blanc de Blancs (Hammondsport, NY)

Northern-style recipes from Weight Watchers
Barley and Roasted Vegetable Pilaf
Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts
Cranberry-Orange Relish
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
Stuffing with Sage and Chives
Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds

Changing traditions
Distinct regional flavors and ingredients aside, the Lees say that over the past decade Southern and Northern Thanksgivings have become more similar. "What most separates South from North is climate — the farmers' markets in the South are in their second high season (tomatoes! lettuces! almost everything!) in November, while Northern markets are winding down with bumper crops of beautiful winter squashes and apples," says Ted.

The Lees also see a trend in their own cooking toward lighter, easier recipes. "Southern Thanksgiving now, compared to the way we cooked five years ago is lighter and the dishes take less time. We're doing less baking, making fewer casseroles and using more preparations that draw out the flavor of perfect vegetables." Here are some examples:

Southern classic: Whipped sweet potatoes with burnt marshmallow
Lees' new favorite: Lemon-glazed sweet potatoes (from Simple Fresh Southern) twist: Candied Sweet Potatoes

Southern classic: Long-simmered collards with ham hock
Lees' new favorite: "Tuesday" (i.e. easy) collards (from The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook) twist: Quick Southern-Style Collard Greens

Southern classic: Green bean casserole
Lees' new favorite: Skillet green beans with orange (from Simple Fresh Southern) twist: Green Beans with Mushrooms and Crisp Onion Crumbs

Southern classic: Mashed potatoes
Lees' new favorite: Smoked cauliflower puree (from Simple Fresh Southern) twist: Mashed "Potatoes" with Chives

Lemon-Glazed Sweet Potatoes
Makes 4 servings
Adapted from Simple Fresh Southern (Potter 2009)

2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 3 medium potatoes)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp kosher salt

Heat the oven to 325°F.

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into 1-inch-thick slices. Grease a 9-x-13-inch baking dish with the butter. Arrange the sweet potato disks in a single layer in the pan. Mix the brown sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl, and pour the glaze mixture evenly over the potatoes.

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 45 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for about 5 more minutes, until the glaze has thickened and become syrupy. Serve immediately. (The glazed sweet potatoes can be cooked in advance, stored in the refrigerator, and reheated in a warm oven.)

Tuesday Collards
Makes 4 servings
Adapted from The Lee Bros Southern Cookbook (Norton 2006)

1/4 pound slab bacon or 4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
2 pounds collard greens (about 48 leaves or 2 large bunches), stemmed, washed and cut into 1/4-inch wide strips
1 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Scatter the bacon in a 12-inch skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat and cook until just firm, about 3 minutes.

Turn the heat to medium and add 2 handfuls of collards to the skillet. Using a slotted spoon, turn them in the bacon fat for a couple of minutes until they wilt; just steam them in the small amount of water that clings to them, but don’t let them brown. Add more collards, 2 handfuls at a time, and turn them until they wilt, until all the collards are wilted in the pan.

Add the chicken broth and the red pepper flakes, if using. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook until the broth comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the greens have turned dark, about 5 minutes.

Add the vinegar and sugar to the greens, toss to distribute, and cook, uncovered, about 5 minutes more to let the cooking liquid reduce and concentrate.

Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

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