Fried green tomatoes, chitlin' corn bread are good for your soul

December 02, 1992|By Lou Marra | Lou Marra,Copley News Service

Sylvia Woods will help you put some soul into your meals.

Dubbed the Queen of Soul Food, Ms. Woods has been an institution at her Harlem restaurant for three decades. And now in the recently released cookbook, "Sylvia's Soul Food," (Hearst Books) which she wrote with Christopher Styler, Ms. Woods offers readers more than 100 recipes in 10 chapters, from breakfast to desserts.

"Although I was cooking at home since I was a child, I had never even set foot in a restaurant until I got a job waitressing at Johnson's restaurant in Harlem to help support our family," writes Ms. Woods.

"I had no experience -- I didn't even know how to work the coffee urn -- but Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were kind enough to let me stay on and learn the business."

Eight years later, the Johnsons offered Ms. Woods first crack at buying the eatery. In 1963 it was renamed Sylvia's and prospered, moving in 1968 it moved a few doors to its current spot at Lenox Avenue and 126th Street.

This year, Sylvia's celebrated its 30th anniversary and opened a jazz and blues club next door called Sylvia's Also.

Here are a couple of recipes from "Sylvia's Soul Food" for you to try.

"When you use bacon drippings for frying, it's best to strain them through a very dry fine sieve first. If, after straining, you come up short, you can add vegetable oil to make up the difference. Fried green tomatoes are great over grits for breakfast or as a side dish at lunch or dinner."

Fried green tomatoes Serves 6.

3 large green or slightly ripe tomatoes


freshly ground black pepper

about 1 cup fine yellow cornmeal

L 1/2 cup bacon drippings or vegetable oil or a mixture of both.

Slice tomatoes 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge slices in cornmeal until completely coated. Dry on a wire rack, 5 to 10 minutes.

Heat bacon drippings in large heavy skillet over medium heat until an edge of a tomato slice dipped in them gives off a lively sizzle. Carefully slip as many of the tomato slices into the skillet as will fit without crowding. (You may have to fry them in batches.) Fry them, turning once, until they are golden brown on both sides and tender, about 5 minutes. Remove to paper towels to drain and repeat with remaining slices.

Cracklin' corn bread Serves 8.

1 cup pork cracklin's

butter or solid vegetable shortening, softened

3 cups yellow cornmeal

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons baking powder

2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 cups milk

1 cup cane syrup

3/4 cup solid vegetable shortening, melted

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

If necessary, make the cracklin's (see note). Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish with butter. Stir cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large mixing bowl until well combined.

Beat milk, syrup, shortening and eggs in separate bowl until blended. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients, add cracklin's, and stir until just blended -- a few lumps won't matter.

Pour into baking dish and bake until edges are light brown and pull away from sides about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack 20 minutes before serving.

Note: To make cracklin's, cut pork skin with attached fat into 1/2 -inch pieces. Combine pork skin pieces and 1/4 cup water in large heavy skillet over medium heat. When water comes to boil, reduce heat to very low. Stir occasionally to keep pieces from sticking until all fat has been rendered and pieces of skin are brown and crisp. Keep heat low to prevent fat from browning. Strain fat and drain cracklin's briefly on paper towels.

Cookbook's recipes have soul.

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