Matt and Ted Lee know Lowcountry cooking and are sharing it with the rest of the world.
The brothers’ first cookbook won the 2007 James Beard Award; their latest, “Simple Fresh Southern,” offers easy versions of Lowcountry recipes.
“But there’s also a double-entendre on the word ‘fresh,’ ” Ted said. “This is us doing what we do from day to day, which is have fun with Southern ingredients. … It’s a fresh outlook as well as fresh ingredients.”
The brothers, who recently visited Beaufort and sat down for an interview with Monthly, grew up in downtown Charleston where, Ted said, “Food is a part of life in a way it isn’t in other places outside the Lowcountry. You learn to shrimp and crab as a 7-year-old. That’s special.”
Neither has any professional training or owns a restaurant. They began cooking as teens, but it was homesickness during a bleak winter while in college in the Northeast, and their fruitless quest for boiled peanuts, that led to the founding of The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue (www.boiledpeanuts.com) which is full of Southern staples.
They moved back to Charleston to expand the business, and in 2000, a catalog customer and major travel magazine editor asked them to write a road trip story about searching for great Southern food. Now the Lees write regularly for Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, GQ, The New York Times, as well as a wine column for Martha Stewart Living.
Among many notable chefs who are fans of the Lees, Top Chef host Tom Colicchio praised “Simple Fresh Southern” as “southern cuisine fit for the 21st century. Matt and Ted offer the home cooked recipes that are lighter, more flavorful, and simpler to execute, while still holding tight to their Southern soul.”
Ginger LemonadeServes 8 • time: 10 minutes steeping, 5 minutes preparation
If we were musicians, we’d write a torch song about ginger and lemon, a match made in heaven. And though we’ve been drinking fresh lemonade as long as we can remember (Coca-Cola was taboo at 83 East Bay Street), we never thought to make a cold fresh-ginger lemonade until recently. Now we’re making up for lost time. This drink is easy to make, super-refreshing, and happens to be a kick-ass mixer with bourbon and tequila.
2 ounces fresh ginger, peeled, cut into thin disks (1⁄3 cup)
1⁄4 cup honey, or more to taste
1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
3⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 4 large lemons)
1. Put the ginger in a medium heatproof bowl. Bring 2 cups cold water to a boil, then pour it into the bowl and stir to agitate the ginger. Slowly pour in the honey, stirring until it’s dissolved in the concentrate. Add the salt, cover, and let steep for 10 minutes.
2. Strain the concentrate into a large pitcher (it will keep for 5 days, covered, in the refrigerator), reserving the ginger slices. Add 3 cups cold water and the lemon juice to the pitcher, and sweeten to taste with honey. Set the pitcher in the refrigerator to cool further; store the ginger slices in the refrigerator as well. (The lemonade and ginger slices will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days.)
3. Fill each highball or pint glass two-thirds of the way to the rim with ice, and pour the ginger lemonade over it. Garnish with a slice of the steeped ginger.
Note: If, after making Ginger Lemonade, you’d like to sweeten the lemonade further without adding more honey flavor, add superfine sugar to taste.
Skillet green beans with orangeServes 4 • time: 10 minutes preparation, 10 minutes cooking
The slender, tender French haricots verts that have emerged in upscale food markets in recent years bear no resemblance to the leathery-skinned, stout green beans our parents grew when we were kids, the kind that seemed suited only to long simmering in a pot with a chunk of really good bacon. In this recipe, we “skillet-toast” those fat beans, which adds a charred, smoky dimension to them, transforming even the toughest beans—which, truth be told, is the kind we find most often in the precincts of the U.S. we inhabit—into something as addictively delicious as salted popcorn.
Serve these beans with Pimento-Cheese Potato Gratin (page 155) and Skirt Steak with Parsley Sauce (page 171), and you have a well-rounded, knockout menu that takes only an hour to prepare.
1 large navel orange
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed
3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, or rice vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Finely grate the zest of the orange, and reserve it. Segment the orange (see Segmenting Citrus, page 130), and keep the sections and juice in a bowl.
2. In a large cast-iron skillet or saute pan, heat the canola oil over high heat, swirling it around the pan so it coats the bottom thinly and evenly. When the oil begins to smoke, add the beans (in batches, if necessary—don’t crowd the pan) and scatter 1⁄2 teaspoon of the salt over them. Cook, stirring only every 11⁄2 to 2 minutes, until the beans are half blistered and blackened, about 8 minutes. Transfer the beans to a serving platter or bowl. Lift the orange segments out of their juice (reserve the juice), and scatter them over the beans. Sprinkle 1⁄4 teaspoon of the orange zest over the beans and oranges.
3. Add the vinegar, olive oil, and remaining 1⁄4 teaspoon salt to the bowl of orange juice, and whisk until thoroughly combined.
Pour the dressing over the beans. Toss, and season to taste with salt, black pepper, and the remaining orange zest.