Rice: A Savor the South Cookbook, written by Michael W. Twitty, features the versatile staple, rice, in fifty-one recipes spanning across Creole, Acadian, Low Country, Gulf Coast, and West African cuisines. A few highlights include Carolina Pilau, Liberian Rice Bread, Autumn Herb Rice, Crab Fried Rice, Savannah Rice Waffles, and so much more. I will also be sharing his recipe for Louisiana Calas following the review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from The University of North Carolina Press in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Michael W. Twitty
Michael W. Twitty is a food writer, culinary historian, and Judaic studies teacher. He is the creator of Afroculinaria, the first blog devoted to African American historic foodways and their legacies. Along with over 250 talks and appearances in the media around the world, he has appeared in Ebony, the Guardian, NPR, Bizarre Foods America, Taste the Nation, and Michelle Obama’s Waffles and Mochi.
First We Feast named him one of the twenty greatest food bloggers of all time, he was listed as one of “Fifty People Who are Changing the South” by Southern Living, and he has received readers’ choice and editors’ choice awards from Saveur for best food and culture blog. He is also a Smith fellow with the Southern Foodway Alliance, a TED fellow and speaker, and the first Revolutionary in Residence at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Rice: A Savor the South Cookbook
This cookbook is small, but packed with history along with an incredible variety of recipes. It is a part of the SAVOR THE SOUTH collection which “is a big celebration of a beloved food or tradition of the American South.” Each book in the series focuses on a specific ingredient and Rice covers the grain from the basics and beginnings in West Africa to its transition to cuisines across the South.
Chapters are divided according to the following: The Basics, Deep Origins, Taste Transitions, Diverse Approaches, Southern Classics, and Breads and Desserts. The contents have a list of the included recipes with page number for easy reference.
Twitty begins with an introduction to rice, its history, and connection to his own family. Throughout the book, he shows just how versatile rice is with its uses from rice balls and pilau to soup, one-pot meals, and even baked goods. He states, “Rice’s perfume marries well with the scent of other ingredients and amplifies what we like most about rice: it changes outfits well to suit the party.”
He follows the history of the grain from West Africa to the taking of enslaved people from ethnic groups who were already experts in growing rice, the influence of the Gullah-Geechee people and Creoles, and more recently the introduction of new flavors following immigration from around the world.
Twitty also takes a closer look at the types of rice that were/are used in Southern cooking and how they have shifted through the end of slavery and movement to other regions along with the recent revival of varieties such as Carolina Gold and Merikin.
As a note, there is no photography in the book, but Twitty’s directions are well-written and easy to follow. Titles are written in English or the original language. Measurements are listed in US Customary. Each recipe includes a headnote with background information, origin, helpful tips, serving size, and notable ingredients.
Louisiana Calas is the very last recipe in Rice. Twitty states, “Calas are mostly associated with Louisiana, however; they were sold on the streets of antebellum New Orleans by Black Creole ladies.” These deep-fried rice fritters are connected to the West African akara (a fritter often made with black-eyed peas, but can also be prepared with rice, millet, or other grains).
Long-grain white rice is boiled in water until all the moisture has been absorbed and allowed to cool to room temperature. The rice is then well-coated in a beaten egg mixture before folding in flour and warming spices. The resulting dough is formed into golf-ball sized rounds and fried in hot oil until golden brown.
These fritters are best served hot and fresh with cane syrup and powdered sugar.
I also made Twitty’s Groundnut Stew My Way, Omo Tuo (Rice Balls), Meyer Lemon Rice with Candied Garlic, and Sausage Pilau.
The Groundnut Stew My Way is based on Twitty’s memories from his first trips to West Africa. Pieces of chicken are marinated for several hours in a blended mixture of onion, garlic, ginger, habanero, and tomato, then simmered in a tomato peanut sauce until thickened.
I made the Omo Tuo (Rice Balls) to pair with the Groundnut Stew. With just water, short-grain white rice, and salt, they came together easily towards the end of the cooking time for the stew. Once the rice is cooked, it is mashed and formed into tennis ball-sized rounds. I absolutely loved the contrast in texture with the thick and creamy stew.
I was immediately drawn to the Meyer Lemon Rice with Candied Garlic in the Diverse Approaches section. The bright flavor infused throughout the rice with the use of both the Meyer lemon juice and zest was incredible. It paired beautifully with the candied garlic served on top.
I have now made the Sausage Pilau three times and it continues to be a favorite. This rice dish was inspired by a recipe recorded in Mrs. Hill’s New Cookbook by Annabella Powell Dawson Hill. A resident of north Georgia in the nineteenth century, her cookbook “is an extensive record of the cuisine of the Georgia Piedmont in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.” Pieces of pork sausage are formed into 1-inch balls and browned well before pairing with the rice and simmering until tender in this flavor-packed one pot meal.
Rice is a wonderful pick for those interested in the history of rice from West Africa to the South with an incredible collection of both historical recipes and modern flavors. Recipes range from quick and easy one-pot meals to others that require planning with overnight marinating and longer simmering times.
Most of the ingredients are readily available in the average American grocery store. A few items that may require further searching include mace, Scotch bonnet peppers, African curry powder, Meyer lemon, Creole seasoning, and rice flour.
Louisiana Calas Recipe
Excerpt from Rice
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2/3 cup long-grain white rice not converted, washed and drained
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Vegetable oil for deep frying
- Cane syrup for serving (optional)
- Powdered sugar for topping (optional)
- Bring the water to a boil in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Slowly pour in the rice and stir two or three times. Add more water if necessary to cover the rice by 1 inch, then cover the pan tightly. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit, still covered, for another 15 minutes to ensure maximum water absorption. Spread the cooked rice out in a large skillet and allow it to cool to room temperature.
- Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt into a medium mixing bowl. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar for several minutes until sugar is dissolved.
- Add the cooled rice and stir with a spoon until the rice is well coated.
- Add the dry ingredients to the rice-and-eggs mixture 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until well mixed and a dough forms.
- Place the rice dough on a lightly floured work surface and divide it into six even portions. Moistening your hands frequently wiht cold water to prevent sticking, shape each portion into a ball. They should each be the size of a golf ball.
- Pour the oil into a large Dutch oven to a depth of about 3 inches. Place the pot over high heat and heat the oil to 350˚F.
- When the end of a spoon sizzles when dipped into the oil, it's ready. Deep-fry the calas over medium-high heat, two or three at a time, turning them frequently with a slotted spoon. As they turn golden brown, use the slotten spoon to transfer them to paper towels to drain.
- Have your cane syrup and powdered sugar ready and serve the calas piping hot! They must be eaten hot and fresh.