Atlanta Chef Asha Gomez brings together the flavors of her native India with those of the Deep South in her new cookbook.
New cookbook My Two Souths by Asha Gomez beautifully illustrates that the cuisine of Southern India and the tastes of the American Deep South share many things. There’s the climate, sun, foodstuffs such as rice and okra and coastal communities, not to mention a spirit of hospitality, talent for creating bounty out of an often modest pantry and an appreciation for the soulful dimension of food as both celebration and comfort.
Gomez was born in the Kerala region of Southern India and immigrated to Queens, New York, with her mother as a teenager. She married and moved to Atlanta in 2000, opening a spa where she would serve clients a Keralan meal after their appointment. She was essentially running a secret Indian restaurant hidden inside a spa, so in 2010, she started the Spice Route Supper Club, hosting monthly dinners in her home. This led to her first official restaurant Cardamom Hill in 2012, which was given a “Best New Restaurant” award from Bon Appetit, Southern Living and the James Beard Foundation. She was named one of Food & Wine‘s “Best New Chefs” for 2013 and 2014 and has now expanded her restaurants to include The Third Space and Spice to Table.
Mississippi Delta Chef Martha Hall Foose assisted with the writing on My Two Souths, helping Gomez to reach deep into her own memories and find stories that connect her “two Souths” located more than 9,000 miles apart. “Along both the fabled Malabar Coast and the Gulf of Mexico’s shores, spices and produce follow the seasons, the tides, and the manifests of the boats that come into their ports,” Gomez explains in her introduction. “All sorts of ingredients make their way into the larders and pantries of these regions, and certain foodstuffs might only be available for a fleeting period of time. Local cooks learn to work with ingenuity and a certain daring—a sensibility still at play here in the American South.”
My Two Souths features such recipes as Skillet Chicken Hash Pie, Golden Kichadi Grits, Kerala Fried Chicken and Low Country Rice Waffles and Cinnamon Biscuit Bramble Cobbler. Gomez was kind enough to share her recipe for Puffy Ginger Hoecakes with us.
The spirited zing of fresh ginger enlivens my puffed version of country-style fried cornmeal cakes, which Southerners call hoecakes. Although I grew up eating uttappam, a rice pancake seasoned with shallots, ginger, and chiles, I had never encountered homemade cornmeal hoecakes until I was having brunch at a friend’s home here in Georgia. Her crispy hoecakes reminded me not only of Indian uttappam but also of Venezuelan arepas. Like many of the traditional dishes here in America’s southern states, my friend’s hoecakes evoked memories of my other South in India. So, the next morning, I couldn’t wait to replicate them with some of the same ingredients used in an Indian uttappam. The resulting puffy ginger cakes have become a favorite breakfast and brunch menu item both at work and at home. I like to serve these crispy cornmeal cakes in the morning with Spicy Syrup.” – Asha Gomez, My Two Souths
Puffy Ginger Hoecakes
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup yellow self-rising cornmeal
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 tsp. white granulated sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. peeled, finely chopped fresh ginger
2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 cups canola oil
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except for the oil, stirring thoroughly and making sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to mix uniformly.
Heat the canola oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter, about 2 Tablespoons at a time, into the hot oil. Fry each hoecake until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side, flipping once with a spatula. Using a slotted spoon, remove each hoecake and drain in a single layer on a paper towel-lined plate. Serve warm. Makes 6, 2-inch cakes.
Notes: Self-rising flour and cornmeal already include salt and baking powder. To make 1 cup of your own self-rising cornmeal, mix 3/4 cup plus 3 Tablespoons of cornmeal with 1 Tablespoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. To make 1 cup of self-rising flour, mix 3/4 cup plus 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
To keep the cakes warm and crisp, keep them under an upside-down colander until ready to serve. The hoecakes will stay warm and crispy because the steam escapes through the holes!
Reprinted with permission from MY TWO SOUTHS: Blending the Flavors of India into a Southern Kitchen © 2016 by Asha Gomez with Martha Hall Foose, Running Press.