Low Country and Gullah-Geechee Cuisine

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While visiting Hilton Head this past weekend, I became fascinated with the history of Daufuskie Island and the basics of Gullah-Geechee Cuisine. This traditional low country cooking is layered with ingredients, flavors and cooking techniques borrowed over time from many cultures – West African, European, Caribbean and even native American.

Many of our “Southern” specialties can be directly accredited to the Gullah and their ancestral African cooking techniques. Peanuts, okra, rice, yams, peas, hot peppers, sesame seeds, sorghum, and watermelon are some of the staples used in the Gullah and low country cooking. You might say that the Gullah cooks are the originators of the farm-to-table movement, and using the same local, seasonal ingredients and cooking techniques of their ancestors.

In Gullah tradition, food is not merely for human sustenance and nutrition, but a means for expressing love and appreciation for their families and community – what’s more Southern that that?

These recipes were share by some of the most well noted Gullah cooks including; Sallie Ann Robinson, and Ruby Lee. I think you will find the ingredients currently in season; the recipes may seem very familiar!
Smuttered Shrimp and Grits
(A Sallie Ann Robinson recipe)
2 cups quick grits, prepared according to package instructions (Jim Dandy is preferred)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup flour, (White Lilly self-rising flour is preferred)
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 cup hot water
3 strips bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet, preferably a cast iron skillet, over medium-high heat.

Sprinkle the shrimp with the salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder and toss. Place the flour in a large plastic bag with a zip lock then add the seasoned shrimp, close the lock and shake the shrimp to coat it well.

Test the oil temperature by dropping in a dab of the flour. If it sizzles then add the shrimp to the hot skillet and cook the shrimp until it is browned on both sides.
Remove the shrimp and set aside. Drain the oil then add the onion, bell peppers, celery and water then turn the heat to medium and simmer the vegetables until they are tender. Add the shrimp and simmer 10 to 15 minutes until the gravy thickens and browns.

Serve the shrimp over the prepared grits and crumble the bacon on top. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 6.

Geechee Red Rice and Chicken
(Credit to Holle)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 slices bacon
½ cup diced onion
¼ cup diced bell pepper
¼ cup diced celery
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups cooked rice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon black pepper
Salt, to taste
Hot peppers, to taste
½ cup chicken broth (optional)

Boil chicken breasts in salted water until done.

Meanwhile, fry bacon in a large pot with a lid. When the bacon is done, remove it and drain it on paper towels.

Fry the onions, celery, and bell peppers in the bacon drippings until the veggies are soft. Add the fresh tomatoes and continue cooking for a minute or two.

Reduce heat and add the crushed tomatoes, the sugar, the rice, the garlic, the black pepper, the salt, and the pepper rings. Crumble the bacon and add it.

Cut the chicken into cubes or tear it into pieces. Add it to the pot. Stir until ingredients are blended. If the mixture is too dry for your taste, add about ½ cup of the broth from where you boiled the chicken.

Low Country Crab Pie
1 pie shell (9 inch)
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
½ pound crab meat
½ cup sliced green onions
Heaping tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground red pepper
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup cream
Ritz crackers (about 1/3 sleeve)

Sprinkle cheese over unbaked pie shell.

Pick through crab and remove any shell and cartilage. Mix crab with onions, mayo, and spices.
Evenly distribute crabmeat over cheese.

In a mixing bowl, blend eggs, cream, red pepper, and garlic salt with a wire whisk. Pour over cheese and crab.

Top with crushed Ritz crackers. Bake at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes. Allow to stand at room temperature for about 8-12 minutes before cutting.

Gullah Fried Corn Cakes
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup chopped onion
¼ cup diced bell pepper
1 tablespoon chopped celery, with some leaves
½ cup self rising flour
½ cup self-rising buttermilk cornmeal
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 beaten egg
1 cup fresh or frozen corn, cooked and drained
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground red pepper
Cane syrup

In a small skillet, melt butter and sauté onion, bell pepper, and celery until just tender. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together flour and cornmeal. Slowly stir in buttermilk. Add egg and corn.
Stir in sugar, garlic salt, black pepper, and red pepper. Add the vegetables and melted butter and mix.

Drizzle a black iron skillet with oil – or use a nonstick pan – and heat over medium heat. When pan is hot, use a ladle to pour corn cake batter into pancake-size rounds. Cook until brown on one side. Flip and brown the other side.
Serve with a drizzling of cane syrup.

Gullah-Geechee Stuffed Peppers
4 bell peppers, any color
1 pound lean ground beef
½ cup diced onion
2 tablespoons diced celery
¼ cup rice, uncooked
3 tablespoons tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, OR ketchup
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon ground red pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash peppers and slice off top portion. Remove seeds and ribs.
In a mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients.

Divide beef and rice mixture evenly among the peppers. Place in a small baking dish with a lid and ½ inch of water in the bottom. Cover and bake for 90 minutes, or until meat is done.

Sweet Potato Cornbread
(From the “Roastfish and Cornbread” Restaurant)
3 cups diced and boiled sweet potatoes
1 cup fine cornmeal
1 cup medium to coarse cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
½-1 tablespoon dry Jamaican Jerk seasoning (add according to heat desire)
2 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup sour cream
½ cup liquid margarine or melted butter flavored shortening
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups water (more, or less, as needed)
Sweet Potato Syrup

1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar

Sweet Potato Prep and Syrup:
Place potatoes in a 4-quart saucepan. Cover potatoes with enough water to cover, add sugar and brown sugar, then over medium-high heat, boil potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Do NOT drain water out. Pull out potatoes with a hand strainer and set in a medium bowl. Slightly mash the potatoes, using a fork, do not blend to smooth texture – set potatoes aside. Reduce the sugar water combo until a dark amber thick syrup forms. Set syrup aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients mixing well to incorporate. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add vanilla, shortening, sour cream and 1 cup of semi-mashed sweet potatoes (do not pack potatoes in cup.) Mix with a rubber spatula from the center. Adding 1 cup of water at time, mix well. The batter should be soft but not runny. Fold in remaining sweet potatoes. Moderately grease a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan and pour in batter to fill ¾’s full. Bake for about 1 hour or until done. (Check for doneness by inserting a knife or toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean, the cornbread is done.) Remove from oven and drizzle with sweet potato syrup. Cool for 30 minutes, then serve.