Last updated on January 28th, 2021
As they tell the story in the book’s introduction, the brothers, who moved from New York to Charleston as young kids,
“…can’t help thinking that our acclimation to Charleston had a profound effect on the sense of wonder we bring to our kitchen today, to the feeling that—whether we’re at the stove, out on the water, chatting with a historian, or dining in a newly opened restaurant—we’re constantly learning, or seeing something from the past in a new light.”
That sense of wonder and discovery makes its way through each dish and story in the book.
More than just recipes, it intersperses tales of traditional parish hall tea rooms and ornery shrimp boat captain Junior Magwood between dishes featuring shad roe, collards, conch, sorghum, Madeira, and other Southern ingredients.
There really is no better way to experience a city than through its food, and the Lee Bros., storytellers par excellence, masterfully use these elements to immerse the reader in their world.
Though I’ve not yet been to Charleston, reading the cookbook cover-to-cover feels like a baptism in the city’s history and culture.
One of the best tales accompanies a dish called “shrimp supreme,” a retro country club standard that includes ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and butter in its ingredient list.
Though the meal is surprisingly charming (tasting much like the classic seafood stews I love to eat at Grand Central Oyster Bar), it pales in comparison to the juicy revelation that Matt and Ted found a picture of the dish being served in their own living room in an old issue of Smithsonian magazine.
The Lee house at 83 East Bay Street had such distinctive Chinoiserie-style wallpaper—lemony yellow with preening gold peacocks—that it was unmistakably their home.
Even the most humble recipes, like the curiously named “groundnut cakes,” reveal a taste as complex and rich as the history of the city they come from.
Groundnut cakes are essentially peanut praline cookies, named after an archaic term for the legume.
Street vendors used to sell these bite-sized cookies in downtown Charleston beginning in the 1800s through the early 20th century.
Made from freshly chopped peanuts instead of peanut butter from a jar, and folded gently with brown sugar and egg whites, they’re like Southern florentine cookies, lacy and crisp and impossible to get away with eating only one. Or two.
The Lee Bros.’ recipe keeps it simple, but I’ve added a few extra spices to the groundnut cakes recipe that follows to jazz it up just a little bit.
And if you’re wondering what to do with those extra egg yolks after you’ve made the cookies, may I suggest spaghetti carbonara?
- 1 cup (5 ounces; 140 grams) roasted, unsalted peanuts
- 1 cup (7 1/2 ounces; 210 grams) packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (2 1/8 ounces; 60 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 egg whites
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Coarsely chop the peanuts by hand or by pulsing in a food processor. Set aside.
- Whisk the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, and salt together in a medium bowl. Stir in the peanuts.
- Beat the egg whites with an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form.
- Gently fold the dry ingredients into the egg whites until combined.
- Use a teaspoon to drop puddles of the batter onto the prepared baking sheets. Leave at least 1 1/2 inches between each round, as the cookies will spread and puff as they bake.
- Bake until the cookies are brown and crispy at the edges, about 15-20 minutes.
- Slide the parchment paper onto a wire rack and allow the cookies to cool to room temperature.
- Repeat with the remaining batter, allowing the baking sheets to cool between batches.
adapted from The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen
Nutrition Information:Yield: 24 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 48Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 51mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 2g
The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.