A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Shrimp and Grits Blackened Catfish Po'Boys Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole Lightened-up Coleslaw Shrimp and Grits When I first moved to North Carolina, I considered grits

Madison County Championship Rodeo

Shrimp and Grits Blackened Catfish Po'Boys Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole Lightened-up Coleslaw Shrimp and Grits When I first moved to North Carolina, I considered grits

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Shrimp and Grits Blackened Catfish Po'Boys Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole Lightened-up Coleslaw Shrimp and Grits When I first moved to North Carolina, I considered grits

Healthy Takes on 5 Classic Southern Recipes

healthy southern recipes

Shrimp and Grits

When I first moved to North Carolina, I considered grits as solely a breakfast food — one that I wasn’t fond of, at that. But once I laid eyes on a cheesy, steaming plate of shrimp and grits, it didn’t take me long to come around. I love the texture and corny flavor of stone-ground grits, so that’s what I’ve used here. They’re cooked in chicken stock, which adds lots of flavor without requiring tons of butter, cream, or cheese.

healthy southern recipes

Yields 4 servings.

  • 4 cups low sodium chicken stock, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup stone-ground grits
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt and pepper

Shrimp and Peppers

  • 2 strips bacon, diced
  • 3 bell peppers of various colors, thinly sliced
  • 1 large white onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay
  • 3 teaspoons smoked paprika, divided
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional garnish: shredded cheese, parsley, hot sauce

In a large pot, bring 3 cups of chicken stock and salt to a boil. Gradually stir in grits, whisking continuously. Return to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to your stove’s lowest possible temperature. Cook, whisking frequently, for 15-20 minutes. Add remaining 1 cup of chicken stock, cover, and cook, whisking frequently, until all the liquid is absorbed (approximately 10 more minutes). Just before serving, add a tablespoon of butter, stirring gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat your largest skillet over medium-high heat.  Add bacon, sauté until crisp, then remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, and drain over paper towels.  Discard all but one tablespoon of the pan’s bacon grease. Add peppers and onion to pan, tossing to coat with the bacon grease. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables until tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic to the pan, and cook mixture 1 minute more.

In a medium bowl, combine shrimp, Old Bay, and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika. Season with salt and pepper. Scoot peppers and onions to the side of the skillet, and then add the shrimp, cooking approximately 2 minutes per side. While the shrimp cooks, add remaining 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, hot sauce to the pan. Add salt and pepper to taste. When the shrimp is nearly cooked through, add chicken stock. Simmer 5 minutes more. Sprinkle bacon pieces and chopped green onions on top. Serve over grits, and garnish with shredded cheese, parsley, and hot sauce, as desired.

Blackened Catfish Po’boys

A po’boy is a traditional New Orleans sandwich, served on crusty bread that often features freshly fried seafood and a thick slather of mayonnaise. It is delightful and indulgent and also full of fat. This recipe calls for blackening the catfish, a fast and healthy alternative to frying, which allows the natural oils of the catfish to release and sizzle with the blackening seasoning.

healthy southern recipes

Yields 4 servings.


  • 2 catfish fillets, approximately 1.25 pounds
  • Blackening seasoning (recipe below)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • Sweet pickle remoulade (recipe below)
  • French baguette, sliced into 4-inch hunks
  • Optional garnish: fresh lemon, lettuce, sweet pickles

Blackening Seasoning

  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano

Sweet Pickle Remoulade

  • 1/2 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup minced sweet pickles
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pickle juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon
  • 2 teaspoons horseradish
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Move the oven rack to its highest possible position, then preheat the oven to broil. Line a baking sheet with foil.

In a small bowl, combine the blackening seasoning. In a separate small bowl, combine the sweet pickle remoulade ingredients, then refrigerate.

Lightly coat each of the catfish fillets with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil per side.  Then rub each side of fillet with the blackening seasoning. Place fillets on the baking sheet and broil for 4-5 minutes per side, or until fish is flaky in the center. Halve each catfish fillet, and then place each half on a baguette. Finish with the sweet pickle remoulade sauce, a squeeze of fresh lemon, lettuce, and pickles, as desired.

Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese

It’s hard to pass on a creamy, cheesy plate of mac and cheese, and with this healthy recipe, you don’t have to.  The secret to this lightened-up cheesy sauce is a puree of sautéed onions, garlic, and milk. The addition of Greek yogurt makes the sauce a little tangy and extra creamy, and a modest amount of extra sharp cheddar cheese packs in big flavor.

Healthy Mac and Cheese (2) 2

Yields 4-6 servings.

  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 ounces freshly shredded, extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup panko
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmesan

Preheat oven to 425°.

Cook elbow macaroni to one minute shy of al dente.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once melted, add onions, and stir to coat.  Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium, and cook onions, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add garlic, and cook two minutes more. Transfer onion mixture to a food processor. Add milk, and puree until smooth.

Transfer mixture to a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add dry mustard, smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste. Once the onion mixture is hot and bubbly, remove from heat. Whisk in the cheddar cheese. Stir in Greek yogurt, and then fold in macaroni. Transfer macaroni mixture to an 8 x 8-inch glass casserole dish. Combine panko and parmesan in a small bowl, and then sprinkle evenly across the mac and cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole

In my family, sweet potato casserole is made sweet enough to serve as dessert, with nearly 1.5 cups of sugar. And let’s not forget the melted marshmallow topping. (No wonder my nephew devours it.) Rather than boiling the potatoes, as is done in many traditional recipes, this healthy spin on the classic dish calls for roasting them, which brings out their natural sweetness. Doing so also greatly reduces the total amount of sugar needed.healthy southern recipes

Yields 6-8 servings.


  • 3.5 pounds of sweet potatoes (4-5 large potatoes)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup milk


  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup quick oats
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 400°.

With a fork, pierce each potato several times. Place potatoes on a baking sheet. Roast for 1 hour or until the flesh feels soft when pricked with a fork.

Reduce oven temperature to 350°.

Cut a large slit down the middle of each potato. Using a towel to protect your hands, scoop the flesh of each potato into a large bowl, and discard the skins. Roughly mash the potatoes. Stir in butter, salt, black pepper, honey, and milk. Transfer this mixture to a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish.

In a small bowl, combine the topping ingredients. Distribute topping evenly over sweet potatoes.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Lightened-up Coleslaw

Creamy coleslaw is one of my favorite Southern sides. This lightened-up recipe uses a reduced fat mayonnaise dressing and packs in extra veggies for added nutrients and texture. It’s great as a simple side dish, but the cold crunchy slaw is also wonderful on burgers, hot dogs, tacos, and pulled pork sandwiches, of course.

Healthy Coleslaw (2)

Yields 6-8 servings.


  • 4 cups shredded cabbage (approximately 8 ounces)
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli florets (no stems)
  • 1 cup sweet corn


  • 1/2 cup reduced fat mayo
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

In a large bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients. Fold in the cabbage, broccoli, and corn. Refrigerate for at least one hour prior to serving, so it will give the vegetables time to release their natural juices and all dressing flavors time to marry.

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This story was published on Jan 15, 2015

Mary Cowx

Mary Cowx

Cowx is a food blogger from Charlotte. She loves bread, potatoes in every fashion, and ice cream, but she isn't afraid to write a diatribe against frozen yogurt.