Amanda Stone's Tasty States

North Carolina is a land where barbecue and sweet potatoes reign supreme. Biscuits are the carb of choice, although the state's claim to hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts comes awfully close. “North” may be in the name, but North Carolina’s cuisine is thoroughly and unapologetically Southern.

Every place asserting its barbecue is the true barbecue may have met its match in North Carolina. First of all, there are two styles of barbecue, possibly a third, that fall under the blanket of “North Carolina barbecue.” They’re both all about pulled pork, so it’s not as complicated as it seems. I’ll give the highlights of the Lexington-style and Eastern-style, but that rising star third style is going to have to earn its rank.

Lexington-style barbecue uses only pork shoulder, which absorbs more smoke. So Lexington-style has a smokier flavor, but the sauce is where the big distinction comes in. Ketchup is the not-so-secret ingredient, which is mixed with vinegar and spices. The sauce is also used in coleslaw, which is called “red slaw.” I’m not opposed, but I do have doubts surrounding the appearance of that slaw.

On first sight, it’s a cinch to tell the two styles of barbecue apart because Eastern-style barbecue doesn’t use any tomato products. What it lacks in color, it makes up for in pure pork volume. Every edible part of the hog is used and flavored with a spicy/tart vinegar and pepper sauce. I’m on board.

About 70% of all sweet potatoes in the U.S. are grown in North Carolina, so you can bet people there know their way around some sweet potato sides. Fun fact: Once sweet potatoes are harvested, they’re cured by sitting around in a warm, dry room for about a week. After that, they can be stored for up to a year. Plus they’re packed with vitamins and fiber, making them one of nature’s perfect foods.

Try these recipes to see what North Carolina can do.

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North Carolina cheese-filled biscuits

  • 8 ounces cheddar cheese
  • 3 1/2 cups flour, divided
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Heat oven to 500 degrees. Grease a light-colored 9-inch round cake pan with butter. Grate cheese; bagged, pre-shredded cheese doesn’t work well. Working with 1/3 cup cheese, use hands to squeeze cheese into 6 firm balls. Set aside.

Pulse 2 1/4 cups flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in food processor until combined. Add chilled butter and pulse until crumbly. Transfer mixture to large bowl and add buttermilk. mix until just combined. Spread remaining 1 cup flour in a rimmed baking sheet. Using a greased 1/2 cup dry measure, transfer 6 portions of dough to the flour-covered baking sheet. Dust each with flour from the baking sheet.

Flour your hands and gently flatten each piece into a 3.5-inch circle and coat with flour. Put one of the cheese balls in the center and pull and pinch the dough around it. Place seam side down in the greased round baking dish with 5 around the outside and 1 in the center. Brush tops of biscuits with melted butter. Bake 5 minutes at 500 and then turn down to 450 and bake for 15 to 20 more minutes until deep golden brown.

Let biscuits cool in pan for 2 minutes then invert on a plate, break apart and turn right side up. Let cool 5 mins and serve warm.

Recipe adapted from www.kitchengadgetjunkie.com.

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Creamy Thai sweet potato curry

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 3 tablespoons curry paste
  • 1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
  • 1/2 to 1 cup broth or water
  • 1/2 cup chopped peanuts and cilantro
  • Fish sauce to taste
  • Rice, for serving

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots and stir fry until soft and fragrant. Add sweet potatoes and stir to coat with oil. Add the curry paste and stir until well-combined. Add coconut milk and broth and simmer over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until thickened. Stir in the spinach until wilted.

Add half of the peanuts and cilantro; reserve the rest for topping. Add a quick splash of fish sauce to the curry. Serve over rice, topped with remaining peanuts and cilantro.

Recipe adapted from www.pinchofyum.com.

Amanda Stone is a food and gardening columnist for The Joplin Globe. Email questions to amandastone31@gmail.com or mail her c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.