Lauren McDuffie shares classic Southern recipes with a lighter twist in her new cookbook publishing June 6. | Photo by Ruta Smith

Can Southerners, who are stereotypically known to love all things breaded and fried, get an appetite for lighter dishes?

 “If there’s not an appetite for that, there should be,” said Lauren McDuffie, laughing.

McDuffie combines her Southern upbringing and love for healthy food in her latest cookbook Southern Lights

McDuffie is betting she can convince Southerners to lighten up with her new cookbook, Southern Lights, available June 6. The cookbook is full of Southern classics but leans heavily on herbs and seasonal vegetables.

“This book is about food and what it can do for you,” McDuffie said. “It’s colorful and happy. I really wanted to show some simple, doable ways to lighten up some classic Southern recipes. Also, what I’ve come to appreciate, having lived in the South most of my life, is that there is so much of Southern cooking that’s already healthy and light. That’s the food that doesn’t get all the glory and attention, but a lot of Southern cooking exists to celebrate whatever grows in the Southern ground. I wanted to show that off.”

 The Kentucky native’s first cookbook, Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest, celebrated the food of the Appalachians, where she grew up and which she missed while living in Indianapolis. When she moved to James Island with her pediatric surgeon husband, she wanted to feature the foods she saw around her in Charleston.

“My first cookbook was born from a little bit of homesickness,” she said. “I missed my Appalachian roots and with that book, I got to [go] home, figuratively. When I found out we were going to land in Charleston, I was thrilled. I can’t imagine a more different and interesting place to call home. Everyone told me, ‘It’s so beautiful, it’s so hot, and it’s such an amazing food town.’”

The Lowcountry’s reputation as a food mecca was appealing to her. McDuffie grew up in Kentucky and, later, Virginia. She’d read her mother’s Southern Living magazine recipes the way some read novels, absorbing the stories behind the recipes and trying to memorize the steps. Before the Food Network, she’d watch cooking shows on public television. Eventually, she started a popular blog, My Kitchen Little, which gave her the confidence to explore how to write a cookbook and get it published.

McDuffie’s hushpuppy popovers. | Image provided

“My culinary background is varied,” she said. “I call myself a professional home cook, though I’ve explored the culinary world from every nook and cranny with the exception of going to culinary school.”

McDuffie has even tackled lightening up that heaviest of Southern dishes — hushpuppies.

“The secret is they’re baked,” she said. “And that’s always a good answer to lightening up anything that is deep-fried. I wanted to preserve that gritty cornmeal texture, but you won’t find a lot of processed sugar in my hushpuppies. They’re baked and, when I serve them, I flip the honey butter to buttered honey. It’s mostly honey with a little bit of butter. It’s all about the little changes, nothing dramatic.”

Preorder the cookbook on McDuffie’s website,

Lauren McDuffie’s Hushpuppy Popovers

Makes 12 popovers

There are few Southern seafood-centric situations in which baskets or bowls of freshly fried hush puppies aren’t present. Slathered in honey butter and enjoyed one after the other, hush puppies are essentially savory cornbread doughnuts served alongside your meal. Tasty, but not very healthy. For a lighter change of pace, I’ve got an easy cornmeal popover option. The cornmeal gives my classic blender popover recipe a golden hue and a sturdier bite, and it’s hard not to love the fact that these bake in muffin tins — no popover pans need apply.

3 tablespoons ghee, olive oil or liquid coconut oil, divided
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¾ cup plain yellow cornmeal
½ cup white whole wheat or
all-purpose flour

Watercress, for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Adjust the rack to the middle position. Brush each of 12 muffin cups with some of the ghee, using up about two tablespoons’ worth.

When the oven is preheated, put the prepared muffin pan inside and let it heat up for 5 minutes.

In a blender, combine the remaining one tablespoon of ghee and the eggs, buttermilk and salt.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornmeal and flour. Add this to the blender, and blend until completely smooth. Remove the muffin pan from the oven and pour the batter into the greased muffin cups, filling them just over three-fourths full.

Bake the popovers for 25 to 27 minutes or until very golden brown and done in the centers. Garnish with watercress, if using, and serve with whipped honey.

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