My 10 Favorite Soul Food Dishes
June is Soul Food Month, so I thought I would list my 10 favorite soul food dishes — or at least dishes considered to be part of soul food.
Soul Food Month celebrates an African-American cuisine that is uniquely Southern but that has been adopted across the South. Being a Southerner myself, there are a lot of soul food dishes that don’t strike me as “soul food” at all, but rather simply as “Southern cuisine.”
The cuisine, in fact, fuses flavors of West Africa, Western Europe and the Americas, according to FirstWeFeast.com, which also points out that it had its “breakout moment” during the 1960s when Black Power advocates “declared their independence from the narrative forced upon African Americans by white hegemony.” While food, the site argues, was part of that, the fact that soul food shared common ingredients with Southern cuisine and the lines are so blurred that neither whites nor blacks can completely agree which dishes are truly Soul food and which are Southern food.
One might argue that cardiologists love such menu items because, in some cases, it guarantees them more business. But I digress.
DaysoftheYear.com reports the celebration is sponsored by the Culinary Historians of Chicago, a city famous for its comfort food establishments.
Here are my 10 favorite soul food dishes. Which of the following have you tried?
1. Fried Chicken
This dish has become so ubiquitous today that it seems almost silly to include it. For what it’s worth, I do like the more spicy varieties like that sold at Bojangle’s, for example. But I understand that the spicy level in their chicken isn’t truly Cajun in intensity. (But it works just fine for me.)
2. Black-Eyed Peas/Hoppin’ John
My version of “Hoppin’ John” is more simple than others: mixing rice with the peas and some seasoning. I like black-eyed peas on their own, however, so if they’re seasoned well — which means cooked with a bit of pork, of course — who needs anything else?
My favorite cornbread is moist and has a slight sweetness to it. I hate spicy or jalopeño cornbread.
4. Collard Greens
When I was a kid, there was a restaurant near my hometown that had a buffet with collards. Under normal conditions, I try to avoid them because most people don’t know how to cook them and compensate for the acidic taste. This place did: I was told they added just a hint of sugar and baking soda to cut down the acid and seasoned them with a little pork as well. The result were greens that had a rich flavor. Second helpings weren’t a problem!
5. Macaroni and Cheese
I’m one of those “difficult” ones who is perfectly content with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. But this particular dish is the kind that you bake like a casserole. Talk about comfort food!
6. Fried Fish
I’m finicky when it comes to fish: I don’t like the rib cage and I won’t touch a fish if it’s served with the head intact. But if we’re talking about fillets, especially catfish, breaded with a little cornmeal, it’s a tasty (though less healthy) alternative to baked.
7. Fried Green Tomatoes
I have this thing about tomatoes. Actually, I have a food sensitivity to some sort of acid that makes up a raw tomato. Apparently, when tomatoes are cooked, whatever acid the inside of my mouth seems to dislike will burn off.
It took a long time for me to even try fried green tomatoes for this reason. But this southern side just proves the old adage that everything truly is better fried.
8. Cobbler (Especially Peach Cobbler)
My mom once made a peach cobbler on a night that just happened to be an evening on which CBS ran the film Gone With the Wind. It was a perfect, though totally coincidental, match. Now, when I see one, I automatically think of the other. Peach is my favorite cobbler, with blueberry a close second.
I really love a dish called Apple Betty (also known as Apple Crisp). This might be a type of cobbler, and if you consider it as such, it’d take peach’s place at the top of my list.
Yes, I like grits. Most true Southerners, whether they admit or not, do. There’s just one thing: you have to cook them with salt. When I go to restaurants, I almost always have to add salt to them. Without salt, grits are horrible; properly seasoned, with some cheese and perhaps a bit of sausage or bacon diced and mixed in, they’re a better comfort food than mac and cheese.
10. Hush Puppies
Hush puppies are little balls of fried cornmeal batter. They’re often seasoned with a bit of onion or onion salt. They can be dipped in ketchup or other condiments or eaten plain. The story of the “hush puppy” name dates back to the early 20th century. It’s believed that hunters or fishermen would use batter on their catch, and then fry up clumps of the leftover batter and feed it their canine companions to “hush the puppies.” I’ve never had a dog who’d turn down a hush puppy!