Celebrate Black History Month by feeding your soul with faith, family, friends, and food, of course! Soul food, a delectable cuisine that mixes roots from Africa, the Caribbean, and the South, has a deep history that can only make each morsel taste even better. With nutritious staple ingredients like collard greens, yams, and beans, it’s one cuisine that can truly nourish your body, mind, and soul, and taste so good you’ll want seconds. These recipes have been simmering for hundreds of years, passed down in an oral tradition, which leaves much room for adaptations over time.
As the melting pot of the country has added processed and fatty foods in place of wholesome healthy ingredients, many of the cultural dishes have also used these substitutions, including soul food. What’s sad is that the more conveniences we have, the less time we have for slow, home-cooked, nutritious comfort food. Fortunately, you can probably still find some healthy soul food spots that will fill up your stomach and not your waistline, whether they are a family-owned joint or a family friend’s kitchen. But if you’re trying to keep the tradition alive by spending some time in the kitchen, try these healthy tips to keep this food at a comfort level, without having to grab your sweat pants!
- Gotta get the greens. Collards, chard, spinach, kale….yum! Slow-cooked greens can give your body a good dose of Vitamin A and calcium. Sure, hickory-smoked bacon can make the greens taste even better, but try substituting the meat with something more on the lean side, like smoked turkey.
- Let the sweets shine. Sweet potatoes and yams have such a good flavor, you only need a little bit of seasoning to make it taste even better. Skip the sugar, and even the marshmallows, and try using just cinnamon and apple juice. Remember, the deep orange colors also can be a good dose of Vitamin A for healthy vision.
- Substitute the sugars. Use a ‘lil bit of honey, 100% maple syrup, or even molasses anytime you need to sweeten anything up, whether it be your greens, beans, or sweet potato pie.
- Baked, not fried. This tip might be the most difficult to appreciate, but after you learn to love it, your body will love you even more! Try using a cereal-based breading, like cornflakes, and place the chicken or the catfish in the oven, not in a pot of hot oil. It will feel less heavy and still have that crunchy texture that makes fried foods so comforting.
- Keep the fats healthy. No grease. No trans fat. No partially hydrogenated oils. Use olive oil when you can, and if you need to use some real butter, use it sparingly. The bad fats can lead to clogged arteries, which is not good for a healthy heart.
- Load up the mac. I have a weakness for mac ‘n cheese and while it’s not the healthiest dish to enjoy, you can load it up with vegetables like spinach, broccoli, or even carrots to make it more nutritious for you. You won’t feel as guilty when you go for seconds.
Just remember to eat in moderation. Seconds can be a good way to show a chef that you love what you’re eating, but thirds? Too much of a good thing can be enough!