Celebrate Black History Month with savory African-American inspired dishes.
September 29, 2010
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Satisfy the Soul
The cuisine referred to as "soul food" originated in the kitchens of African-American slaves in the late 1800s. Soul food recipes typically called for ingredients that are indigenous to Africa and were often found on American plantations. Dishes such as fried chicken, bread pudding, Hoppin' John, greens and "potlikker," catfish, and hushpuppies are worthy (and tasty) representatives of African-American culinary traditions.
An iconic Southern delicacy, fried chicken is also a favorite soul food dish. This recipe maintains the crispy texture and salty flavors associated with traditional deep-fried chicken, but in a much healthier oven-baked version.
From fried pies to rich, fruity cobblers, soul food desserts pack just as much flavor as the main dishes themselves. Their super-easy preparation, and a typically short list of ingredients, made cobblers popular as early Southern dishes. Cobbler is a cozy dessert dish—typically served warm—in which sweetened fruit is topped with sugary biscuits. This cobbler highlights two favorite Southern fruits: peaches and blackberries.
Many of the early recipes were born from necessity. Cooks in the plantation houses would send leftover scraps to the slave quarters, where the women would fry them with flour, egg, and onion. They would then throw this fried bread to the dogs to keep them quiet while food was being transferred from the kitchen to the table, hence "hush puppy." Those dogs had their day—these puppies are too good to share.
Traditionally used to add protein and flavor to otherwise simple dishes, ham hock remains a staple in kitchens across the South. Ham hock and a pinch of sugar are all that's needed to flavor the greens in this 3-ingredient recipe. Serve the greens with a side of hot pepper sauce for added heat. And don't forget the cornbread.
Dating back to the days of slavery when food could be scarce, African-Americans worked to utilize every ingredient available to them. Even stale bread was soaked in milk or water, flavored with spices, and then baked into bread pudding for a savory dinner or a sweet dessert.
Catfish were readily abundant in the Antebellum South and, due to their status as "bottom feeders," weren't deemed the most stylish dinner staples. Once the South's seafood secret, mild-flavored catfish has gained popularity nation-wide. Simply soak the catfish in milk for an hour before frying to eliminate any leftover fishy taste. The cornmeal crust creates a perfect light and crispy texture.
Okra, a traditionally Southern vegetable, has gained popularity across the country in the past few years, making this dish a national favorite. Fresh or frozen okra work equally well for this high-fiber side dish. Add corn for a little color and texture or cayenne pepper for a spicy flavor.
Fried meat covered in creamy, white gravy is a common home-style dinner. Sweet potatoes, a staple side, were readily available and used often in casseroles and pies or simply baked to add a dash of sweetness to any evening menu.
The liquid left after cooking greens was often referred to as potlikker. This recipe adds field peas, crowder peas, and other vegetables to the cooking liquid from collard greens and ham hocks to make a hearty, nutrient-rich soup.
Harissa, a North African spice paste, is used as a marinade for these ribs. Southern meat recipes, whether grilled, broiled, or baked, often begin with a rub or marinade to add robust flavor to otherwise bland cut of meat. Pork was the preferred meat choice for ribs.
This quintessential Southern dish features black-eyed peas, ham, rice, and greens and was likely introduced to America by African slaves who worked on the rice plantations. There are several legends about the origin of the name, but our favorite is that a man named John "came hoppin' to the table" when his wife made this dish.