I have a wonderful collection of classic soul food recipes, as well as a few twists on the classics that were popular in my Southern town. Soul food is just … soulful. It's not always good for you, but you still crave it when you need comfort, when you want to get in touch with your roots, or when you feel nostalgic for times and places that simply don't exist any longer. Everyone turns to food – often the food they grew up eating, at that – when they need comfort. Some of us relied on cornbread, collards, and grits with shrimp instead of pasta and bread or sausage and sauerkraut. But don't worry, y'all, you don't have to come from the South to enjoy these incredible soul food recipes!
1. Fried Green Tomatoes
This is one of my favorite soul food recipes ever. If you've only ever heard about fried green tomatoes through the novel or the film adaptation, you don't know what you're missing! Ease the tartness with ketchup or a little bit of sugar in the cornmeal, or experiment by frying up a mess of red and yellow tomatoes as well!
4 to 6 green tomatoes
salt and pepper
bacon grease or vegetable oil
Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 - 1/2-inch slices.
Salt and pepper them to taste.
Dip in meal and fry in hot grease or oil about 3 minutes or until golden on bottom.
Gently turn and fry the other side.
Serve as a side dish - delicious with breakfast!
Cornbread is a hearty, delicious staple at any soulful meal. Actually, it's a great addition to just about any meal period. You can get yourself a box mix, of course, but it's simply not the same. You'll notice I included the required tools here as well; that's because the skillet is very, very important! My mom makes a jalapeno cornbread based on a recipe like this, but it includes cheese, jalapeno peppers (of course), and a little real corn!
1-1/2 cups yellow corn meal
1-1/2 cups general all purpose flour
4 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1-1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons melted butter
Cookware and Utensils:
1 cast iron skillet
2 mixing bowls
1 measuring cup
1 mixing spoon
1 kitchen basting brush
You can start off by greasing your cast iron skillet with a little vegetable oil. Set the oven to 425 degrees and heat your skillet. If you don't have the cast iron skillet go head and use a iron baking pan.
Blend corn meal, flour, baking powered and sugar in a mixing bowl. In another bowl Whisk together your milk, eggs and melted butter. Make the corn bread batter by mixing your dry and wet ingredients together thoroughly.
Next using oven mittens, carefully remove the cast iron skillet from the oven. Using a kitchen basting brush or whatever you have available coat the inside of your skillet with vegetable oil.
Pour batter into the skillet and return to oven. Bake for about half an hour or until a wooden tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. The finished product will be golden brown.
3. Buttermilk Brined Fried Chicken
This wouldn't be a proper list if I didn't include fried chicken! Every Southern family has their own special recipe, often a secret. As such, this isn't the exact recipe my family uses, but it's close enough – and it is very, very delicious. So crisp but so surprisingly light! Just moderate your cravings to once a month!
3 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup coarse salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2-1/2 to 3 pounds meaty chicken pieces (breast halves, thighs, and drumsticks)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup buttermilk
For brine, in a resealable plastic bag set in a bowl combine the 3 cups buttermilk, the coarse salt, and sugar. Cut chicken breasts in half crosswise. Add all chicken pieces to the brine; seal bag. Chill for 2 to 4 hours; remove chicken from brine. Drain chicken; pat dry with paper towels. Discard brine.
In a large bowl combine flour, the 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Place the 3/4 cup buttermilk in a shallow dish. Coat chicken with flour mixture. Dip in the buttermilk; coat again with flour mixture.
Meanwhile, in a deep, heavy Dutch oven or kettle, or a deep-fat fryer, heat 1-1/2 inches oil to 350º degrees F. Using tongs carefully add a few pieces of chicken to Dutch oven. (Oil temperature will drop; maintain temperature at 325º degrees F.) Fry chicken for 12 to 15 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink (170º degrees F for breasts; 180º degrees F for thighs and drumsticks), and coating is golden, turning once. Drain on paper towels. Keep fried chicken warm in a 300º degree F oven while frying remaining chicken pieces.
Makes 6 servings.
4. Black-Eyed Peas
In my home, black-eyed peas are a staple on New Year's Day, often served up with cabbage. They're delicious any other day of the year, however, and this recipe is especially tops. We didn't routinely use olive oil when I was a kid, but trust me, it makes all the difference – and mind you be careful with that red pepper!
1 Bag (1 lbs) dry black eyed peas
3 pieces of thick bacon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
You can pick up a bag of dry black-eyed peas at your local grocery store. Start with a small bag of peas, about 1 pound. This should produce about 5-6 cups of cooked beans.
Sorting and rinsing your peas is very simple. Sort through your peas removing any defective peas, dirt or debris that may be present. Place the peas in a colander and rinse several times.
In order to make that perfect dish you have to soak your peas before cooking. After a good rinsing place peas in pot and cover with at least 3 inches of water. Place peas in your refrigerator and soak peas overnight.
After the peas have soaked overnight discard the water. Rinse peas one finally time. Place peas into a large pot or dutch oven and cover with two inches of fresh water. Bring water to a boil then add other ingredients. Add lid to your pot and simmer 2 hours until peas are tender. Do not let water cook out. Add additionally seasoning to taste if required.
5. Fried Catfish
If you've never had fried catfish, we can't even talk anymore. I know it doesn't sound appetizing, catfish being bottom feeders, but this Southern staple is so good, one sniff and your tongue'll beat your brains out trying to get a taste! Or something like that. But seriously, you've never tasted a lighter, flakier, sweeter fish than this – promise! And feel free to use fresh garlic instead, if you like!
2 pounds catfish fillets -- 1/2 inch thick
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cracker meal or coarsely crushed unsalted crackers
1 cup vegetable oil
Trim the catfish of any skin or membrane. Stir the garlic powder, salt, and pepper together in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over both sides of the fillets. Dredge the fillets in the cracker meal, pressing gently so the meal sticks to both sides of the fillets. Shake off the excess and set the fillets aside.
Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over a medium heat until a little cracker meal sprinkle in the oil gives off a lively sizzle. Slip the fillets into the skillet and fry, turning once, until the fillets are cooked through and golden brown on both sides, about 8 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels before serving.
6. Collard Greens and Ham Hocks
There are lots of recipes for collard greens. Some of them use different meats and others don't use any at all, but this is my family's recipe down to the letter! The ham makes a difference in the taste, but seriously, if you prefer something else, give it a try.
1 each smoked ham hocks
4 cups water
2 pounds collard greens
1 tablespoon salt
1½ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup bacon drippings
Put the pork skin and bone (smoked ham hocks) into a 5 quart pot with the water. Heat to boiling, then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes. Skim the foam from the broth once or twice.
Meanwhile, prepare the collards: Cut away the very thick part of stems. Wash the collard greens thoroughly - They can be very gritty. Drain them by shaking off any excess water and chop them into small pieces.
Stir the collard greens into the pot and add the salt, red pepper, and sugar. Drizzle all with the bacon drippings. Cook, covered, at a lively simmer until the collard greens are tender, about 20 minutes.
Turn off the heat and check the seasonings. Cover the pot and let the collard greens sit a few minutes before serving.
Grits are simple, yet they're incredibly versatile. Eat them for breakfast, of course, with honey or brown sugar or even cheese and butter, or make them a side dish at dinner. Shrimp and grits are a favorite, but you can experiment with your own add-ins once you get the base recipe down pat!
3 cups water
1 ½ cups grits, white (not instant)
1 tablespoon salt
Heat the water to boiling in a large saucepan over medium heat. Pour in the grits very gradually, stirring the whole time to prevent lumps.
Add the salt, reduce the heat to low (one or two bubbles should rise to the top at a time), and cook, stirring constantly, until tender, about 10 minutes.
Grits should be as thick as oatmeal, not runny or stiff. If the grits get too thick toward the end of the cooking time, stir in a little hot water. Serve hot.
8. Chicken and Dumplings
Most Southern families have their own special recipes for chicken and dumplings, too. Again, this isn't precisely my family's, but it's very close! You've never tasted anything more delicious or filling. The secret is in the dumplings: you don't want them to be too heavy or sticky!
2-1/2 To 3 pounds whole chicken
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon butter
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
Place the chicken into a large boiling pot. Add chicken broth and water. Make sure the chicken is covered with water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmering. Throughout cooking skim away any foam that forms in your pot. Simmer for 1-1/2 hours until chicken is done and tender. Remove chicken from the broth and allow to cool.
Debone the chicken once it is cool enough to handle. While deboning the chicken discard the undesirable parts (skin, bones, etc). Cut deboned chicken into bite sized pieces.
Now it's time to prepare your dumplings. Preparing the dumplings is easy. Mix your flour, salt, egg, butter and milk in a stand mixer. If you don't have a stand mixer, a mixing bowl and hand mixer will do the job. Continue to mix until a ball forms.
Form your dumplings by rolling out the dough to about 1/8 inch on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut your dough into bite size pieces. If you feel creative try cutting out small circles, squares or diamond patterns.
Bring the chicken broth to a boil. Drop dumplings into boiling broth, ensuring that they submerge. Add all of your dumplings to the broth. You can keep dumplings from sticking together by adding butter and dunk dumplings one final time. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Add chicken and simmer until chicken is heated. Your dumplings are now ready to serve.
Some of these are standard, traditional recipes and others are central to certain areas, but they're all delicious! You might not make them all at once, you might only (wisely) enjoy them once or twice a month, but they will make you feel better – comforted, secure, and loved from the inside out! What recipes from your childhood or your hometown do you make when you need comfort?