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Soul food is home cooked food. It’s not pretentious. It’s not fancy. It’s the immigrant food of African Americans. And while it’s derived from southern foods, it is not the same. A couple of things that make it different are its seasoning and use of meats like chitlins, pigs’ feet, oxtails, etc.

Historically, soul food is fatty, spicy and/or sweet, and salty. To put it plainly, its southern counterparts have a much milder flavor profile. In West Africa, meats—often dried, salted, or smoked—were used to flavor vegetable based one-pot meals.

Can Soul Food Be “Healthy”?

If the West African recipes brought here by enslaved people were based on ingredients like greens, legumes, and fish, it sounds like they were not so different than modern ideas of what a nutritionally packed dish should be! So, yeah, Soul food is healthy… until we get to celebratory dishes. That’s where frying and processed ingredients come in. Don’t we all want to indulge during a party?

So, if you’re looking to indulge the richness of celebratory Soul food regularly, here are a few healthy alternatives to your traditional Soul food recipes.

  • Oven-Fried Chicken on a Stick creates crispity, crunchity flavor from breadcrumbs and baking instead of flour and deep frying but there’s still buttermilk in the marinade and plenty of seasoning!

  • Fatty ham hocks (or bacon), sugar, salt, and pepper are just a few of the ingredients that make home-cooked collards so healing for the soul. But you can get some smokey-good tenderness from this Collard Greens recipe that dials down the fat and salt content by using smoked turkey and reduced-sodium broth instead.

  • Many southern food traditionalists believe cornbread should not be sweet and the recipe should not include wheat flour. (We can hear the smack talk starting up already!) Regardless, not adding sugar is healthier and this Real Cornbread recipe will sop up all your drippings just fine. If you just have to have cornbread with a softer texture, it offers an optional ingredient variation for you, too.

Pick one of these recipes to balance out a meal  that’s otherwise filled with full-fat/salt/sugar dishes, or try a whole meal of updated ingredients. There are still plenty of spices in there and we know you got plenty of your favorite hot sauces on the counter.