The soul-satisfying food of the Southern United States raises eating to a whole new level. Diets don’t exist and vegetarians beware. So, grab a tall glass of sweet tea and see if you can make it to the end of this article without stopping for a snack.
Soul food became the term used to describe African-American dishes prepared in the South. The ingredients are a blend of African, European, and Native American items. Pork and chicken seem to be the meats of choice; pork that is slow-roasted over the barbecue pit, and chicken deep-fried and tender, coated in a crispy, seasoned crust.
Hog Jowls, Country Ham, and Bacon
Cold-smoked pork, cured with salt, solves the problem of long-term storage in the hot southern climate of the United States. Small amounts of meat are used for seasoning a mess of greens, or maybe tucked into a hot biscuit for a quick sandwich. Slabs of ham, with the southern red-eye gravy made from coffee, are served during breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Accompanied by mounds of potatoes and greens and a big hunk of cornbread, cured pork makes a delicious and versatile part of the menu.
Fried Chicken and Chicken-Fried Steak
Southerners are not afraid to fry their food. Who cares about cholesterol levels? Chicken pieces that have been battered and then pan-fried to perfection create juicy puddles of goodness that drip down your chin. Finger licking is mandatory. Fried chicken is so delicious that the concept has been applied to other meats. Tenderized round steak, pan-fried in batter and covered in gravy, is a southern tradition. Pork cutlets, breaded and fried, make delectable sandwiches. All of these are definitely foods for the soul.
Hoppin’ John or Ham ‘N Beans
One of the dishes that distinctly falls in the category of Southern Soul Food is Hoppin’ John. Made from a stewed mixture of black-eyed peas, rice, onion, and of course, pork, this dish is usually served with a large hunk of cornbread. A variation on the dish is more of a southern nature, as opposed to African-American, and that is beans and pork. You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten beans stewed in ham broth and seasoned with a good dose of chili powder.
Collards and Other Greens
Bitter greens help counteract the richness of the soul food dishes. Collard greens, mustard greens, and turnip greens are a favorite down South. Often, a whole meal can be made out of a big pot of greens, seasoned with the ever-present pork and, of course, cornbread. Most southerners add a dash of vinegar sauce to their greens and throw in an onion, either cooked or raw.
Grits and Cornbread
As you may have noticed, cornbread accompanies most soul food dishes. Borrowed from the Native Americans, cornbread (or johnny cake) is a quick bread, made with buttermilk and seasoned with pork fat. Yes… pork fat.
This bread can be made with or without sugar and is eaten as a breakfast dish, a meal accompaniment, or as a snack. Whether it is soaked in a glass of milk to make corn mush, crumbled into Hoppin’ John, or slathered in sticky peach preserves and eaten as dessert, cornbread is a staple of southern soul food.