The food game has stepped up—it’s now high profile and interest in ethnic flavors and foods has created space at the American table for items that at one time were considered exotic or relegated to a specific ethnic group. Back in the day, sweet potatoes, greens, okra, yams, black-eyed peas, chile peppers and more were typically available only within the boundaries of the neighborhoods African Americans were limited to. Now many of those traditional neighborhoods are “food deserts” or communities where a grocery store with fresh produce is hard to come by. The foods that were traditionally linked to African American culture have crossed over. Now they’re readily available almost everywhere, even in areas that at one time were off limits unless we were wearing a (white) uniform and working as domestics.
African American cooks with skilled, sleight of hand have flavored foods for more than 400 years by adding what they could to make less desirable foodstuffs palatable. Though many items were subpar, the vegetables and staples that were the basis of the daily diet were nutritious, providing the sustenance that allowed folks to survive adverse conditions. Those foods have morphed into wonder foods—highly nutritious, with plenty of health benefits.
Greens, cornbread and pot likker’ were standard fare on dining tables of most black families. Today you’ll find the vegetable on restaurant menus prepared stir-fried, fried, as salads or as crisp-tender sides with all the fixin’s. Served as a side dish, the fixin’s may even include shot glass portions of pot likker’. Varieties of greens include collard, mustard, turnip, kale, dandelion and more; they are high in fiber, a good source of vitamins A, C and calcium. This is just one example of soul food from standard to enhanced. Stay tuned we’ll cover other foods in future posts.
Whether it’s home cooking, carry-out or fine dining, celebrate the food legacy of African American cooks whose creativity, and mother wit helped flavor American cuisine with a few dashes of soul.