Soul food is a food of the South, but is only a part of Southern cuisine.
“Southern cuisine is the mother cuisine of the Southern states,” says Adrian Miller, a culinary historian and soul food scholar. “And soul food is derived from Southern cuisine but has its own culinary signature.”
To understand soul food, he says, one has to understand its layers. It’s different from other African-American-inspired regional cuisines such as creole (red beans and rice, gumbo, grits, grillards), low-country (rice-based perloo, okra dishes) and Chesapeake Bay-area (steamed blue crabs, hominy, Maryland fried chicken). It’s the food of the Deep South, which stretches from the western Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama to Mississippi and the eastern part of Louisiana; and it’s the food of the migrants who went to other parts of the country and appropriated it to what was available in those regions.
The food bursts with flavor because of the emphasis on seasoning, says Dora Charles. Charles’ grandmother taught her to season chicken the night before it was fried and to enliven the flavor in cornbread, rice, beans and greens by adding fry-meat grease from bacon, chicken or pork chops.
This pork chop recipe uses seasoned salt, pepper and garlic powder to give it flavor. The recipe is modified to cut cooking time and calls for 20 minutes of simmering instead of the standard 40 minutes at a slightly lower temperature.
Smothered pork chops
4 pork chops (with bone)
2 tablespoons seasoning mix (combine 2 teaspoons each of seasoned salt, garlic powder and black pepper), divided
1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying
2 cups water or chicken broth
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon seasoned salt
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons black pepper
Lightly sprinkle pork chops on both sides with 1 tablespoon seasoning mix.
Combine 1/2 cup flour with 1 tablespoon seasoning mix in shallow pan. Dredge pork chops on both sides in flour mixture.
Fry pork chops in vegetable oil on medium heat until golden. Don’t worry about cooking through because they will be cooked again later. Set pork chops aside.
To make gravy, use oil that the pork chops were fried in, and saute remaining 1/2 cup flour until brown. Stir constantly. The darker you brown the flour, the richer the gravy color will be.
When flour reaches desired color, add water or chicken broth and stir constantly while gravy thickens. Bring gravy to a full boil, then reduce heat to low. Don’t worry if gravy mixture is a little lumpy, it will smooth out while simmering.
Stir in onion, seasoned salt, garlic powder and black pepper.
Add pork chops and simmer on low for 20 minutes.
Sweet potato pie
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 tablespoon flour
1 (9-inch) unbaked pastry shell
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix eggs, sweet potatoes, sugars, margarine and spices in large bowl.
Gradually beat in milk; mix thoroughly. Stir in flour until well blended.
Pour into pastry shell and bake 20 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until set and knife inserted in center comes out clean.
Vegetable/canola oil blend for frying
8 pieces of chicken (legs, breasts and thighs)
Premix seasoning (recipe follows), or (easier): Lawry’s season salt, black pepper, Creole seasoning and garlic powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
2 large resealable plastic bags
Preheat oil in a deep cast-iron pan. Rinse chicken pieces, pat dry and then lay them flat on a cutting board.
Season chicken with premix seasoning and let sit for about 1 hour.
Place chicken pieces in a resealable plastic bag. Pour in the buttermilk and beaten egg.
Mix flour and cornstarch in a bowl and then pour the flour mixture into a second resealable plastic bag.
When oil is hot (test by dipping a wooden spoon in the oil; if oil starts to boil around the spoon, it is hot enough), add the meat pieces. After the bottom side of pieces turn golden brown, flip them over so that other side turns golden brown. Then flip the pieces two more times.
Carefully remove pieces with a pair of tongs, shaking off the excess oil, and place them in a pan lined with paper towel.
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon Sazon all-purpose seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Adobo Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups fine cornmeal
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup pork crackling pieces (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Add butter to an 8-inch cast-iron skillet (cast iron is highly recommended) and place in oven for about 10 minutes.
Combine cornmeal, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Whisk together well. Stir in buttermilk and egg.
Remove pan from oven. Carefully, pour hot butter into the cornmeal mixture. Whisk together well. If using cracklings, stir them in.
Pour batter into the hot skillet. This ensures a deep brown crust.
Place in middle rack and bake for 45 minutes. Serve warm.
Shrimp and grits
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup grits
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus 1/4 cup for garnish
1/2 cup salted butter
1/2 cup onion, diced small
1/2 cup green pepper, diced small
1 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed
1 1/2 tablespoons blackened seasoning
To prepare grits: Heat water and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until just simmering. Stir grits into the water.
Cook, stirring often, until grits are tender to the bite and have thickened to the consistency of creamy oatmeal, for about 20 minutes.
As grits thicken, stir more often to keep them from sticking and scorching. When done, remove from the heat and stir in 3/4 cup cheddar cheese.
To prepare shrimp: Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Add onion and green pepper. Saute until onions are transparent.
Add shrimp; cook until firm and pink, for about 2 minutes.
Sprinkle seasoning on shrimp and continue to cook for 1 minute.
To serve: Add 1 cup of prepared grits into 4 large bowls. Ladle shrimp mixture equally on top of grits. Garnish with remaining cheddar cheese.