Soul Food Cooking:

Cooking up a Mess of Soul Food

The history of soul food traces all the way back to the days of American slavery. Slaves were generally given the most undesirable part of the meal, the leftovers from the house. Combining this with their own homegrown vegetables, the first soul food dishes were invented. After emancipation, many freed slaves were so poor that they could only afford the most undesirable, inexpensive cuts of meat available. African-Americans then again used their homegrown vegetables and things they could catch or kill to complete their meals.

In the United States of today, soul food has truly evolved. It has become part of African-American culture, bringing family members together on all occasions to spend time together preparing meals. The history of soul food is an oral history; many recipes were never written down so while two families may be preparing identical meals, odds are that they don't taste very much alike. Different ingredients, cooking methods, and techniques go into preparing soul food meals, causing the end results to differ from one another.

One of the most widely-recognized traits of African-American soul food is the fact that hot sauce and intense spices are incorporated into meals as often as possible. For this reason, soul food is not for those who don't like spicy food or are prone to heart burn.

Another characteristic of hard-core soul food is that nothing is wasted, having originated from the leftovers of just about anything. Stale bread was turned into stuffing or a bread pudding. Overripe bananas were whipped up into puddings, and other ripe fruits were baked into cakes and pies. Leftover fish parts were made into croquets or hush puppies.

Sunday dinners are one of the most prevalent times when soul food is seen on tables. They are a time for families to get together to prepare a large meal. Sunday dinners often take up the entire day (normally following a church service), and family members hail from far and wide to partake in this meal.

These massive Sunday dinners can take place in the form of potlucks, where various family members contribute a dish or two and form a big, fine meal. Collard and mustard greens, corn bread, kale, ribs, fried chicken, chitlins, yams, and okra are all excellent examples of what may be found at a Sunday soul food meal.

Unfortunately, traditional soul food is not a healthy diet and lifestyle. Fried foods are generally made with hydrogenated oil or lard, and they tend to be flavored and seasoned with pork products. Soul food preparation methods are now slowly beginning to be refined, bringing a lot more healthy food products and ways of cooking to the table. The deep fried foods that make up the heart and "soul" of soul food can now be prepared using a lower fat canola or vegetable oil.

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