Healthy alternatives to Southern and soul food exist and make the difference between good and poor health. (Courtesy photo)
Healthy alternatives to Southern and soul food exist and make the difference between good and poor health. (Courtesy photo)

Southern food remains among the most misunderstood cultural staples in the country. Noted for being prepared by deep frying, or prepared by heavily breading or battering, and seasoned with salt, pork, or fat, just as many Southern classics include healthy options including root vegetables, greens, and peas, as well as fresh fish and roasted meats.

At a 2010 University of Arizona Nutrition and Health Conference lecture “Feeding Your Soul: Exploring the Healthy Side of Southern Cooking,” chefs Scott Peacock and Wendy Kohatsu, M.D., explored new ways of sacrificing unhealthy fats, salt, and calories without giving up home-cooked flavor. The Informer offers you, here, a few of their lecture notes and best recommendations.

Choose healthier fats and cooking methods

Can you actually cook with olive oil instead of butter and lard? The answer is yes. Scott uses many different types of cooking liquids, oils, and fats in his Southern cooking. He likes using a rich stock to flavor food, for example cooking collard greens in a homemade pork stock versus frying in tons of oil.

Spice it up!

Southerners from Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta are famous for their Creole and Cajun cooking. A blend of chilis, bell pepper, onion and celery add zing to foods without over-relying on salt and fat.

Use Spanish smoked paprika to add a heady smoky flavor…

without the pork, suitable for vegan diets. The paprika will also add a vibrant red color to liven up in the plate. The best varieties of Spanish smoked paprika come from the de Vera region, try the dulce (sweet) variety that still has a mild chili kick to it

Roast it

Roasting vegetables concentrates their flavor by evaporating some of the natural water content. Roasting also adds flavor via caramelization, i.e. the intense heat (over 350 degrees, well above anything you cook via boiling) converts some of the naturally-occurring sugars in plants to undergo molecular reactions that makes foods more delicious-tasting.

Portions Matter

When it comes right down to it, quantity matters as much as quality. So, from a caloric perspective, it’s okay to choose richer foods, but WATCH OUT FOR THE PORTION SIZE.

Go Veggies

Southerners rely on fresh vegetables from the land to create home-cooked meals. Staples such as pole beans, tomatoes (green and red), cucumbers, root vegetables, mustard and collard greens are the backbone of Southern cuisine.

Peacock added, “Use only real food, as pure and of the highest quality you can find. For example, in the collard green recipe, I use olive oil not because I think it is healthier, but because I like the flavor and lightness,” he said. “I am well known for my fried chicken, but I would not think of serving it daily or even weekly. I view fried foods as an occasional treat; something to be savored and appreciated.”

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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