Soul food is beautiful. It is synonymous with the African-American culture of the Southern United States, but while the majority comes from this population, it has influences from Native American culture as well.
It was a way for these people to pass on love, tradition, and cultures to their children during a time when such things were made difficult by the society around them.
It can be simple, it can be complex, but it is always filling and always made with love and laughter in mind.
There is nothing quite like soul food anywhere else in the world, and it has continued to persist into the modern day, with it now being sought after on a global scale.
With this in mind, we thought we would discuss with you the best soul food recipes that we know of in this article today (see also ‘28 Amazing Vegan Soul Food Recipes‘).
You can’t talk about soul food without talking about its bread and butter, quite literally. Whenever soul food is served, then there will always be a plate of cornbread appearing alongside it.
Most in the south love it as a sweet treat, while those in the north love it savory, but there is no mistaking that its soft, starchy texture makes southerners think of nothing but home and their loving families.
For every meat there has to be vegetables and for every main course in the south, there has to be a bowl of Black-eyed peas somewhere on the table, especially on the day of the New Year.
Soaked for hours before being cooked with onions, garlic, smoked turkey, and chicken broth, it is the perfect way to get in the New Year and a great dish that can be turned into a main course in its own right.
The best kind of comfort food is one that we remember from home, and chicken and dumplings are the quintessential homemade dish.
The most basic version consists of chicken cooked in water, which turns into broth, and then biscuit dough balls are added to the broth. However, you can add whatever food you like to it after this point.
Carrots, peas, onions, celery, anything can go in here as long as it makes you feel good.
The Po’Boy is the sandwich that defines the Louisiana subsection of the south and has become synonymous with the city of New Orleans itself.
It is a sandwich made with crusty fluffier, local-style of baguette and filled with a kind of meat – from dark meats to shellfish, anything goes.
It can also be dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayonnaise, and Creole mustard. It was originally made to be affordable for the ‘poor boys’ of the city, hence the name.
We may think that just because macaroni is originally Italian, that it can’t be improved upon, but you, my friend, have not tried southern style mac and cheese.
It is decadent to the extreme, using three kinds of cheese and sour cream within its mix, adding two kinds of milk, and crumbling a toasty bread topping over the whole affair.
It may not win any health awards, but nobody who eats it really cares all that much anyway.
It may not be for everyone, but Chitlins and Hog maw is ingrained in soul food. They are basically the stomach and intestine of an animal, usually a pig, that is then cooked up into a bit of delicious grub.
It originally comes from a tenet of not wasting any food on the animal, but has grown on people where they now just get excited to have it once again. They aren’t wrong, as it can be absolutely amazing.
7. Creamed Corn
Sweetcorn is one of those foods that is just great with some kind of dairy product on it. In Mexico, it’s sour cream, in the UK, it’s butter, and when we talk about soul food, it is a lot of dairy.
Generally, you put corn in a pot with butter, heavy cream, and cayenne, before you let it simmer down to a wonderfully decadent, creamy sauce slathering your lovely, cooked sweetcorn.
While it doesn’t go far beyond the south, it is a staple in the right places.
Collards are a tough type of leafy green vegetable that grows easily in the south.
Originally, they were cooked because they were readily available, and now it is tradition. The bitterness of the greens are balanced out by the fats used in the cooking process.
These include bacon and butter, with onion, garlic and stock added for flavor, before it is reduced down into a lovely side dish that seems to make an appearance at every dinner table.
Catfish are everywhere in the south, especially up the mighty Mississippi.
They are incredibly hardy and tough animals that survive in even the worst waterways, but somehow have one of the most delicate and delicious meats. Pan or deep-fried, these boys are a staple of a soul food buffet.
Cornmeal and milk are the traditional slurry and dredge to fry them in, with lemon and parsley garnishing the dish before serving.
10. Pecan Pie
Whether you say it pe-can or pec-an, everyone has at least heard of this delicious pie. It is basically a pastry dish with sugar-roasted pecans inside of it.
While that may sound very simple – and it is – it doesn’t stop it from being one of the most amazing kinds of sweet pies there are out there.
Everyone wants to have a slice, and all those people who already did now want at least one slice more.
11. Corn Casserole
The slightly savory cousin of cornbread, a corn casserole is a cornbread pudding that has sweet corn kernels spaced throughout the entire thing.
Many people have their own versions with some having a great deal of cheese on top, while others douse theirs in syrup, but each one is very simple to make and will make the entire family smile with delight when you bring it out – some with spoons at the ready.
Cornbread dressing is the southern equivalent to stuffing in other parts of the world, but this delightfully moist dish is baked in a tray, rather than cooked inside the animal itself.
Made with cornmeal, buttermilk, butter, broth, sage, onion, celery, and an assortment of seasonings, it is perfect on the Thanksgiving table or eaten by the spoonful as a midnight snack after the rest of the family have gone to bed.
Immortalized by the movie of the same name, Fried Green Tomatoes were the South’s best kept secret for a long time and have been a part of Soul Food and Southern comfort for as long as anyone can remember.
They are so simple as well, all you need is sliced green tomatoes, dipped in egg and batter, before frying.
If any child gets sick in the Deep South, you can guarantee that a plate of fried green tomatoes will be making their way to their bedside soon (see also ‘24 Gorgeous Recipes For Green Tomatoes‘).
14. Sweet Potato Pie
A dish that has spread around the states and even beyond to other parts of the world, nothing quite beats a sweet potato pie.
It’s a sweet, seasoned potato mash cooked in a pie crust that leaves it with a wonderful array of textures from crunchy pie crust to soft interior to a slightly hardened potato top.
If you want it at its best, put a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream on the top and dig in.
15. Baked Beans
Originally a Native American dish, baked beans have not only been adopted into soul food culture (see also ‘Delicious Soul Foods You Need To Try!‘), but into British culture as well, making them available in any country the British landed.
The southern version is a bit smokier and a bit sweeter, with molasses, BBQ sauce, cayenne, and mustard powder added to the mix. This unique flavor profile makes this side dish well sought after when chowing down on some dinner.
Every single family south of Virginia has a special way of brine, battering, and frying their chicken, but the classic soul food method could put many of them to shame.
By brinning your chicken in a sweet tea and having a breading mixed with garlic and onion powder, then you get a fusion of sweet and salty flavors unmatched by any other fried chicken recipe.
17. Deviled Eggs
Most of us know deviled eggs from movies about corporate America in the 80s, but they were always – and have continued to be – a classic of the American South.
Hard-boiled eggs with yolks removed and mixed with mayonnaise and mustard, before being piped back into the egg white and topped with a dusting of paprika.
It is perfect for almost any occasion, from on the go to a fancy dinner party. Honestly, what’s not to like?
As we mentioned earlier, soul food never wastes food, and that includes the feet. Boiled pig’s feet is not as popular as it once was, but it is still a staple of many southern restaurants.
Quick, easy, and at your table in minutes, it is traditionally served with a barbecue marinade or sauce and can be eaten with your hands more easily than it can with a knife and fork.
19. Fried Okra
Okra is everywhere in the south, growing in fields, woodlands, on the sides of roads, and it is beloved by all the residents.
While there are many ways to cook it, by far the best way is to batter and fry it. It is so easy, it can go from raw to perfectly cooked on the plate in a matter of moments.
The dish toes the line perfectly between salty and savory, and can be eaten as a main, side, or just picking at it while watching the TV.
Breakfast is the king of meals, being that it breaks you of your sleeping fast, and there is no more loved breakfast food than that of Grits.
Being a savory porridge made of cornmeal, it can be boiled up and served with a pat of butter melting over the top and – if you really fancy – a handful of sharp cheese. Home or away, it is the perfect way to start the day.
Meatloaf gets a bad reputation from the various terrible dry concoctions that school cafeterias and home cooks have made in its name over the years.
While it is a way for people with very little food options to make the most of what they have, it can be genuinely delicious as well.
When done right, it can be the perfect protein portion on your plate, that will have you screaming for more.
Gumbo is at the heart of Louisiana cooking and is the state’s most beloved dish. Every bite you take is full of flavor and love, from its rich salty seafood to the savory sausage to the delicate rice that it is served over.
Although it can be a fiddly dish, sometimes taking hours for the roux to be made without burning it, it is well worth the wait and your family will thank you for it.
No matter the dish, the time of day, or the family, when you eat a meal in a soul food family’s home, somehow a plate of biscuits always makes its way to the table.
These little balls of crusty outsides and incredibly soft, tender insides are the perfect accompaniment to any meal, regardless of the content.
While some like them on their own, most prefer them dunked in delicious gravy, creating a wonderful medley of flavors born from simplicity.
Red beans (see also ‘16 Simple And Healthy Red Bean Recipes‘) and rice are a classic soul food dish and the favored comfort food of those who need a meal to last all week.
It is made from an incredibly well-seasoned roux filled with beans and sausage that combines rich flavors with wonderful textures.
If you leave a pot simmering all day, the symphony of smells you will be greeted with when you get home will be unreal. Add rice to it to complete the beautiful end result.
25. Chicken Pot Pie
A southern classic that has also become an avid American classic, chicken pot pie is the first savory pie to appear on this list, but it is well worth making.
The crispy crust with tender chicken, sweet peas, carrots, and sweetcorn underneath is surrounded by a sensual gravy.
Beloved by almost everyone who tries it, it is a truly decadent dish, even if the ingredients for it are not.
Many of us have heard of candied fruits before, but we’re willing to bet that most have not heard of candied sweet potatoes.
The unique texture and flavor of the sweet potato lends itself well to candying and, by doing so, you give yourself a filling but deliciously sweet after dinner treat.
It can be served hot or cold, and can be prepared well in advance for any feast you might have planned.
27. Hush Puppies
The southern American answer to the doughnut, hush puppies will silence anyone – not just the dogs – as every person at the table tries to stuff as many in their mouth as possible.
They are a slightly sweet, deep-fried cornbread snack that can be enjoyed at any time anywhere, but they are perfect for sitting out in the yard and watching the stars with.
Best of all, you can make them in huge batches, so no one has to feel left out.
28. Peach Cobbler
Peach cobblers are taken seriously in the South to the point where if you truly want to hurt someone, you just talk trash about their mother’s peach cobbler.
They have become an art form in and of themselves, with recipes passed down for generations and every family having their own version.
This means that no matter what peach cobbler you have, it will be unique and utterly delicious in its own way.
29. Banana Pudding
Cheap, easy, and wonderful, Banana pudding can be put on the table in a matter of moments and is best served cold on a hot day.
The simplest are just cut bananas, custard, and cookies layered in a bowl topped with whipped cream, but there are so many variations nowadays that they can get very grand.
There is even a banana pudding festival held in Tennessee, clearly showing its delicious importance.
As with Chitlins, ham hocks are a part of the pig not generally eaten by people. It is the pig’s knuckle, just above the foot, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious.
Coupled with some potatoes and cabbage, and you have an easy, but fantastic meal.
While many of the recipes on this list have lent towards being a little unhealthy, stewed okra and tomatoes is one that is quite good for you.
It involves literally stewing okra and tomatoes with some seasoning in water for a while. You can add other bits to it, but on its own it is great as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are The Main Ingredients Of Soul Food?
Soul food is really the term for food that had to be cooked by the African-American population of the south for the last few hundred years.
Since this population was heavily discriminated against, they couldn’t get a lot of the imported goods others could, so they made do with the food around them and that they could afford.
As such, most of the ingredients are local to the areas of the southern United States, like corn, okra, sweet potatoes, pigs, and chickens.
Soul food (see also ‘13 Best Soul Food Restaurants In The USA‘) has been a part of American life for hundreds of years and has created or given rise to some of the most iconic dishes from this land.
Without it, we would all be poorer in our culinary ways, and it is definitely something you should try making at least one.