By Jill Leslie
Owner and Founder
Soul singer, actress, and author Sheila Ferguson once said, “Soul food is just what the name implies. It is soulfully cooked food that is good for your ever-loving soul.”
That definition has stayed with me as a reminder as to why soul food is so good for us. Given the continued downturn in the economy, rising gas prices, and the speed at which life seems to whirl around us — more of us are reaching for comforting soul food as a way to soothe our ever-loving selves.
Unfortunately, much traditionally prepared “Southern fare with flare” is often served up as big plates of fried chicken, and biscuits dripping with honey. While these dishes are undeniably delicious, they were initially used to help sustain captive workers in slavery-era America.
Given their grueling workload, they metabolized the food as fuel. Today, however, all of that starch, fat, sodium, cholesterol, and calories accumulates in the body, resulting in some of our most common diseases — high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack.
The good news is that you can have your cake, and eat it, too.
Well, maybe a fruit crisp. But the fact is that there are plenty of recipes that will soothe the soul and please the palate. You just need to make a few changes — such as replacing lard with olive oil or clarified butter, and adding in some fresh herbs and fruit.
Of course, taking a few minutes before each meal to express gratitude is a tradition practiced the world over. Choose an invocation that resonates with you. Say it with grace, and taste the spiritual nourishment of your food.
Remember, too, that while fat may add flavor, love is the real ingredient that gives a meal its soul. That’s why people love their mama’s cooking. So put on your apron, pop an old James Brown or Aretha Franklin CD into your player, and get cooking.
Red Beans, and Richly Yours
Those five words were Louis Armstrong’s signature line on all of his handwritten notes. I can’t think of a nicer way to spread some love. Not only are beans high in protein and fiber, low cholesterol, and guard against cancer, when combined with rice they make a complete protein. Beans are inexpensive and easy to prepare. Here’s to you, Louis.
What you’ll need:
1 cup dry kidney beans
6 cups water
1/4 cup clarified butter or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1-1/2 cups celery, chopped finely
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. paprika or 1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried sage
1 T. dried parsley
2 cups Basmati white rice
1. Rinse beans, and then soak in a large pot of water overnight.
2. In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion, bell pepper, garlic, and celery in olive oil for 4 minutes.
3. Rinse beans, and transfer to a large pot with 6 cups water. Stir cooked vegetables into beans. Season with bay leaves, paprika, thyme, sage, parsley. and pepper.
4. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 3 hours until most of the water is absorbed and has a gravy-like consistency.
5. Meanwhile, prepare the rice. In a saucepan, bring water and rice to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve beans over steamed white rice. Salt to taste.
These Greens Are Mean
Collards are a good source of vitamin C and soluble fiber and are high in vitamins, calcium, and iron. They also have anti-viral, antibacterial, and anti-cancer properties. Plus, the high fiber content offers protection against constipation and hemorrhoids, and helps ward off colon cancer and other colon-related diseases.
What you’ll need:
2 1/2 pounds collard greens, washed well
2 garlic cloves
1 T. unsalted butter
1 T. olive oil
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1. Remove and discard stems and center ribs of collard greens, and roll greens lengthwise into the shape of a cigar. Cut into thin 1/8” to 1/4” strips.
2. In a 12-inch heavy skillet, heat butter and oil over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Mince, then stir in garlic. Add collard greens, and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring until heated through.
3. Drizzle collards with lemon juice and toss well.
Down Home Okra
Okra contains vitamins A and C and is a good source of iron and calcium. A few of the many health benefits of this classic Southern dish are its ability to relieve constipation, normalize blood sugar and cholesterol levels, reduce lung inflammation, sooth a sore throat, and treat irritable bowel syndrome. This is one powerful dish!
What you’ll need:
1/3 cup sunflower oil
1/2 cup cornmeal
3 cups okra, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/3 cup minced fresh herbs, such as basil or parsley
salt, to taste
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet.
2. Add the okra and cornmeal.
3. Sprinkle lightly with salt and sauté over medium heat until the cornmeal is lightly browned and the okra is tender, about 5 minutes.
4. Add fresh herbs, and cook for 1 minute. Serve.
Fantastic Fruit Crisp
There is nothing like a fresh-baked, warm dessert to sweeten the soul. Cakes and pies remind us that life is a gift, and it’s our job to savor the sweetness. This easy-to-make fresh fruit crisp is high in vitamins and fiber. Plus, it is packed with spices, which aid digestion.
For this dish, prepare the topping first and set aside. Then whip up the filling, sprinkle on the topping, bake, and enjoy the rich goodness. I told you that you could have your cake, and eat it, too!
For the topping:
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/3-cup wheat germ
1/4 cup grated, dried, unsweetened coconut
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 T. raw sugar or brown sugar
1 1/2 T. melted unsalted butter
1 T. water
1. Mix nuts and dry ingredients together.
2. Add butter and water and gently toss to coat the dry ingredients.
3. Set aside.
For the filling:
4 cups berries or sliced fruit
2 T. arrowroot
2/3 cup raw sugar
2 tsp. lemon fresh juice
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Mix all the ingredients.
3. Spread evenly into a buttered 9-inch pie pan.
4. Sprinkle the topping evenly over fruit.
5. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 to 40 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned.
About Jill Leslie and Ayurveda Alchemy
Jill Leslie is a certified Ayurvedic practitioner, herbalist, wellness chef, and yoga teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area who, for more than two decades, has been immersed in the study and practice of natural healing.
The entrepreneur, who has owned her own businesses since graduating from the University of Maryland in 1986, founded the award-winning retail shop Milk & Honey in Sebastapol, CA, in 1999. She sold it in 2006 so that she could delve deeper into her study of yoga and Ayurveda.
As she discovered the life-changing wisdom of these ancient practices, she began sharing her knowledge at wellness retreats, yoga studios, and through cooking classes. Her passion for herbal medicine and nutrition, and her love of sweets, inspired her to found Ayurvedic Alchemy, in 2008.
In addition to hosting classes and events, and providing consultations and dietary advice about Ayurveda, she has created a line of healthy and delicious confections, which are available online at Kitchen Alchemy Treats. “When I learned the adage of Ayurveda, ‘Let your food be your medicine,’ I put on my apron and said, ‘Let your medicine be delicious,’” she says. Learn more at www.AyurvedaAlchemy.com.