I enjoy cooking all types of comfort food. But as a biracial food blogger I love to explore what my Black ancestors may have cooked. This involves finding creative ways to prepare comfort food from the African Diaspora. So … what exactly is that? I loosely define it as dishes that utilize ingredients and cooking techniques that originated in Africa. I also include it to be dishes that have historically been prepared by Black Americans. Nowadays Black vegan cooking is huge and it can only get better!
The concept of “Soul Food”
In the United States, Black Americans have been cooking since the first slave ship arrived in the year 1619. Not to mention … cooking for free for at least two centuries, but that’s a separate issue. People were being imported to all areas of the east coast ranging from New England to the South and it’s easy to assume that culinary knowledge came with them. One common theme seems to be that Black Americans in all areas have made the most out of what was available in their time and place. This is what has been traditionally referred to as “Soul Food”.
My Black family has roots in rural southern Rhode Island. They prepared things including clam chowder, fried clams, barbecue chicken, fried chitterlings (pig intestines), fried green tomatoes, lobster rolls, homemade pickles, jonnycakes and spaghetti. Yup, spaghetti! Rhode Island is quite an Italian state and my Uncle Amos made pasta in his own way. It was his “thing”. Nowadays, thanks to the internet, I’ve been able to expand my culinary knowledge and learn about what other Black home cooks are making on YouTube.
Enter, Vegan Soul Food
Historically the food Black Americans have been able to prepare was not the healthiest, but times have changed. Vegan food is here to stay. And while I’m not a vegan, I certainly enjoy the many health benefits. I frequently go vegan for a day and my body thanks me for it. Some Black vegan advocates insist that vegan cooking was happening at the same time African Americans were cooking with lots of fatty meat, fried carbs and leftover animal parts. While both could possibly be true, nowadays there is more opportunity to control our diets. We can enjoy vegan versions of our favorite classic recipes and even invent some new ones.
To me, vegan cooking should not be carrot sticks and hummus. My Black vegan cooking incorporates lots of stewing and frying, and sautéing. I’ve learned that various root vegetables we see used in Caribbean Latin cuisine all came from Africa, so I like to work with plantains. Okra, black-eyed peas, collard greens, and yams and tabasco vinegar are all staple ingredients I keep in a constant rotation in my kitchen. I play with spices and seasonings found in American Southern and Jamaican cuisine such as andouille seasonings, Jamaican curry, black pepper (an African spice), cayenne pepper, smoked paprika thyme and allspice. It’s impossible to make an all-encompassing list because I’m constantly learning – as we all are.
Lastly, in my mind a discussion about Black vegan food cannot exist without hot sauce. For me, hot sauce is a necessity. Not just one bottle either … at least six different brands are in my cupboards at the moment. Growing my own Tabasco peppers will some day yield some homemade hot sauce and tabasco vinegar.
1. Jollof Rice, Vegan Style
After getting my 38% African DNA test results back from Ancestry (largely from Ghana), I was instantly obsessed with learning about Ghanian food. In doing so it is impossible not cross paths with jollof rice. I found this awesome vlogger on YouTube, Stella Zone, to really break down this recipe for me. This rice dish classically uses chicken or fish, but I enjoyed the culinary challenge of making it vegan. Find my recipe here.
2. Gumbo with Black-Eyed Peas and Mashed Jalapeño Yams
This is a loose interpretation of gumbo, but I still think it counts. Ingredients are kept large and chunky to mimic a gumbo-ish experience with the absence of meat. Classic recipes call for a flour-based roux at the beginning of the recipe as a base thickener. Instead, I stir in some mashed yams upon serving. I pump up the flavor with my trinity of spices … black pepper, allspice and coriander. I make a vegetable stock with the skins of the yams and lots of parsley, thyme and bayleaf. Find the recipe here.
3. Sautéed Collard Greens
I’ve met way too many people who have said they hate collard greens. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. Many people are accustomed to having what I call “collard grays” – a symptom of over-boiling on the stove for hours until they lose all their color. But the truth is these collard green haters really don’t know how to make them and they have not seen my recipe. Mine are not just collard greens sautéed in olive oil. The combination of garlic, Tabasco vinegar, lemon juice, black pepper and allspice really sets it off to make Black vegan greatness. You do have to make them in smaller batches, so it is a bit more work. Find the recipe here.
4. Black-Eyed Pea Dip with Roasted Garlic
If you’re tired of hummus, this bean dip is what’s missing in your life. Literally everyone I’ve made this for who grew up eating black-eyed peas tears into this appetizer. I’ve even been able to convert people who have bad memories of black-eyed peas. If this is not vegan soul food, I don’t know what is. Once you’ve roasted the garlic, it’s as easy as hummus. Raw garlic is too over-powering, so roasting it is essential. Do not be shy with the spices and parsley either. Find the recipe here.
5. Fried Yam Fixings
All you need is a mandolin slicer with a matchstick blade attachment to make these sweet crunchy fixings. Whether they’re yams, sweet potatoes, or even green plantains (pictured below), they fry up really quickly. Just add a dash of kosher salt. Serve these with my Black-Eyed Pea Dip with Roasted Garlic, put them in wraps or sandwiches, or as salad toppings. Find the recipe here.
6. Jollof Stewed Okra
This is more of an “easy idea” than an actual recipe. As I was obsessing over jollof rice for a few months, I had all of this leftover tomato base mixture. It consists of an aromatic mixture of tomatoes, ginger, lots of garlic, scotch bonnet peppers, scallion, red onion and roasted red peppers. After watching lots of African cooking on YouTube from Mark Wiens it was clear that lots of African cooking uses these similar flavor combinations. One day I had left-over okra at the same time I had leftover jollof tomato base. So, this dish was born. Find the recipe here.
7. Skillet-Charred Sweet Potato “ColdCuts”
About that mandolin slicer … these are super easy to make. In search of vegan sandwich options, this idea made it’s way into the top regular rotations in my weekly meal prep. Now, vegan sandwiches or wraps are now much more exciting.
You can make these in batches on Sunday night and store them in the fridge for a few days. To prep, slice your yams (or sweet potatoes) on the thickest setting, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt. Over medium-high heat, they cook in about 10 to 15 minutes per side. When stored in the fridge the carmelized edges intensifies their natural sweetness. These are simply awesome. Find the recipe here.
8. Jamaican Curry Lentils in Coconut Milk
Jamaican curry in is distinguished by it’s use of allspice and is typically cooked with thyme. Many people think of lentils as a side dish, but not me. People have chili bars at parties, so why not do the same for lentils? Because they’re so tiny, this lentils recipe cooks up really fast. It can endure lots of toppings and the same curry base can be used for chickpeas as well. Find the recipe here.
Sautéed Jamaican Curry Cabbage
This recipe happened because I frequently order Jamaican food from a local restaurant and their cabbage is always so overcooked. And as a part-time vegan, I love indulging in curry goat every once in a while. So, this meatless recipe satisfies that craving for Jamaican curry flavor while gracing your palette with a crunchy, juicy texture. An added bonus is that light vegan feeling in your body afterwards.
Not only is this super easy, it is extremely inexpensive. A little cabbage goes a long way. You can make a huge batch of this and serve it at a party, as I’ve did for my birthday. It’s a crowd pleaser. Serve this in place of rice and watch everyone go in on it. Find the recipe here.
Burnt Ends Fried Plantains Smothered in Barbecue Sauce
For plantain lovers, try these saucy plantains if you love a spicy/sweet flavor profile. I certainly I do. This actually came about on accident because I overcooked some plantains one day. I left them alone on the counter for way too long and needed a way to heat them up. They say barbecue sauce solves all problems and it’s true in this case.
My first exposure to plantains was actually from a Nigerian roommate and a Haitian boyfriend in college. From then on I’ve always held this fruit (is it a fruit or vegetable?) in a Black context. Many people label them as a staple of Latin cuisine, which is just fine. Two things can be true at the same time. Given the fact that the slave trade only goes one way, its obvious to see how many ingredients likely originated in Africa. Find the recipe here.