June is National Soul Food Month and is a great time to celebrate African-American cuisine, said Easter H. Tucker of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.


Tucker is interim family and consumer sciences program leader.


The cuisine developed during the period of American slavery, and the origins of many recipes can be traced back to before slavery, according to a news release.


“African-American slaves created meals from what they had access to – the leftover and undesirable cuts of meat they were given and vegetables they grew themselves,” Tucker said. “The term ‘soul food’ started to gain more traction in the 1960s when it was served in African-American-owned establishments in big cities such as New Orleans, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.”


Common soul food dishes and ingredients include black-eyed peas; butter, lima and red beans; okra, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, grits; collard, turnip and mustard greens; cornbread, biscuits, chicken, chicken livers, cracklins (pork rinds), pigs’ feet, ham hocks, hog jowls and catfish, according to the release.


While many traditional dishes were fried in pork fat, soul food can be cooked in healthier ways, Tucker said.


According to an article by the African American Registry®, liquid vegetable oil or canola oil can substitute pork fat for frying and smoked turkey can substitute pork meat in a number of dishes.


“To celebrate National Soul Food month, Arkansans can prepare the USDA Mixing Bowl recipe for classic macaroni and cheese,” Tucker said. “The dish is a staple at any African-American outing. This healthier version of the family favorite uses non-fat evaporated milk and low-fat cheese to create its creamy sauce.”


Classic Macaroni and Cheese recipe:


Ingredients: 2 cups macaroni, 1/2 cup onion (chopped), 1/2 cup evaporated milk, non-fat, 1 large egg (beaten), 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1 1/4 cups cheese, finely shredded sharp cheddar, lowfat cooking oil spray.


Directions:


1. Cook macaroni according to directions. (Do not add salt to the cooking water.) Drain and set aside. 2. Spray a casserole dish with nonstick cooking oil spray. 3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 4. Lightly spray saucepan with nonstick cooking oil spray. 5. Add onions to saucepan and sauté for about 3 minutes. 6. In another bowl, combine macaroni, onions and the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. 7. Transfer mixture into casserole dish. 8. Bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.


The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its Extension and Research programs and services without discrimination.


— Will Hehemann is a writer/editor at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.