18 Soul Food Recipes That Shaped Southern Cooking

Here's the list of comfort food recipes—many from Black creators—to add to your soul food recipe file.

When enslaved peoples from Africa were transported to an unfamiliar New World, these folks blended what they remembered of the foods of their homeland with local ingredients and European “recipes” they were taught to make. The result was a cuisine we know today as soul food. The comfort food recipes on this list incorporate all the flavors of down-home cooking.

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Sweet Potato Pie

This is one of the best-loved desserts in the family of soul food recipes. Maya-Camille Broussard, owner of Justice of the Pies, bakes a well-known sweet potato and plantain pie. To make a similar dessert, Broussard says, “Bake the potatoes, which allows them to caramelize and makes things even sweeter. You can add in any type of plantain, but use a very ripe one and fry it for three to four minutes until golden brown.” Here are a few soul food restaurants that you should try.
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Fried Catfish
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Fried Catfish

Fried catfish was frequently requested by customers at Gladys’ Luncheonette, an eatery that hosted neighborhood folk as well as famous people during its 50+ years in business. If you don’t live in the South, follow this guide to make fried catfish at home.

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Black-Eyed Peas

Black-eyed peas are a global legume, eaten in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America. You can find them all year, but they take on star status for New Year’s Day menus. Folklore attributes good luck throughout the year to those who eat black-eyed peas or Hoppin’ John on the first day of the new year.
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Candied Sweet Potatoes

My grandmother was the primary holiday cook when I was growing up, but she and her next-door neighbor partnered on some foods. My grandmother made her a pound cake and the neighbor made us candied sweet potatoes. Oh my gosh, they were so good! Richly flavored with butter, and the perfect balance of granulated sugar, brown sugar and spices.

To this day, we’re all still looking for a recipe that re-creates the sweet potatoes we grew up on.

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Spice Rubbed Ribs

Most folks know someone they will swear makes the best baby back ribs. That may be true, but pitmaster Rodney Scott is one that everyone can take a lesson from. Scott cooked his first hog at the age of 11, working in his family business in Hemingway, South Carolina. He is now the owner of Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ. In his book, Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ, Scott shares his recipes, advice and cooking tips to help the amateur pitmaster.

Here’s one essential tip for cooking spareribs: Remove the membrane that runs along the back of the rib, so that all of the spice rub can get into the meat.

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Easy Pimiento Cheese

Though this recipe isn’t originally from the south—it was first created in New York—it wouldn’t be a southern dinner without pimiento cheese. The mayonnaise, cheddar and pimiento-based spread pairs deliciously with crackers, sliced carrots and celery sticks. You can also use it to top a sandwich or mix it into pasta salad.
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Fried Green Tomatoes

Nicole A. Taylor planned to distance herself from the soul foods she grew up eating; however, after her husband’s job transferred them to New York, Taylor missed that home cooking. “When I moved to New York City, all of this food just came back to me and I started back eating meat, I started making black-eyed peas and putting ham hocks in it,” she says. “Everything I grew up with, the memories, the taste, the cravings, all just came back.”

Taylor recently published her book Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations. She has celebrated Juneteenth for more than 10 years and her book celebrates Black freedom and classic food—including fried green tomatoes.

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apple balsamic chicken
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Smothered Chicken

This is one versatile comfort soul food dish! You can make smothered chicken with fried chicken or lightly sauteed chicken, bone-in or boneless, dark meat or white meat plus the seasonings of your choice. Aaron Hutcherson, aka The Hungry Hutch, thinks of the dish as more technique than exact recipe.

Start with a recipe like this Apple Balsamic Chicken, then use the steps as a jumping off point to create your own smothered chicken.

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Southern Peach Cobbler

Now, I am a peach enthusiast and the best peach cobbler is made with fresh juicy peaches. You know, the kind of peaches that have juice oozing all over your fingers while you’re slicing them up! Every family has a version of peach cobbler, but this Southern Peach Cobbler is heavenly.
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Collard Greens

Chef Darnell Reed from Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Chicago’s Logan Square points out the link between foods of Africa and the recipe we enjoy today: “It is said that collard green recipes in the U.S. came from slaves working the fields and this was one traditional meal, but I know it dates back before then. One of our Ethiopian team members showed me the similarities [between] my collard green recipe and Ethiopian gomen, which had almost identical ingredients. Then when you research the word ‘gomen’ you realize it’s Greek and they’ve harvested collard greens for thousands of years!”
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Southern Fried Okra

Okra has a reputation—some can’t get enough of it and others give it a thumbs down. It can be grilled, pickled, served in soups and stews and fried. Chef JJ Johnson, author of Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day and owner of Field Trip in New York, confesses that he used to hate okra.

“As I kid, I thought it was slimy and terrible. My first taste of okra fries didn’t do much to dispel my childhood aversion. But I kept thinking, how can I make okra fries good? You never get crispy okra fries.” This James Beard Award-winning chef updated the technique by using rice flour and cornstarch, and slicing the okra pod lengthwise, so the batter stays on the pod.

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Simple Biscuits Exps Qebz20 247122 B01 29 1b 60

Cheryl Day—self-taught baker, author of Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking and owner of Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia—needs no cheat sheet when baking biscuits. “Anyone can become a biscuit master if they are willing to put in the practice,” she says. “Your hands and eyes are your best tools as you mix the dough.” Day advises that you don’t twist the biscuit cutter as you cut out the biscuits.

Go to Recipe

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Honey Cornbread

I’ve stirred a few pots in my career as a former food editor for Ebony and Southern Living magazines. I’ve made by grandmother’s recipe for cornbread many times through the years. Her recipe includes a package mix with a sweeter flavor than some you’ll find, but her recipe is a keeper. Our family serves cornbread with greens, beans, soups and stew.
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Hibiscus Tea

This drink is a must-have for soul food dinners, says the Soul Food Scholar, Adrian Miller. Miller is the award-winning author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine. “I like this drink because of the way the tartness of the hibiscus and lime, the spiciness of the ginger, and the sweetener all play off each other,” he says.

Look for dried hibiscus flowers in the supermarket produce section or at an international market.

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Southern Shrimp and Grits

Now a staple of New Orleans cooking, shrimp and grits is a creamy, hearty dish that originated in Africa. The meal of ground maize and shellfish is perfect for a simple brunch, whether or not the other dishes are soul food.
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Banana Pudding

Growing up, I was not a banana pudding girl. The recipe at Virtue Restauant in Chicago’s Hyde Park converted me! Chef Becky Pendola says, “Everyone has memories connected to this classic southern dessert. For me, the most memorable component happens to be the addition of Nilla Wafers and thinking about sitting on the porch with my mom as a kid, eating as many as she would allow me to have.”

Yes, banana pudding is delicious—but what makes it special is the nostalgia attached to every bite.

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Southern Mac and Cheese

One of the most well-known soul food recipes, the original baked mac and cheese was created by James Hemings, an African American enslaved at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation.

Serve this mac with other southern comfort foods, like fried chicken or pulled pork sandwiches.

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Fried Chicken

Crispy, juicy and perfectly seasoned, this may be the best fried chicken recipe, ever. “When I was growing up, my parents had a farm, and every year, Dad would hire teenage boys to help by haying time,” says Lola Clifton, a Taste of Home contributor from Virginia. “They looked forward to coming because they knew they would be treated to some of Mom’s delicious fried chicken!”