Stright from the heart Soul food doesn't mean bad food anymore

January 09, 1991|By John Tanasychuk | John Tanasychuk,Knight-Ridder Newspapers


Now you can add heart-healthy soul to your experience. And that's soul as in soul food.

For many, it seems an impossible combination. The food of the South has traditionally relied heavily on pork as a flavoring or ingredient. And frying meat in animal fat -- instead of baking or broiling it -- has added insult to injury.

"Fat is what makes food tastes good," admits registered dietitian Deborah Jeffries, formerly of Northwest General Hospital in Detroit. "It's a big problem, because culturally this is something that you grow up with. It would be very difficult even for me to have collard greens without salt pork or ham hocks."

What's required, says Jeffries, is re-educating and redefining your taste buds.

One place where healthful soul food is making its mark is at Mrs. Funderburg's Heart & Soul Cafeteria in Detroit, named after Jeanette Funderburg, a member of the Twelfth Street Missionary Baptist Church community service organization that opened the restaurant.

In Mrs. Funderburg's kitchen, workers cook with vegetable oil instead of animal fat. They still boil greens with ham hocks, but they're removed before serving to cut down on salt and fat.

"During the first couple of days people heard about the healthy part, and to some people that meant no taste," says Lewis Colson, a consultant to Mrs. Funderburg's. "As they thought about it and ate, things didn't jibe with them because of all the flavor. People don't see the pork swimming around, but are still as satisfied because it has the taste."

That doesn't mean they don't offer choices for those who want to splurge on traditional soul food. Barbecued pig feet and ribs still find a place on the menu, but fish is offered either fried or baked.

Home cooks who enjoy soul food also have been battling the same high-fat obstacles, says Rosie Sumler, assistant director of the City of Detroit's Food and Friendship program. She teaches elderly people how to cook their favorites in a more healthful way.

"It's hard to change eating habits, but once you start to get older and you start getting chronic diseases, the seniors are apt to make changes," she says. "I think they're one of the most health-conscious groups."

Sumler says many of the seniors she's talked to have had to swallow their sense of economy and for the first time ever discard the skin from a chicken. Others have given up salt and replaced it with homemade herb seasoning mix.

She says old-fashioned soul food can be enjoyed occasionally, but those who load up on smothered greens must watch fat and salt in the rest of their diet.

"I think it's unrealistic to think you have to avoid any food," says Jeffries. "Our problem is we do it too much. Realisticly, there's going to be a time when you want a piece of pound cake or a piece of pie or corn bread with lots of butter. But we overdo it."

Some people argue that soul food is an inexpensive way to eat that makes sense for people on restricted budgets. No one can argue that a ham hock doesn't cost less than many other leaner pork cuts, but Jeffries suggests lean ham or smoked turkey as an economical cut with little fat.

You can make healthy soul food. Here are tips on cutting fat and salt:

* Broil or bake instead of deep-frying. Use spiced crumb or cornmeal coating to mimic fried chicken.

* Use non-salt herb mixtures in place of salt; add onions to greens and other dishes.

* Use barbecued turkey pieces in place of ham hocks or salt pork when making greens.

* Use skim milk for corn bread.

* If you must have the pork flavor in greens, boil ham hocks or salt pork and discard meat. Refrigerate the water overnight, and skim off fat before boiling greens in the water.

* Trim all visible fat from meat.

* Use vegetable oil instead of lard for deep-frying.

* Consider barbecuing cuts of pork that are leaner than spare ribs: tenderloin (the leanest), loin chops, country-style or back ribs, loin roast.

* Don't boil all the nutrients out of greens. If you must have mushy greens, make sure to reuse the water for soup to recycle some nutrients.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.