It’s been nearly 400 years since the Pilgrims and the Native Americans celebrated their successful harvest over a shared feast, yet the traditions the colonists brought to their new land have endured. Since Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, the day has meant many things to many people, but a few elements transcend both cultures and generations – a bounty of mouthwatering food and time well spent giving thanks with family and friends.
In the South, our soulful style of cooking has deep roots in African culture. And while traditional Southern cooking tends to be high in fat, sodium and calories, many modern, health-conscious chefs have found ways to prepare these dishes in ways that make them healthier while maintaining the flavors and textures that make soul food so comforting and irresistible.
For a Thanksgiving spread with lots of soul, start with a menu of traditional favorites with an eye toward preparing what you can in a more healthy way. The turkey is synonymous with Thanksgiving and is always the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table. To add a Southern spin to the turkey, kiss the dry roasted turkey goodbye and give deep frying a try. Nutritionally, this method is only slightly higher in calories and fat, but the enhanced flavor and extra juicy meat (not at all greasy) far outweigh the nutritional difference.
The turkey definitely does not stand alone on the dining room table. A variety of side dishes will give your Thanksgiving guests something to really talk about. Instead of the customary sweet potato soufflé, wow your guests with the sweet, earthy goodness of roasted organic sweet potatoes. Simply peel and dice several large sweet potatoes, coat in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and cinnamon. Add a few dashes of African birdseye chilis to give the dish a spicy West African kick. Roast on 425 degrees for about 40 minutes.
Other popular Thanksgiving sides to consider are green beans, black-eyed peas and and collard greens. When possible, go easy on the butter and salt and opt for more healthy preparation and seasoning methods. The aroma of fresh-baked Ghanaian sweet bread (recipe below) rounds out the meal and adds yet another taste of Africa to this soulful Thanksgiving feast. And don’t forget dessert! Thanksgiving would not be complete without a piece of pecan pie or a slice of homemade pound cake.
Check out our recipe on Roast Turkey for a delicious holiday!
When the meal is done, your blessings are counted and thoughts of Thanksgiving leftovers are dancing in your head, you might continue with our healthy Thanksgiving theme and head out for an afternoon stroll to work off the day’s feast. Or if you’re like most people, you’ll likely make a beeline for the sofa for those other Thanksgiving traditions — the afternoon nap (better known as the turkey coma) and back-to-back football game watching.