Soul food is a lot of things. It is pork ribs, it is fried okra, it is a reflection of the deeply complex role that African American culture has played in all of southern cuisine. Soul food is not, however, all that healthy. Usually.
"For most people, African American and Southern cooking is synonymous with meals organized around fatty meats with overcooked vegetables and fruits playing a minor supporting role," chef Bryant Terry wrote in his 2009 cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen. "But when we take a step back and remember that — before the widespread industrialization of food in this country — African Americans living in the South included lots of fresh, nutrient-dense leafy greens, tubers, and fruits in their everyday diets, what I am introducing here is not that much of a stretch."
In his newest cookbook Afro-Vegan, Terry pairs African, Caribbean, and Southern flavors with fresh, vegan ingredients. He believes that tasty, culturally inspired food is the key to good health, not an obstacle to it. Spreading this message makes Terry equal parts chef and food justice activist: He was named one of The New York Times "food fighters" in 2008 and appointed to the State Department's American Chef Corps in 2012.
Armed with a bag of grits from his favorite producer (and not willing to share his source), Terry visited the BuzzFeed Test Kitchen recently to make breakfast. This is the second in a new series called BuzzFeed Breakfast, wherein we ask chefs to come hang out at 10 a.m. and cook stuff. It was a cold and rainy morning, the kind that requires something hot and delicious, and he did not disappoint.
Here's what chef used to make the grits:
And here's what he brought for the garlic chips and dandelion greens:
1. Soak 1/2 cup of raw cashews in water for at least 3 hours and up to overnight.
2. Drain the cashews and blend with about a 1/4 cup of water, until they're smooth, and then set aside.
3. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat, then add the chopped onion and salt to taste and sauté until it's caramelized.
4. Meanwhile, bring 3 cups of broth to a boil in a medium pot, then pour the grits slowly into the boiling broth, whisking while you pour, until the grits are smooth. Simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, as the grits absorb the broth.
5. Once that broth is absorbed into the grits, pour in the remaining cup of broth, and season with salt and pepper. Whisk constantly until the grits are thickened, about 10 minutes.
6. Stir the cashew cream and onions into the grits and cover the pot.
7. Cook the grits covered for about 30 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they're soft and fluffy.
8. While the grits are cooking, add olive oil and sliced garlic to a skillet over low heat.
9. Toast the garlic in the oil until it's crispy and golden brown, about 5-7 minutes.
10. Use a spatula or slotted spoon to take the garlic out of the skillet and set it aside, LEAVING THE OIL IN THE PAN. Turn up the heat and add the sugar, salt, and vinegar, stirring until it's all dissolved.
11. Lower the heat, add the dandelion greens, and stir until they're wilted.
12. Then put some greens on some grits, garnish with garlic chips and VOILA! You've got breakfast.
Creamy Vegan Grits with Garlic Chips and Greens
Recipe by Bryant Terry
Makes 4 servings
For the grits:
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked in water at least 3 hours and up to overnight
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
Coarse sea salt, to taste, up to 1 teaspoon
1 qt. vegetable broth, divided
3/4 cup organic yellow grits
For the greens:
1 pound dandelion greens (or kale, arugula, or spinach), torn into bite-size pieces, washed and dried
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 large garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon raw organic cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons apple cider or red wine vinegar
Creamy Cashew Grits
1. Soak cashews in water for at least 3 hours and up to overnight.
2. Drain cashews and place in a blender with 1/4 cup water. Blend until smooth; set aside. (Add more water to blender as needed to get it to blend.)
3. Heat oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and salt to taste and cook, stirring often, until onion is caramelized, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside. (The amount of salt you'll use depends on how salty your broth is.)
4. Meanwhile, bring 3 cups broth to a boil in a medium saucepot. Add grits in a slow but steady stream, whisking constantly, until mixture is smooth. When mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to low.
5. Simmer grits, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, 5 minutes. Add remaining 1 cup broth and salt to taste and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, another 10 minutes.
6. Stir in creamed cashews and onions. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until grits are soft and fluffy, about 30 minutes.
Make ahead: Since the cashews take a while to make, it can be worth blending a few batches and then either chilling (up to 4 days) or freezing (up to 3 months) in an airtight container.
Garlicky Dandelion Greens
1. In a medium skillet, combine the oil and garlic. Turn the heat on low and simmer until the garlic is crispy and golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. With a fork or slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to a small plate and set aside.
2. After all the garlic is removed, raise the heat to high and quickly add the sugar, salt, and apple cider vinegar to the skillet. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes.
3. Lower the heat to medium, add the dandelion greens, and stir until wilted. Serve the greens over the grits and garnish with the garlic chips.