I was raised in the South by a family that frequently relied on traditional Southern-style cooking for most meals. Cornbread, fritters, fried green tomatoes, grits, NC BBQ, pound cake (and real pound cake at that), fried okra, and the like were regulars on our plates. The thing about this style of cooking, though, is that it is incredibly unhealthy. Everything is fried in fat (when I was growing up, bacon grease and lard were completely acceptable), and even the greens had meat and butter in them.

Obviously, I don’t eat like that anymore, and when I went vegan I almost completely stopped eating traditional “Southern” foods. Until recently, I didn’t even think about it – I rarely crave fried foods, and if I have to dab grease off something with a paper towel, I’m probably not going to eat it at all. Lately, though, I’ve been eating more Southern style foods without even realizing it, and it has been delicious.

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I made “chick’n” and waffles. We used the VegNews recipe for Country Fried Seitan, which uses mustard (I used stone-ground) in the batter, along with nutritional yeast and garlic.  The waffles were the Cornbread waffles from Vegan Brunch. It was perfect, except I wish I had thought to whip up a batch of gravy. (Sorry about not having a picture – they were gone too quickly!)

A couple days ago, I made Susan V‘s Spicy Collards and Black-Eyed Pea Soup. I never liked collards growing up, so I was planning on subbing kale, but when I got to the grocery store they had marked down a one-pound bag of pre-washed, pre-chopped collard greens to half price because it was a few days from the sell-by date. I thought “what the hell?” and bought some, because it had been years (almost 10, in fact), since the last time I’d tried any. The peas cooked much faster than I had anticipated, although collards apparently cook much slower than other greens. The seasoning in the soup was delicious – hints of smokiness and spiciness – although I still don’t really care for collards. Also, this soup makes a lot. I ate two full bowls in two days, and I froze two large freezer bags of it.

Sidenote: When I was a kid, I also hated black-eyed peas. My mother made them for new year’s day every year, and would force me to eat at least one. I usually swallowed it whole like a pill, and then complained about it the rest of the day. Now I think they’re delicious!

Spicy Collard and Black-Eyed Pea Soup

To go with them, I made the cornbread muffins from Vegan Brunch. All I had on hand was blue cornmeal, which… made them blue, but they tasted exactly the same. I added nutritional yeast and cumin seeds to the batter, which were excellent additions.

Blue Cornmeal Muffins with Earth Balance

This morning, I visited a tailgate market that is ridiculously close to my house, although I usually don’t get the opportunity to go since I almost always have to work Saturday mornings (it’s only once a week). For $15, I got two green tomatoes, a pint of beautiful cherry tomatoes, 2 zucchini, 3 patty-pan squash, a pickling cucumber, a huge head of garlic (think 3x the size of a normal head), and a bunch of kale. Everything was local, and I wanted my lunch to be based around what I had gotten.

As soon as I got home I knew I wanted a kale salad, but I wanted to try a new dressing. I ended up making Alisa‘s Liquid Gold Salad Dressing. Hands down, it was the best dressing I’ve ever made. Flax seeds thicken it, and it’s full of noochy-goodness. I used stone-ground mustard instead of Dijon, since it’s my favorite mustard. It’s so good I plan on making a huge jar of it this afternoon.

Back to the salad though: I washed and dried half the bunch of kale, and then put it in a large bowl with a handful of halved cherry tomatoes, a sliced pickling cucumber, and raisins, and then poured the liquid gold dressing over it and massaged the kale for a few minutes. I let it set about 20 minutes, while I made the other part of my lunch: oven-fried green tomatoes (also from the Fatfree Vegan blog).

Marinated & Massaged Kale Salad

The baked “fried” green tomatoes turned out just as delicious as normal fried-green tomatoes, and there’s not a bunch of oil to deal with. This is going to become my go-to recipe anytime I make them, in fact. To serve, I topped them off with some hot salsa.

Oven-baked Fried Green Tomatoes

Southern-style cooking can definitely be made healthy and vegan, without losing any of the comfort-food flavor. I’ve got one more green tomato left, and I’m thinking a trip to Whole Foods might be in store – my favorite pre-vegan sandwich was a grilled cheese on sourdough bread with fried green tomato and caramelized onion. There’s definitely going to be a veganized one in my near future. 🙂