Celebrate Juneteenth with these 10 Plant-Based Dishes

We observe Juneteenth to honor the resilience and culture of the African American community as well as support the nation’s continued need for justice and equality for people of all creeds, colors, and nationalities. Juneteenth (a merger of the words June and nineteenth representing the day in 1865 when enslaved peoples learned of their freedom) is an important day for reverence and reflection, as well as a time for celebration which often includes a party-like feel, involving dancing, music, street fairs, and, of course, food.

A major Juneteenth culinary tradition is the serving of red- or crimson-colored food and drink, which have come to represent the ingenuity of the enslaved peoples and their perseverance through bondage. The color red has also come to symbolize the sacrifice, transition, and power of native Africans before and after their diaspora throughout the Western Hemisphere.  Because of the color’s importance, it’s common to see picnic tables spread with glasses of strawberry soda, bright bottles of Texas Pete hot sauce, slices of cool watermelon, platters of spicy red-hot sausages, and sultry red-velvet cakes.

A variety of “prosperity meals” are also commonplace at the celebratory table. These meals and side dishes typically include ingredients like black-eyed peas, corn, collard greens, cabbage, and yams, which are believed to represent a number of desirable fortunes, such as wealth, gold, and good fortune. Many of these ingredients were easy to harvest, prepare, and store during the colder months, and they remain important components of the culinary fabric of soul food and the American South. That being said, although the side dishes are welcome accompaniments, the  centerpiece of any Juneteenth meal is typically the barbecue. This culinary technique has existed for centuries, and uses low-and-slow cooking to transform tough cuts of meat, offal, or any other historically “undesirable” ingredients into dishes bursting with flavor and complexity.

And while much of the Juneteenth celebratory meal calls for meat-forward foods, many chefs, food bloggers, and home cooks are creating modern interpretations of classic dishes that rely more on fruits, vegetables, and legumes, rather than meat, butter, and dairy. This reimagination has helped plant-based eating grow in popularity across all different communities, but is growing the fastest amongst the Black community. Our list of Juneteenth-inspired recipes are sourced from Black food bloggers and chefs, many of whom are committed to recreating healthier versions of these important celebratory foods and dishes.

Photo credit: Savor and Sage

Black-Eyed Pea Salad

Black-eyed peas hold a special place in the Black culinary tradition. The ingredient is native to Africa and can be found in a lot of southern cooking and soul food dishes. This black-eyed pea salad recipe from Savor and Sage uses the legume as the foundation of a bright and refreshing salad that’s perfect for the hot summer months. It includes tons of vegetables like onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, cucumber, as well as fresh herbs and a tahini vinaigrette.

For the Black-Eyed Pea Salad recipe, click here.

Photo credit: Vegan with Curves

BBQ Vegan “Meatballs”

Infusing the Juneteenth celebrations with some form of barbecue is essential, but that doesn’t mean you have to rely on burgers, ribs, and links. These BBQ vegan meatballs from Vegan with Curves use protein-packed lentils, mushrooms, and brown rice, but they get their intense flavor from a combination of vegan BBQ sauce, vegan Worcestershire, and liquid smoke.

For the BBQ Vegan Meatballs recipe, click here.

Photo credit: Simply LaKita

Candied Yams

Yams are a starchy tuber native to the African continent, but in American supermarkets they’re often used as a synonym for sweet potato. This recipe for candied yams from Simply LaKita is sweet, warm, and spicy, and it can be made completely plant-based by using a butter alternative.

For the Candied Yams recipe, click here.

Photo credit: I Can You Can Vegan

Easy Vegan Collard Greens

The Southern way to cook collard greens—braised low-and-slow—came with the arrival of African slaves to the Americas, and it can be used to cook down many other hearty leafy greens like beet and turnip tops and mustard greens. Although usually flavored with some sort of smoked meat product, this vegan version from I Can You Can Vegan uses only nine ingredients and is a cinch to prepare.

For the Easy Vegan Collard Greens recipe, click here.


Photo credit: Make It Dairy Free

Peach BBQ Sauce

A good barbecue sauce makes anything it touches sweet, spicy, tangy, and delicious. And this peach BBQ sauce from Make It Dairy Free is no exception. Calling for an entire habanero pepper, you can expect a nice punch of heat, which is the perfect addition to pizza slices, biscuits, plant-based burgers, seitan, tofu, and rice and beans.

For the Peach BBQ Sauce recipe, click here.

Photo credit: Fit Men Cook

Red Beans and Rice

Red beans and rice embodies the cooking style of the American South–transforming humble ingredients into extraordinarily delicious meals. This recipe from Fit Men Cook is a spin on the classic, swapping out the traditional ham hock or pig’s feet for a homemade liquid smoke that gives the dish its deep, smoky flavor.

For the Red Beans and Rice recipe, click here.

Photo credit: Sweet Potato Soul

Southern Sweet Potato Salad

Potato salad is a foundational dish for any cookout, providing a smooth and creamy bite to counterbalance big barbecue flavors. This version from Sweet Potato Soul uses Yukon AND sweet potatoes as well as celery seed, dill relish, white onion, and a couple teaspoons of Dijon mustard. The result is a sweet and tangy crowd-pleaser that will find its way on to every plate.

For the Southern Sweet Potato Salad recipe, click here.

Photo credit: Meiko and the dish

Strawberry Cornbread Skillet Cobbler

Keeping with the theme of red, this strawberry cornbread skillet cobbler from Meiko and the Dish is both festive and a not-too-sweet summertime dessert. Swap out the cream and butter for plant-based alternatives for a totally vegan version of the recipe.

For the Strawberry Cornbread Skillet Cobbler, click here.

Photo credit: Fit Men Cook

Vegan BBQ Pulled Pork

You don’t need to cook a hog in order to recreate the flavor and texture of pulled pork. This recipe from Fit Men Cook is an excellent substitute, which uses canned jackfruit, liquid smoke, and a tangy homemade barbecue sauce. Throw it on some potato rolls and top with coleslaw, and you’ve got a great start to any celebratory feast.

For the Vegan BBQ Pulled Pork recipe, click here.

Photo credit: Jessica in the Kitchen

Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes

A platter of crimson red velvet cupcakes is sure to bring a festive atmosphere to Juneteenth parties. This plant-based recipe from Jessica in the Kitchen creates a perfectly moist cupcake that still retains the sweet, chocolaty flavor synonymous with traditional red velvet cakes.

For the Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes recipe, click here.

Click here for more Meatless Monday recipes. When posting pictures of recipes to your social media network, tag @MeatlessMonday use #MeatlessMonday to show the plant-based community your creation.

Juneteenth Celebration Foods