Celebrating Juneteenth with Plant-Based Versions of Soul Food Classics
Juneteenth is an annual holiday representing the end of slavery in America. On June 19, 1865, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to deliver the news to the last group of enslaved peoples that they were now free—an announcement that came more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863.
Today, we observe Juneteenth to honor and celebrate the resilience and culture of the African American community and support the nation’s continued need for justice and equality for the Black community and people of all creeds, colors, and nationalities. And although Juneteenth is an important day for reverence and reflection, celebrations tend to have a party-like feel, often involving dancing, music, and street fairs; but much of the day’s festivities focus on the food, particularly red foods, which represent resilience, and comforting cuisine of the American South, more commonly known as soul food.
Soul food represents the culinary traditions of African Americans who were enslaved during the Antebellum period (1812-1861) of American history. Despite its dreadful origins, soul food is uniquely American, and is often cited as the one truly distinct American cuisine. Using only the humble ingredients available to them, enslaved people were able to transform foods like beans, dark leafy greens, corn meal, offal, and tough cuts of meat into dishes bursting with flavor and spirit, such as fried fish, barbecue spare ribs, black-eyed peas, stewed collard greens, corn bread, and chicken livers.
Another Juneteenth culinary tradition is the serving of red- or crimson-colored food and drink to represent the ingenuity of the enslaved peoples and their perseverance through bondage. 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.
And while much of the Juneteenth celebratory meal calls for meat-forward foods, the origins of soul food are predominately vegetarian, and many soul-food chefs are creating modern interpretations of classic dishes that rely more on fruits, vegetables, and legumes 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 below of Juneteenth recipes are from Black food bloggers, many of whom are committed to recreating the flavor and essence of soul food with a modern, healthier twist. This Monday, try experimenting with plant-based versions of classic soul food dishes.
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.
Coconut Collard Greens
The collard green is an iconic vegetable to southern cooking. Collard greens have tough leaves and fibrous stems, but these become tender and decadent after they’re braised or boiled. This recipe for coconut collard greens from Open Invitation Entertainment is unique in that it uses coconut water as the braising liquid; it’s certainly an interesting spin on a classic soul-food side dish.
Hibiscus Strawberry Vegan Ice Cream
On a hot June afternoon there’s nothing more refreshing than a chilly frozen dessert—and thanks to this recipe for Juneteenth hibiscus strawberry vegan ice cream, you don’t even need dairy to make one. Courtesy of The Vgn Way, the recipe uses coconut cream and oat milk to achieve a smooth and silky consistency.
Juneteenth Red Punch
A celebratory cocktail that is also a powerful historical symbol, this Juneteenth red punch from Edouardo Jordan is refreshing, sweet, and boozy. Sweet strawberry syrup is mixed together with Cognac, sparkling wine, and fruit juice to create a cocktail that is dangerously delicious. Or try this tasty mocktail version of Juneteenth Strawberry Soda from This Worthey Life.
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.
Peaches are the fruit of the South, and this recipe for peach cobbler from culinary-icon Edna Lewis, displays the stone fruit in its best possible light. Simple and decadent, this cobbler can easily be made plant-based by swapping out the butter for a vegan substitute.
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.
Smoked Whole Roasted Cauliflower
Smoking and barbecue are two major elements of soul food cookery, but you don’t need to use an animal protein to recreate that deep smoky flavor. Smoking a whole roasted cauliflower is a great alternative to pork butt or brisket, and is a lot easier (and cheaper) to make. Try this recipe from Make It Dairy Free to impress the guests.
Vegan Black-Eyed Pea Soup
Traditional slow-cooked southern black-eyed peas get a lot of their flavor from being stewed alongside a smoked ham hock (pork knuckle), but this recipe for vegan black-eyed pea soup from Vegan with Curves replaces the flavor of the meaty hock with Cajun seasoning and liquid smoke.