Winter 2004 : The New Soul Food - by Melissa Ewey-Johnson

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The New Soul Food

by Melissa Ewey-Johnson

Cookbooks are offering healthier versions of the dishes we know and love. But do they taste good? Melissa Ewey-Johnson and our picky team put the recipes to the test.

Soul food: Can’t you just smell it cooking? It’s always been there at our family reunions, made with love and handed down through generations. But the recipes, rich in fat, salt and calories, contribute to our soaring rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and other life-threatening health problems. Recently, cookbooks have offered healthier versions of classic dishes. But if you take the “soul” out of the food, how does it taste? We lured a group of soul-food lovers to a taste test to find out, enlisting a secret weapon—chef Zoraida Oliveira, owner of West Orange, N.J.–based Sumptuous Sweets—to choose the recipes and cook up the goods. “I was looking for recipes that tried to make up for the loss of fat with spices and other ingredients,” she says. Here’s how it went down:

Patti LaBelle’s Lite Cuisine vs. The Black Family Dinner Quilt Cookbook
Old School: “People love [fried] crispy skin, but it’s so bad for us,” Oliveira says. Milk and flour in the batter pile on carbs and fat.
New School: The “oven-fried” versions are a modified Shake ‘N Bake—you coat skinless chicken in seasoning and bread crumbs. But Patti LaBelle calls for “brining,” soaking the meat in mild salt water for at least three hours. “It’s a great way to make poultry even juicier,” says Oliveira.
The Verdict: Patti LaBelle’s version won wings down. “The crust is crunchier,” says Oliveira’s mom, Thelma deWalcott, a retired mental-health therapist. Anisa Keith, a financial analyst, said it’s definitely not fried chicken, but it’s “still nice and juicy.”

Black Family Dinner Quilt vs. Whole Food, Soul Food
Old School: Cheese and pasta, thickened with milk and flour: divine but disastrous, combining fat, cholesterol and major carbs.
New School: Both reduce cheese; BFDQ’s has only four ounces, compared with WFSF’s two cups, compensating with garlic, nonfat sour cream and bread crumbs.
The Verdict: Ricardo Oliveira, Zoraida’s husband and a consultant who recently lost 17 pounds on the Atkins diet, says, “[BFDQ’s] scallions and spices add a different twist, but I want more cheese!” WFSF’s recipe had the texture and flavor that testers craved. “It’s nice and creamy,” deWalcott says.

Black Family Dinner Quilt vs. At Home With Gladys Knight
Old School: It’s easy and tasty, but heavy on sugar, milk, butter and starch.
New School: BFDQ’s version, with plenty of sugar, milk and eggs, isn’t that “light,” but its vanilla and rum sauce sounds tasty. Gladys Knight’s version, published by the American Diabetes Association, is sweetened with Equal. “It’s good to try sugar substitutes, especially if you have health concerns,” says Oliveira.
The Verdict: Knight’s formula earned mixed reviews. Keith, who isn’t big on sweets, liked this recipe, but Oliveira says, “It definitely tastes like a light recipe.” However, BFDQ’s bread pudding received wows from the first bite to the last crumb. “This is the bomb!” deWalcott says. “The pecans, raisins and rum sauce really make this delicious,” says Keith.

“There really is no such thing as a ‘bad’ food,” says Veronica McLymont, MS, RD, dietician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “The key is in how it is prepared and served.” To make your everyday cooking healthier, try reduced-fat milk and cheeses, watch the oil, butter and sugar and bake, grill or roast instead of frying—just like the winning recipes below. Enjoy!

Patti LaBelle’s Oven (Tastes Like Southern) Fried Chicken
    Makes 4 servings

1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water
Four 4-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 egg
1/2 cup fat-free buttermilk
1 1/2 cups plain dry bread crumbs
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon seasoning salt, such as Lawry’s
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

1. In a large bowl, dissolve salt in water. Add chicken and enough cold water to cover. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 6 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat foil with fat-free cooking spray. Drain chicken and pat dry.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together egg and buttermilk.
4. In a large resealable plastic bag, mix together bread crumbs, poultry seasoning, black pepper, salt, seasoning salt and red pepper.
5. Dip chicken, one breast at a time, in buttermilk mixture, then place in the bag with bread-crumb mixture. Shake well to coat, then transfer to a rack. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.
6. Put baking sheet in oven until smoking hot, about 2 minutes.
7. Coat both sides of chicken with fat-free cooking spray and place on the hot baking sheet. Bake until an instant-read thermometer registers 160°F in a breast and juices run clear, about 30 to 35 minutes.
8. Turn on broiler and broil 4 inches from heat to brown top, about 5 minutes. 

Per serving: 310 calories, 34 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 115 mg cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 850 milligrams sodium.

Reprinted from Patti LaBelle’s Lite Cuisine by Patti LaBelle and Laura Randolph Lancaster (Gotham Books, $15).

Macaroni ’n’ Cheese
    Makes 6-8 servings

1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons regular or soy margarine
3 tablespoons unbleached white flour
2 cups regular or soy milk
1/4 cup onion, minced
2 cups regular or veggie cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. In a large pot, cook macaroni according to directions.
2. Melt margarine in a saucepan and blend in flour.
3. Add milk, then cook and stir until thick. Add seasonings, onion and cheese, and stir until cheese melts.
4. Mix cheese sauce with macaroni.
5. Place in 1 1/2 quart casserole dish and bake at 350°F for approximately 45 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and browned.

Per serving: 202 calories, 5 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fat, 1 gram dietary fiber, 258 milligrams sodium

Reprinted from Whole Food, Soul Food by Donna A. Smith (Magnico Company, $12.95; call 256-721-4063 or visit

Saucy Vanilla Rum Bread Pudding
    Makes 12 servings

1-pound loaf French bread  (day-old)
4 cups milk
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cups raisins
1 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons vanilla

Vanilla rum sauce:
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rum
1 teaspoon margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. For pudding, heat oven to 350°F. Grease 3-quart casserole.
2. Tear bread into 1-inch pieces. Place in a large bowl. Add milk. Soak 20 minutes.
3. Combine sugar, eggs, raisins, nuts and vanilla. Mix well. Pour into casserole.
4. Bake at 350°F for 40 minutes. Serve with vanilla rum sauce (below). Serve warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate leftover pudding.
5. For vanilla rum sauce, combine sugar and cornstarch in small saucepan. Stir to blend. Stir in water. Cook and stir on low heat until mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in rum, margarine and vanilla.

Per serving: 430 calories, 9 grams protein, 73 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 65 milligrams cholesterol, 290 milligrams sodium

Reprinted from The Black Family Dinner Quilt Cookbook: Health Conscious Recipes and Food Memories, by Dorothy I. Height and The National Council of Negro Women, Inc. (The Wimmer Companies, $12.95. Call 800-727-1034 for information.)

Search: healthy recipes, cookbooks, Melissa Ewey-Johnson

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Table of Contents
The New Soul Food

Cookbooks are offering healthier versions of the dishes we know and love. But do they taste good?

Get Fit, Cheap
With all the health risks we face, exercise isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity. But do you have to spend hundreds on a gym membership or a trainer? No!

>> WALK IT OUT: Walking can be done anywhere. It’s low- impact, and all you need is a good pair of shoes—with arch support and rubber soles. Start with just 15 minutes

My Adventures in Weight-Loss Land
The first time I tried Weight Watchers, the U.S.’s most popular weight-loss program, I couldn’t handle the upheaval of a new job and go cold turkey on the Ho-Hos and Häagen-Dazs.

More recently, I made a second attempt, steering clear of junk food the first week. By the second meeting, I was frustrated about having dropped a measly three pounds. But at my third meeting, I met my new “shero,” a sister named Pam who lost 47 pounds in five months.

Good News For HIV Positive Wannbe Moms and Dads

The Notorious V.E.G.
Some rappers, known for eating their rivals alive on wax, allow no meat to touch their lips, including Prodigy, Andre 3000, Nelly’s fellow St. Lunatic Murphy Lee, Common, dead prez and RZA. From backpackers to blingers, some have been vegetarian for years, and while their reasons are varied—from animal rights to controlling cholesterol—going flesh-free is definitely about getting one’s mind right.

Life With HIV: Easier Than Ever?

Immune-Boosting Foods

Extreme Makeovers
Are the stars’ fitness techniques healthy?

The Top 5 Reasons Our Health Is So Bad
1) The foods we love don’t love us back: Fat, salt and sugar—along with lack of exercise—jack up our risk for diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer.

Less-Stress HIV Tests

Living With HIV
With all the new treatments, living with HIV ain't what it used to be. But it's no walk in the park, either, in part because many people won't let it be just a health problem. Aliyah Simpson reports:

Ask the Sexperts
Answers to those questions you won’t ask your momma

HIV Confidential
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Different Strokes
When she was  6, Maritza Correia could barely stand straight, much less swim. “I was diagnosed with scoliosis [a curvature of the spine], and my doctor recommended swimming because it’s a total-body sport and keeps you flexible,” she says. Her parents, immigrants from Guyana, took her to a public pool in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they lived. “I used to have really bad back pains, but the more years I swam, the more the pain decreased.”

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We asked two couples to try...

Is Oral Sex Safe?
Yes, as far as HIV is concerned, says a 2001 University of California study, seconded by a 2002 Spanish survey reporting zero HIV infections after 19,000 instances of unprotected oral sex between HIV positive and negative heterosexual partners. But in 2000, the Options Project found that 8 out of 102 infections between guys likely took place through oral sex.


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