Having It Your Way… Soulfully
December 3rd, 2011 - By Lari Robling
If you think fast food and healthy are two words that don't go together, think again. In Philadelphia's West Oak Lane neighborhood, Green Soul offers a quick fix of healthy versions of traditional dishes. They call it a bridge to healthier eating featuring dishes with more vegetables while cutting back on salt, fat and meat.
When I think of soul food I think of vibrant greens, smoky beans and rice, fresh okra and tomatoes. So, how did it get such a rap for being unhealthy? Food Historian Jessica Harris says it evolved, "meat was a seasoning element particularly during the period of enslavement when it was always something salty something fatty. And it did add taste. However, what happened with prosperity is instead of a seasoning piece of fat back or bacon or whatever you were putting into it, it became a three ham hocks pork chop and last night's left over ham, and then you've got something that's not healthy."
So, here we are with delicious dishes, but very little left that's good for us. And now in a world of fast food buckets for quick cheap eating, how do you eliminate the salt and fat, but keep the flavor and tradition? "We do a really nice collard green. In lieu of slow cooking we blanch and shock the greens and then we cook them along with onions and garlic. We use hot sauce and a little bit of agave nectar, which comes from the cactus, which adds the balance of sweet and vinegar that goes along with hot sauce. That's a traditional flavor." That's restaurateur Ben Bynum who recently opened Green Soul in Philadelphia's West Oak Lane neighborhood with his partners. Their new quick service concept blends eco-friendly for the earth, and healthy for the consumer."
Here you'll find down home turkey chili, cajun salmon BLT, or gullah succotash shrimp salad. Still, as Bynum points out, not all dishes can be made healthy, "To be very honest we would rather sell our mac and cheese the way we do it at Warmdaddy's or Relish and hopefully guests will come in and have it, and eat it from time to time. We use four different types of cheese, we use eggs, we use butter, all of those things. Once you take those things out, you no longer have macaroni and cheese."
But, says Bynum, while salmon isn't considered a fish of the Caribbean, it has some advantages over the traditional jerk chicken. This fatty fish pairs well with the spicy seasoning while offering heart healthy omega three fatty acids. Other standards get a nutrition tweak, too. "In lieu of traditional potato salad, sometimes called a family reunion style potato salad that's made with white potatoes mayonnaise and egg, and all these other things. We've come up with a version which is very unique that's made with sweet potatoes. It does have some very fine turkey bacon inside just to give it a little smokiness, and in lieu of mayonnaise we use white balsamic vinaigrette."
These updated versions are often not what we expect that’s true, but they are what Bynum calls a bridge to healthier eating. So, you can try new ingredients such as agave or there's another approach, again, Food Historian Jessica Harris. "If you go back to the original recipes in many cases you are finding traditional but also healthy."
So have it your way, new healthy, or old healthy!