Chef Essig's Featured Item: Soul Food

February is Black History Month.

This is a time to honor and celebrate African American culture... of course here in Dining Services, that means we celebrate with FOOD!

The term "Soul Food" means just that... it's food that is made, not from a recipe, but from the soul. It is created out of resourcefulness and not out of excess. It touches a part of you beyond taste buds and does more than fill your stomach. It satisfies, sustains, and rejuvenates your soul.

The history of soul food cannot be separated from the history of slavery in America. The endless hard work that was demanded every day required a diet that would sustain and provide energy. Unfortunately, not all landowners placed feeding slaves in high importance. It was up to the slaves to fend for themselves using the knowledge of dishes they had been familiar with in their homeland but use the ingredients available to them at that time.

turnipsOften the secondary cuts or offal meats were scavenged. Pigs' feet, hocks, and intestines, along with chicken gizzards, hearts, and necks were some of the meats available. Other wild animals such as squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and opossum were available as well - if they could catch them. Sometimes small flocks of chickens were permitted to be raised.

For vegetables, they were limited to whatever they could gather from the surrounding area or grow in small plots. Wild greens including dandelion, chicory, mustard, and pokeweed were staples, along with hearty root vegetables such as turnips and beets. These are some of the ingredients we still see today in classic "soul food" dishes.

Soul food tends to be simple in preparation and presentation, high in fat, carbohydrates, calories and sodium - but even higher in satisfying your hunger and your soul. The dishes that were created during this time are still common today in African American culture and in many cultures across the US. Most Soul Food dishes are simple, hearty, and could be considered comfort food. Attempts to refine some of these dishes have been popular in the culinary world over recent years.

soul food

Mac and Cheese with everything from truffles to lobster have hit menus across the nation, as well as Shrimp and Grits being served in almost every brew pub and white table restaurant from New York to LA. Although these dishes have a hint of being exotic and different, they draw the diner in by hitting on the instinctual need to want to eat what is comforting and familiar yet step outside the box with one foot still firmly planted.

soul food

If it is a food you grew up with, or if it stirs memories of home, family, comfort, and touches a part of you that no other food does... then it could be considered "Soul Food."

Here is a list of dishes and ingredients often considered to be Soul Food as published in an article by the African American Registry (a Non-Profit Education Organization) on February 24th, 1992. The article defines Soul Food as “...a term used for an ethnic cuisine, food traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans of the Southern United States. Many of the various dishes and ingredients included in "soul food" are also regional meals and comprise a part of other Southern US cooking, as well.”

  • Biscuitsblack eyed peas
  • Black-Eyed Peas: cooked separately or with rice, as Hoppin' John
  • Butter Beans: immature lima beans, usually cooked in butter
  • Catfish: dredged in seasoned cornbread and fried
  • Chicken: often fried with cornmeal breading or seasoned flour
  • Chicken Livers
  • Chitterlings or Chitlins: cleaned and prepared intestines of hogs, slow-cooked and often eaten with vinegar and hot sauce; sometimes parboiled, then battered and fried
  • Chow-Chow: a spicy, homemade pickle relish sometimes made with okra, corn, cabbage, green tomatoes and other vegetables; commonly used to top black-eyed peas and otherwise as a condiment and side dish.
  • Collard Greens: usually cooked with ham hocks, often combined with other greens
  • Cornbread: shortbread often baked in an iron skillet, sometimes seasoned with bacon fat
  • Chicken Fried Steak: beef deep fried in flour or batter, usually served with gravy
  • Cracklins: commonly known as pork rinds and sometimes added to cornbread batter
  • Fatback: fatty, cured, salted pork used to season meats and vegetables
  • Fried Fish: any of several varieties of fish whiting, catfish, porgies, bluegills dredged in seasoned cornmeal and deep fried
  • Grits: Course ground alkali treated corn (hominy) often served with fish.
  • Ham Hocks: smoked, used to flavor vegetables and legumes mac and cheese
  • Lima Beans
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Mashed Potatoes: usually with butter and condensed milk
  • Meatloaf: typically with brown gravy
  • Milk and Bread: slightly crumbled cornbread, buttermilk and sugar in a glass served for dessert
  • Mustard Greens: usually cooked with ham hocks, often combined with other greens
  • Neckbones: beef neck bones seasoned and slow cooked
  • Okra: African vegetable eaten fried in cornmeal or stewed….
  • Pigs' Feet: slow-cooked like chitterlings; sometimes pickled
  • Red Beans
  • Ribs: usually pork, but can also be beef ribs
  • Rice: usually served with red beans
  • Succotash: originally, a Native American dish of yellow corn and butter beans
  • Sweet Potatoes: often parboiled, sliced and then baked, using sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter or margarine, commonly called "candied yams"; also boiled, then pureed and baked into pies
  • Turnip Greens: usually cooked with ham hocks, often combined with other greens
  • Yams: not actually yams, but sweet potatoes (that is a whole separate article yet to come)

Although you will not find all these items served in the Dining Rooms, you will see many of them. Visit the online menus and look for soul-satisfying foods during Black History Month and throughout the year.

Come, Eat, Celebrate, Enjoy.


Dining Services is here for you because We Feed The Bears and are proud of it! GO BEARS! Happy Dining from Executive Chef Essig!

Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA (Certified Executive Chef, Certified Culinary Administrator)

Hungry and not sure where to eat? We can help you decide... check out the weekly menus often to see what each dining room is serving. You can also call the FoodLine (970.351.FOOD) for daily menus. Students living in the residence halls can access weekly menus on the VOIP phones in their rooms.Chef Essig

Students: add meals and/or Dining Dollars to your UNC Card

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Weekly Dining Room Menus: see the weekly menu online here

Daily Menus: call the FoodLine at (970) 351-FOOD (3663)

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