Northern states are known for their pizza, bagels, and specialty deli sandwiches, but the American South is proud to be home to the country’s best comfort food. But Southern food is more than just biscuits and gravy (which are still super important, of course). Perhaps nowhere in the South showcases as much diversity of cuisine and culture as Louisiana. From Cajun food to Creole food to soul food, here are some classic Southern recipes that define the local cuisine.
What is soul food?
Before diving into staple soul food recipes, we need to ask: What is soul food? While it’s definitely Southern comfort food, not all Southern comfort food is soul food. It is a particular subset of Southern cuisine that, according to BlackFoodie.co, has origins in the slave trade of the Deep South. Black slaves had to make the best of the food they were given, and out of that came a rich food heritage with roots in African cuisine.
Today, “soul” references African-American heritage foods such as collard greens, rice, okra, and pork meat. EdibleCommunities.com notes that common dishes of the South, like Hoppin’ John, are inspired by traditional African food like Ghanian Waakye, a.k.a. beans and rice. Other signature soul food recipes make use of the odds and ends of pig or cow meat that were given to their ancestors.
Deep-fried chitterlings or “chitlins” are pork intestines and hog maws (a.k.a. pork stomach). Having to make do with leftover meat scraps, Black slaves found a way to turn a meager meal into a delicacy. The typical way to prepare chitterlings is to boil them, but this deep-fried recipe turns this Southern classic into a crunchy, shareable dish. Dip them into your sauce or condiment of choice!
Everyone knows the South adores fried chicken. Well, they love it so much that they take the same approach to their steak! Chicken-Fried Steak, also known as Country-Fried Steak, consists of thinly sliced steak (cube steak) that has been breaded and fried. Many people also use crushed crackers in their breading mixture, like in this recipe from SpicySouthernKitchen.com.
Southern Collard Greens
Greens are ubiquitous in soul food, but to the dismay of vegetarians everywhere, the signature flavor of Southern Collard Greens comes from being soaked in ham stock and bacon grease. Bits of smoked turkey or cubed ham are also usually thrown into the mix.
Creole vs. Cajun: What's the difference?
This is such a common question that the city of New Orleans addresses the difference between Cajun and Creole on their website. The two cultures are distinct, but one simple way to tell the difference between Cajun and Creole food is the latter’s use of tomatoes. Tomato-based sauces are used in staple Creole food recipes like Shrimp Creole and jambalaya.
Creole Shrimp Jambalaya
Jambalaya is one of the most iconic dishes of the South, and the Creole version is bursting with tomato flavor. Learn how to make this filling mix of rice, shrimp, chicken, and vegetables. If you like jambalaya, try Spanish Seafood Paella!
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Gumbo is similar to jambalaya, but is made to be more of a stew. Chicken and andouille sausage come together with rice, okra, and plum tomatoes for this classic Southern recipe. Try these 12 Soups, Stews and Hot Pot Recipes!
The other major difference is the designation of Creole as “city food” and Cajun as “country food.” Cajun food, like crawfish boils, Po’ Boy sandwiches, and etouffées (a rice and roux-based dish similar to gumbo), finds its heart in the bayous of Louisiana. While both are influenced by French cuisine and Southern food, Creole cuisine has a broader range of European and Caribbean influences.
Cajun Crawfish Boil
No meal is as representative of Cajun cuisine as the Louisiana Crawfish Boil. Whole potatoes, onions, and halved ears of corn are thrown onto a heap of boiled crawfish and covered with spicy Cajun seasoning.
Cajun Shrimp Etouffée
Shrimp Etouffée is marked by its beige-brown roux. This butter-based sauce consists of a handful of spices, like cayenne pepper and thyme, as well as Worcestershire sauce and vegetables such as onions, peppers, and celery. Note that an authentic Cajun etouffée contains no tomatoes.
Other Classic Southern Recipes
Other classic Southern recipes include fluffy beignets, savory red beans and rice, peach cobbler, and fried green tomatoes. You’ll find these foods not just in Louisiana, but across all the Southern states.
Burgoo stew is a Kentucky specialty that has been feeding the masses for more than a century. This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink recipe was originally meant to feed large gatherings of people—even entire towns! It typically contains pork, chicken, beef, beans, peas, potatoes and more. See what other countries' food specialties are with these 15 national dishes.
This bourbon-soaked cake made with candied fruit and coconut shavings is so much of a Southern tradition that it made an appearance in Harper Lee’s literary classic, To Kill A Mockingbird. This decadent tower is a total showstopper!