Every culture has comforting recipes and meals. Sometimes we call these classic meals “comfort food,” but in the South, people call these down-home Southern recipes soul food recipes.
What is Soul Food? In short, soul food is Southern cooking that feeds the spirit. You could say it’s comfort food because it’s food that many southerners grew up eating at their family dinner table. For the most part, soul food’s origins grew from people who could only afford inexpensive ingredients.
Soul food dishes are just what they sound like: food for the soul. These delicious recipes are made with love and inspired by long-held southern traditions.
Soul food, a cuisine that has its roots in the African-American community, offers a diverse array of flavorful and comforting dishes. These recipes have been passed down through generations, preserving the culinary traditions of African Americans while also taking inspiration from other regional and cultural specialties. Throughout history, soul food has evolved and adapted to the availability of ingredients and the ever-changing tastes of its devoted fans.
One of the most distinctive features of soul food lies in its emphasis on the use of inexpensive, yet nutrient-dense ingredients. Often created with a focus on sustainability and resourcefulness, these recipes showcase the possibilities that can be found within seemingly simple items such as collard greens, cornbread, and slow-cooked meats. Coupled with a blend of earthy, savory, and sweet flavors, soul food recipes provide indulgent dining experiences that leave a lasting impression on both the soul and the taste buds.
Let’s dive in and explore some of the best soul food Sunday dinner ideas out there. Hopefully, you’ve been saving your bacon drippings.
Everyone loves that blue box mac ‘n cheese and that’s not going to change. However, southern baked macaroni and cheese is in a league all its own.
This delicious baked macaroni and cheese is basically a masterpiece.
With ingredients like heavy cream, half and half, and three types of cheeses, this dish will go straight to your soul.
This is one of the most traditional soul food recipes and it’s rich, creamy, and absolutely perfect.
Surely cornbread was invented in heaven because it’s just that delicious.
Southern cornbread usually doesn’t have a sweet taste to it, while cornbread made in the North does. Whether you like your cornbread sweet or savory, it’s still pure comfort food.
This recipe calls for a tablespoon of sugar, but if you want to leave it out, we won’t be mad at you.
To get that rich golden-brown crust, cook your cornbread in a cast-iron skillet. The best cornbread is nice and crumbly on the inside and crusty on the outside.
Black-eyed peas are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day for good luck and prosperity in the coming year. However, you can serve this delicious and healthy dish any day of the year.
A big pot of blackeyed peas is a heart and soulful dish that is chock-full of goodness and rich flavor.
A nice piece of smoked meat (or even a smoked ham hock or neckbone) is a must when making blackeyed peas, but it doesn’t have to be pork. Smoked turkey tastes just as good in this southern classic.
Here’s the secret to perfect southern blackeyed peas: a little bit of kick. So don’t forget the spice.
4. Baked Beans
Beans play a significant role in soul food cooking.
Traditionally, beans have provided the important protein that our bodies need without adding a lot of extra costs. In lean times, meat wasn’t always available and beans were a powerhouse of nutrition.
The secret to classic southern baked beans is the dark brown sugar. Whatever else you use to make your baked beans, don’t forget that special ingredient.
You can cook your baked beans in the slow cooker, too.
Greens are huge in southern cooking, and by greens, we mean turnip greens, mustard greens, and collard greens.
Nothing against the slightly classier spinach and kale, but if you’re wanting a down-home soul food meal, collard greens are the way to go.
One thing that stops a lot of home chefs from enjoying a big old pot of collards is that they have to be thoroughly cleaned.
The good news is that now, you can buy collard greens (and other greens) pre-cleaned in bags at the grocery store.
Do you have to make collard with pork fat? Absolutely not. You can make collards a delicious vegan soul food recipe by using olive oil.
A dash of lemon juice gives collard greens the acid they need. Be sure to have some hot sauce on hand for folks who like it.
How did a traditional English country dish come to be one of the most beloved soul food recipes and southern dishes?
The question is, how could it not? Shepherd’s pie is so versatile that it can be made with a variety of different ground meats.
Traditionally, shepherd’s pie is made with lamb. However, in soul food cooking, it’s made with ground beef.
The truth is, shepherd’s pie that’s made with beef is supposed to be called cottage pie, but you will invoke a war if you try to call it that.
Whatever you call it, this delicious recipe will win the hearts of your friends and family.
Bonus tip: try cooking this in the slow cooker. It’s delicious!
Several years ago, the world got to learn about a soul food secret.
The book and movie “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” brought this traditional southern treat into the mainstream and we’ve never looked back.
First of all, the tomatoes have to be completely green. If your tomatoes have started turning red, they will cook up mushy.
Your choice of breading is up to you. Traditionally, southern cooks use cornmeal, but we’ve seen people use bread crumbs, too.
Here’s a tip: be sure to blot your sliced tomatoes with a paper towel so that the egg wash and breading will better adhere.
One food that most country families always seem to have on hand is eggs. If you’re lucky enough to have laying hens, these sweet girls will provide you with delicious fresh eggs year-round.
What better way to use up a bunch of eggs than by making deviled eggs?
A lot of folks swear by a little paprika sprinkled on their deviled eggs, and we think this adds a little extra flavor and color. But it’s totally optional.
One thing that absolutely makes deviled eggs divine is the relish. You can use dill relish or sweet relish, depending on how sweet you like your eggs.
Grits are a miraculous food with an undeserved unattractive name.
Grits are made from grain that’s ground from either stone-ground corn or hominy, and they’re ridiculously simple to make.
To make classic grits, you cook them in water, but if you want to add extra flavor, try cooking them in stock or chicken broth.
Want your grits super creamy? Cook them in half water and half milk.
Once your grits are cooked, you should add some butter for a dish that is absolutely divine. Throw in a handful of cheddar cheese to make a meal out of grits.
Few things light up a southerner’s soul like a good old-fashioned fish fry on a Friday night.
The fish fry is a well-known southern tradition and churches and other organizations frequently use this event as fundraisers.
It’s an effective fundraising technique because plenty of people show up.
Fried catfish is dredged in spiced cornmeal breading and pan-fried until it has a crispy golden-brown crust and is tender inside.
Serve your fried fish with hush puppies and some cheddar cheese grits for true authenticity, Deep South style.
11. Hush Puppies
If you’re making up a mess of fried catfish and cheese grits, you know you’re gonna want to make some hush puppies, too.
You can serve these traditional southern hush puppies with your fish, of course. However, you can also whip them up to serve with your red beans and rice, too.
Hushpuppies are a quick and easy version of hot water cornbread. You can make them with either yellow or white cornmeal.
For a taste variation, consider chopping up some jalapenos to go in your hushpuppies.
12. Chicken Pot Pie
If you have some leftover chicken from this week’s quick weeknight rotisserie dinner, why not bake up a comforting southern chicken pot pie?
When it comes to chicken pot pie, it’s all about the crust. The good news is that you can certainly whip up a crust from scratch (it’s pretty simple) or you can use a store-bought crust.
In terms of the veggies you use, you can use fresh potatoes, carrots, and peas, or you can use a frozen or canned veggie blend and green beans to make this yummy chicken pot pie. Can you say Veg-All?
13. Fried Chicken
Fried chicken isn’t just soul food. This delicious recipe is as American as apple pie.
In the country, fried chicken is a staple. Is there anyone who doesn’t love some version of this fried chicken?
There are plenty of recipes for fried chicken with lots of spices, but the truth is, all you really need is some flour, salt, and pepper. For just a hint of something extra, use a little garlic powder, too.
But here’s another secret to the best-fried chicken. Fry your chicken in bacon grease if you have been saving your drippings. That’s how your grandma got her fried chicken so perfect.
Serve this fried chicken with a big serving of mashed potatoes and gravy for the perfect soul food meal.
Folks who grew up in southern (or country northern) kitchens probably remember biscuits more than they do any other food.
This is because a delicious buttermilk biscuit can be served with every meal, not just breakfast.
Huge fluffy biscuits were sometimes called “cathead biscuits” because they were the size of a cat’s head.
We found a recipe for southern cathead biscuits and you’re going to absolutely love it.
All you need to make authentic southern biscuits is self-rising flour, shortening, buttermilk, and salt. Yep, that’s it.
These biscuits are great with a big old chicken fried steak and gravy.
Sometimes we like our biscuits with butter and honey. But sometimes, nothing will do but a big old plate of biscuits and sausage gravy.
The sausage in this recipe is completely optional. You can certainly enjoy your classic biscuits and gravy without any meat at all.
Gravy is easy to make if you’re careful. The key is to constantly whisk it as it starts to thicken.
Also, make sure your flour is nice and brown (two to three minutes) before you add the milk. Just don’t let it get too brown.
One of the garden plants that grow prolifically is okra, and the harvest season lasts for a long time.
Soul food cooks know that you have to have a few different tricks (and recipes) up your sleeve when it comes to cooking okra.
One way to cook up a mess of okra along with your bumper crop of tomatoes is by making stewed okra and tomatoes.
Something about the grassy flavor of the okra with the sweet acidic flavor of the tomatoes just makes for a fabulous stew. Cut up a bell pepper in this stew if you happen to have one in your fridge.
Meatloaf as comfort food isn’t unique to just soul food cooking. A classic American dish, some version of meatloaf is served all over the U.S.
However, to make your meatloaf recipe the traditional southern food way, there are some specifics you have to get right.
First of all, you can’t leave out the ketchup. However, equally important is the brown sugar and yellow mustard. These three ingredients are what make a meatloaf soul food.
Also, in the South, folks use crackers in their meatloaf recipe.
A classic side dish in southern food, candied yams are so yummy and sweet that they are almost a dessert.
The sweet potato is chopped and sugared before being put into the oven. When they bake, they become decadently tender and caramelized.
Sweet potatoes are ubiquitous in the South, and there is no shortage of ways to cook them. Every family seems to have their own favorite sweet potato pie recipe
Whether it’s pie, casserole, or just a plain big sweet potato with butter and honey, sweet potatoes are uniquely southern.
19. Corn Casserole
It seems like every family has its own recipe for a southern corn casserole.
Some recipes for this traditional soul food side dish call for cornbread mix, but this unique recipe uses soda crackers (saltines).
Some people make a corn pudding that is similar to corn casserole, and the truth is, they’re very similar. As long as your corn casserole has a nice bready texture, it’s corn casserole.
You can make this recipe as it’s listed or change your version some to make it totally your own. Add chopped jalapeno, crumbled bacon, or cheese to make it perfect for your family.
For holidays, one of the favorite soul food side dishes is sweet potato casserole. Some folks call this sweet potato pie, but they are actually two different things.
What makes this recipe super special is the crunchy pecan topping.
Pecans and sweet potatoes are all over the place in the south, so it’s only natural that this dish became a southern staple.
With brown sugar, butter, and pure vanilla extract, this recipe is good enough to be a dessert.
If you serve traditional white bread stuffing to most southerners, they will look at you like you’ve grown an extra head.
To a southerner, dressing means one thing: cornbread dressing.
Sage is traditionally used to make cornbread dressing, but if you want to leave that out, salt and pepper season the dressing just fine.
And be sure to use plenty of celery and onion.
Folks in the South don’t bake their cornbread dressing inside their birds, either. This dressing is baked in a huge pan all by itself.
Be sure to serve your cornbread dressing with some delicious savory giblet gravy!
22. Seafood Gumbo
In the coastal southern states (especially Louisiana), nothing says comfort food more than a big old pot of gumbo.
One thing that makes gumbo unique is that you can use up whatever you have in your fridge to make it.
However, a traditional seafood gumbo recipe calls for plenty of seafood. A truly authentic pot of gumbo will have oysters, shrimp, Louisiana blue crab, and even red snapper if cooks have some on hand.
When you combine soul food and the South’s favorite refreshing sweet beverage (sweet tea, not Coca-Cola!), you have the miracle of sweet tea fried chicken.
Surely this is one of the best soul food dinner ideas ever?
The secret to this dish is brining your raw chicken in sweet tea before you cook it.
You can fry your chicken in a variety of different fats, but if you want it to taste like your grandma’s fried chicken recipe, start saving your bacon drippings.
Also, if you can fry your chicken in a cast-iron skillet, you will notice the taste difference.
In country kitchens, everyone knows that beans and rice can make a full meal.
If you’ve got a little meat or sausage to season your beans, that’s awesome, but it’s not unusual to see beans cooked with nothing but a little bacon grease for seasoning.
However, for an authentic red beans and rice recipe, cooking your beans with some savory andouille sausage is ideal.
The secret to making perfect red beans and rice is to mash up about a cup of the cooked beans on the side of the pot before serving it. This makes your beans super creamy.
25. Fried Okra
Summer isn’t complete without a few batches of fried okra!
The best thing about fried okra is that they are delicious right by themselves and don’t need anything to season them but a small sprinkle of salt.
Fried okra is so popular in the South that it’s sometimes called “southern popcorn.” We like that nickname!
These delicious fried nuggets of wonder are just as addictive as popcorn, too.
All you need to cook fried okra is an egg wash (egg and milk) and some flour for dredging. Serve this up with a plate of pork chops and gravy and you’ve got a meal your grandma would be proud of.
26. Peach Cobbler
In southern states, summertime means a lot of different things. But one thing it definitely means is peaches. Lots and lots of peaches.
To have peaches all summer long, you need several different varieties of peach trees. But the best news is that any type of peach will make a delicious homemade peach cobbler.
Just try to avoid the ongoing (for centuries) debate about which you should have more of: peaches or crust.
27. Banana Pudding
There are tons of banana pudding recipes online that show a beautiful meringue topping.
However, if you grew up in your grandmother’s kitchen, you probably saw a banana pudding made a bit differently.
Banana pudding is a great way to use up some bananas that have gotten just a little too ripe.
What makes this dessert so special is the vanilla wafers that are used both inside the pudding and crumbled up for the top. We’ve also seen them used as a bottom crust.
Who doesn’t love a big old pan of chocolate fudge? We do!
But for something utterly unique and southern, you have to try peanut butter fudge.
Peanuts are a southern crop and people in the South have learned how to make just about everything from peanuts. So, of course, peanut butter fudge had to become a thing.
And wow, do we love it! The sweet and salty combination is to die for, and this version has only four ingredients. Such a quick and easy dessert that is sure to please.
Pound cake isn’t an overly sweet cake. However, there is nothing quite like the decadent crust exterior and moist, soft crumb on the inside.
A classic southern pound cake only has nine basic ingredients, and you probably already have most of them in your fridge or pantry. Be sure to set your butter out the night before you bake your cake so that it’s at room temperature.
When you get ready to serve this southern wonder, you can serve it up plain or drizzle it with candied pecans or whipped cream.
Our 30+ BEST Authentic Soul Food Recipes (+Southern Deviled Eggs)
- 6 large boiled eggs
- 1.5 tsp. mustard
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil mayonnaise
- 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
- 2 shakes hot sauce
- 1.5 Tbsp. pickle relish
- Black pepper and sea salt
- Cut the boiled eggs in half and remove the yolk.
- Mash the yolk with all ingredients.
- Add the yolk mixture back to the egg white halves
Organize all the required ingredients.
Enjoy the food.