Eating southern brings to mind meals consisting of fried chicken and veggies often flavored with pork, But how do you enjoy southern cuisine if you’re a vegetarian or vegan? For most, the response to that question would be – you don’t. However, there are many ways you can still enjoy southern food without eating meat.
A basic vegetarian diet excludes meat, fish and poultry, and a vegan diet excludes those as well, in addition to eggs and dairy products. While some traditional southern plates consist of only vegetables, don’t dig in yet, there is a good chance half of the items on that plate of vegetables aren’t vegan-friendly, let alone vegetarian. Many typical southern dishes may not be served with meat, but very often they are prepared with meat-based ingredients.
Beans and Greens
Beans and greens are a traditional meal in many households down south. While it may sound like a typical vegetarian meal, there is a lot more to it than what’s in the name. The dish is usually prepared with chicken broth and bacon pieces. Items prepared with a meat-based broth is a big thing to look out for when following a vegetarian or vegan diet, but it can easily be replaced with a store-bought or homemade veggie broth.
And, if you can’t bear to say goodbye to the bacon in your beans and greens, you might be surprised to know that a lot of store bought bacon bits aren’t actually made with pork, or any animal products at all. (Just be sure to double check the ingredients label)
While there are many dishes that require only a simple swap of a broth, what about the dishes where the main component is meat?
Pulled pork is widely popular down south, with the big divide between Eastern and Western North Carolina over vinegar based vs. tomato based, how can vegans and vegetarians join this debate? Many restaurants and grocery stores carry mock versions of your favorite meats, but if you’re looking for something a little less processed, let me tell you about jack fruit.
Jack fruit is a large fruit in the fig, mulberry and breadfruit family, when eaten ripe and raw it has a sweet flavor, but when it’s unripe, it has a more neutral flavor. Unripe jack fruit has a meaty texture, and soaks of flavors very well, making it the perfect plant-based substitute for your pulled pork.
After pulled pork, I’ll bet the next food item you’re wondering about is fried chicken. There are many different brands of vegan and vegetarian “meats”, Gardein, Morning Star, Tofurky, Quorn, etc. that offer chicken strips for salads and fajitas, and fried nuggets, strips and filets. Everyone has their preferred brand, but when it comes down to it, what doesn’t taste good fried?
Speaking of which, you can always “chicken fry” vegetables like cauliflower or mushrooms for the same taste.
While most of the foods commonly eaten down south don’t naturally fall under the vegan category, there are a few that are vegetarian! Hush puppies, biscuits and fried green tomatoes are three extremely popular southern foods and can be enjoyed in their natural form by a vegetarian.
In order to make them vegan-friendly there are a few substitutes to make note of for these foods and when following a vegan diet in general.
The right replacement for milk varies from recipe to recipe. Nowadays there are many plant-based milks on the market, including soy, almond, cashew, coconut, rice, oat, pea, and hemp, it’s all about finding which one you prefer.
Eggs are a little more complicated than milk, and while there are egg substitutes you can buy in stores, there are some options you might have lying around in your kitchen.
- A “flegg” is an egg replacement made from flax egg and water, with one tablespoon of flax meal and three tablespoons of hot water.
- A chia egg can be made from one to two tablespoons of Chia seeds mixed with hot water. Chia and flax seeds are both good sources of Omega 3.
- Two ingredients I’m sure everyone has lying around are baking soda and vinegar. Mixing one teaspoon of vinegar and one teaspoon of baking soda together is equivalent to one egg.
- Pureed bananas and applesauce can also be used in place of an egg and add a sweet flavor to your foods.
Most vegan recipes will mention which egg substitute works best for that specific food.
Whether you are new to the vegan or vegetarian lifestyle or looking for ways to switch up your current meat-less eating, the possibilities are endless. I have been surprised by the number of restaurants that carry a fun, veggie option, other than a salad. As the vegan and vegetarian lifestyle becomes more common, the options will only grow larger.