20 Staple Soul Food Dinner Ideas + Easy Recipes



Last Updated: Mar 15, 2023

Soul food is an African American ethnic cuisine originating from the Southern United States. The expression “soul food” comes from the mid-1960s when “soul” was commonly used to describe African American culture. Passed down through many generations, the culinary traditions of soul food spread from the South during The Great Migration, helping build communities and remind folks of home.

Staple soul food dinner ideas

These soul food staples are the heart of southern cooking. 

1. Classic cornbread

Corn Bread on a plate.

No soul food dinner would be complete without this delicious bread made from cornmeal. Some Southerners prefer their cornbread on the sweeter side, while Northern cornbread is typically less so. 

2. Southern fried catfish

Catfish is definitely a Southern favorite. Dipped in a lightly seasoned batter and fried, it goes great with greens and your favorite type of potato.

3. Fried chicken with creamy gravy

We can’t talk about soul food without mentioning fried chicken. Crispy, spicy, and smothered in gravy, this is an excellent dish for any occasion. 

4. Grandma’s shrimp gumbo

This hearty dish is a blend of shrimp, okra, tomato, celery, onion, and bell peppers. The secret to great gumbo is to make a roux — flour and butter that is cooked for a long time to thicken the gumbo.

5. Chicken pot pie

Surrounded by a buttery crust, it’s packed with tender chicken, peas, sweet corn, and swimming in a creamy sauce. This is a true pleasure for anyone who’s not vegetarian and, when you don’t have time to cook it from scratch, try a frozen pot pie.

6. Chitterlings

Chitterlings are pig intestines and a holiday favorite in the South. You’ll need to clean them well, but the prep time is quick once adequately washed. 

Healthy soul food dinner ideas

A lot of soul food is fried, made with generous amounts of butter, or dipped in sauce, but that’s not the case for all soul food. The following are health-conscious versions of tried-and-true favorites. 

1. Chicken and dumplings

Creamy Chicken and Dumplings with Roast Chicken, Green Peas, Celery and Carrots

For a healthier take on an old favorite, use whole wheat flour for the dumplings. Use boneless, skinless chicken breast instead of dark meat, and make sure to add vegetables and seasonings to get lots of flavor without the fat.

2. Collard greens

The most popular green vegetable cooked in soul food is collard greens. Collard greens can be cooked in chicken broth with onion, garlic, and peppers. 

3. Sausage gumbo

Simple substitutions can make any gumbo healthier. Using ground turkey instead of pork, brown rice instead of white, and a low sodium chicken broth will reduce the fat and calories. Add extra okra instead of higher-fat ingredients to make it more filling without extra calories. 

4. Black-eyed pea salad

A tasty combination of flavors, black-eyed pea salad is quick and easy to prepare, especially when you start with canned black-eyed peas. All of the veggies are vitamin-rich and the black-eyed peas are packed with fiber.

5. One-bowl chocolate cake

This cake gives you all the joys of chocolate without the guilt of extra calories. The secret is non-fat buttermilk, whole wheat flour, and just a small amount of canola oil. 

Quick soul food dinner ideas

When your schedule calls for a quick dinner, but your heart wants soul food, try one of these quick soul food dinner ideas. 

1. Hushpuppies

Southern Style Hush Puppies with a Creamy Dip

Hushpuppies are a common side dish in southern cuisine. Made from cornmeal and fried for a crispy outside and tender inside, hushpuppies are best-served pipping-hot. Use a hush puppy mix to save time and get the perfect blend of spices.

2. Grits

Grits are the southern version of porridge made from stone-ground corn. They can be eaten for any meal and, for added flavor, try adding cheese and butter. 

3. Fried green tomatoes 

Soul food loves a frier! Suitable for vegetarians and vegans, green tomatoes are battered in a seasoned flour-based mixture and fried until golden brown. 

4. Salmon croquettes

Frozen fish cakes like salmon croquettes fry up quickly and are full of protein. Serve a couple with dipping sauces for a great appetizer or load up your plate and make a meal of it! 

Easy soul food dinner ideas

Not everyone wants to spend all day in the kitchen. These soul food dinner ideas leave most of the work to the oven or slow cooker so you can spend more time with those you love.

1. Southern baked macaroni and cheese

Baked Macaroni & Cheese with fork

This kind of macaroni and cheese doesn’t come from a box. Instead, most recipes use three different kinds of cheese plus evaporated milk. And, while often served as a side dish, Southern baked mac can also be a main course.

2. Peach cobbler

You can substitute peaches for another fruit, but peaches are the classic choice and a crowd favorite.

3. Creamy hash brown potatoes

What makes this dish so easy is that you can start with frozen hash browns, so there is almost no prep time. Most hash brown recipes call for cheese and cream soup, making them rich and irresistible. It’s a great side dish and perfect for potlucks and parties. 

4. Shepherd’s pie

Nothing says comfort food like Shepherd’s pie. It’s a versatile dish and you can use whatever veggies you have on hand. No ground beef? No problem, use ground pork sausage. You can also substitute instant mashed potatoes to cut down on the prep time.

5. Pork chops

Pork chops in soul food are commonly made in a slow cooker. Prep them in the morning, turn your slow cooker to simmer, and the rest is hands-off ’til dinner!

Shop for soul food ingredients

Whether you’re in a rush, on a diet, or craving the classics, Instacart has got you covered. To save time and stress less, order your ingredients online and have them delivered right to your home, hotel, Airbnb, or vacation rental.



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