Heart And Soul Food

On Wednesday of this week I taught my monthly cooking class at BestHealth at Hanes Mall. For those of you unfamiliar, BestHealth is:

"...the trusted source in the Piedmont Triad for health knowledge, classes and screenings. The BestHealth community resource center, located at Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem, is presented by one of America's top-ranked hospitals, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. Come browse our health resource library ... speak to a registered nurse ... get a free blood pressure check. These complimentary benefits are available to all visitors of BestHealth." (courtesy: besthealth.com)
When I was 17, my grandma signed up to be a Best Health member. At the time, I was too young to sign up (minimum age was 18) but I still tagged along with her to events and demonstrations. She and I were one of the first participants in a Best Health event. Every month a newsletter came heralding all of the health-related benefits we could receve by participating. To be honest, it was very helpful to go to the center, read about health, get samples of food, and learn how to live a healthier lifestyle. So fast forward eight years and you can imagine my surprise when I was asked to join the group of chefs that bring comfort and joy to the masses during cooking classes!

My family medical history tells tales of diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, and heart disease, unfortunately. It's up to me to prevent (or at least inhibit) the ill-effects of an unhealthy lifestyle. I admit, I am not the most fit person on earth. I have a ways to go to ultimate health, but overall I am healthy (my bloodwork says so) and I know all of the rules I should follow to lead a healthy life. I am ServSafe certified, I have a certificate in Nutrition from the National Restaurant Association, and of course I've got my culinary arts degree tucked under my arm, so I've an arsenal at my disposal. It's not only my job to spread good cheer and joy around the world with my food, it's my job to impart knowledge and power too.

Soul food is food that is close to our hearts. Food that brings back memories, evokes feeling, and ameliorates any bad day. Soul food is also known to be high in fat, cholesterol, calories, sugar, and other carcinogenic and degenerative characteristics.

The theme of my last class was "Heart-n-Soul Food." I thought of recipes close to my heart that can easily be converted into heart-healthy choices.

You will find links to downloadable/printable versions of the recipes below replete with nutritional information

A Mess of Greens Serves 8
1 lb Collards, chopped, fresh
1 lb Kale, curly, chopped, fresh
1 lb Turnip Greens, chopped, fresh
1 lb Mustard Greens, chopped, fresh
1TbspOlive or canola oil
1/2 lb Canadian Bacon, low sodium
16 fl-oz Broth, chicken, light, fat free, reduced sodium
16 fl-oz Water, filtered
1/4 cup Finely chopped onion
2 Tbsp Mrs. Dash
2 tsp chili pepper, red, crushed flakes
1 fl-oz Cider vinegar

  1. Heat oil and sweat onions until translucent in a large stock pot with Mrs. Dash

  2. Add all Canadian bacon and saute for 3 to 4 minutes

  3. Add greens, red pepper flakes, broth, and water. Stir to evenly distribute ingredients. Bring to a simmer, cover.

  4. Simmer for up to two hours. The greens should lose their rough texture and should have begun to break down and appear softer near the end of your cooking time, add vinegar

  5. Serve

Sweet Potato Lasagna Serves 10

3 lb Sweet potatoes, unpeeled, sliced thin

10 oz Frozen spinach, defrosted and drained dry

15 oz Fat free ricotta cheese

1/2 cup Kraft reduced fat parmesan cheese

5 each Each egg whites

16 oz Chopped or sliced mushrooms

1 tsp salt or salt substitute

1 tsp Black pepper

6 oz Reduced fat shredded sharp cheddar cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray a 13X9 baking dish with non-stick spray
  2. Spray an additional frying pan and saute mushrooms and onions with the spinach until onions are translucent and mushroom are a soft, golden brown
  3. Season spinach with the salt(substitute), pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. In a mixing bowl, mix egg whites with the ricotta, parmesan, and red pepper flakes
  5. Place a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the 13X9 dish. Take care to put like-sized pieces adjacent to each other. If need be, slice the rounds in half to fill small gaps and spaces in between pieces.
  6. Continue layering potatoes and cheese mixture until all ingredients are used up--you should end up with a top layer of potatoes.
  7. Lastly, sprinkle all the cheddar cheese on top
  8. Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes. The bottom layer of potatoes with be soft and the top layer will be a bit firmer. If you prefer a sfter layer, bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes or cover during intial baking with foil, uncover the last 10 minutres to brown the top
  9. Let rest for 15 minutes so the vegetable juices can redistribute.

Macaroni and Cheese (please) Serves 6
16oz Whole wheat elbow macaroni
12oz Fat-free evaporated milk, canned
3/4 cup Fat-free/skim milk
1/4Tsp each Dry mustard or prepared mustard, Cayenne pepper
1/8 Tsp Garlic powder
2Tsp Cornstarch
8 oz Reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese
1. Bring 2 1/2 quarts water to boil in a large saucepan. Stir in the macaroni; cook until the pasta is al dente, firm to the bite;
2. Drain the pasta, spray with non-stick spray to keep noodles from sticking together as they dry out and leave it in the colander; set aside.
3. Add the evaporated milk, 1/2 cup of the milk, mustard, garlic powder, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the now-empty saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
4. Whisk the cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup milk together in a dish, then whisk it into the simmering mixture. Continue to simmer, whisking constantly, until the sauce has thickened and is smooth, about 2 minutes.
5. Off the heat, gradually whisk in the cheddar until melted and smooth. Stir in the macaroni, and let the macaroni and cheese sit off the heat until the sauce has thickened slightly, 2 to 5 minutes, before serving.

Another recipe available for you to download: Oven Fried Okra CLICK HERE

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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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  1. That sweet potato lasagna looks incredible! I love the combination of sweet potato and ricotta-yum! Also, I didn't know you went to culinary school! I went to the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC- where did you go? Now I'm living in DC missing the NYC food scene...how I long for great falafel, vietnamese sandwiches and good bagels...sigh :)


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