How Thanksgiving taught her to pour her 'heart and soul' into any cooking style.
o on and admit that when you first heard the term "vegan soul food," you gave a little side-eye.
That's OK. It's not the easiest to pull off when you've known soul food as using the juiciest, sometimes fattiest, parts of the pig, cow, chicken and whatever with two or four legs. But Chef Erika Boyd did the impossible with her partner Kirsten Ussery when she opened Detroit Vegan Soul in the West Village neighborhood. And they're out to dispel the myth that healthy food lacks personality.
The restaurant preceded a few other new spots that have recently opened and built buzz among foodies seeking old-school comfort food with a healthier twist. Because the food is vegan-a diet that restricts the use of any animal product, eggs and milk included-other ingredients like soy and tofu are substituted for regular staples.
"My current cooking style is soulful comfort food," says Boyd, a self-taught chef. "My style is influenced by soul food, pan-Asian and Afro-Caribbean flavors." That explains recipes like smothered tempeh, black-eyed pea hummus and a "catfish" tofu sandwich.
"There's no way I could cook any cuisine without making sure it's flavorful, so at the restaurant I prepare flavorful food with a health focus," Boyd says. "Our food is soul food-inspired but completely plant-based and dispels all those crazy myths about vegan food being bland or unfamiliar."
Boyd draws inspiration from her grandmother and her father when she's in the kitchen. Among the guests at her grandmother's dinner table: the Rev. Charles Adams of Detroit's Hartford Memorial Baptist Church and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Obama's former pastor.
"Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays," she says. "My grandmother would lay out a spread fit for kings and queens. Her specialties were collard greens and mac and cheese. Even as a vegan, I still cook many of those traditional soul food dishes, but it's without the animal-based ingredients."
Because cooks in Black families "pour their heart and soul" into these dinners, Boyd says time together enjoying the meal is crucial.
"It brings the whole family together with a focus on the love shared among one another. No matter what a family has endured all year, we always come together to reminisce and break bread," she says.
Black-Eyed Pea & Collard Greens Soup
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 carrots, cut into rounds
- 3 red potatoes, chopped
- 1 yam, chopped
- 1 bunch collard greens, stems removed
- 3 cups cooked black-eyed peas
- 1 Tbsp. dried basil
- 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Add the olive oil to a pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent, about five minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, yam, collards, black-eyed peas, basil, oregano and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat and simmer 20-25 minutes. Stir in the apple cider vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and serve.