Making Soul Food Healthier

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Lindsey Williams grew up around the Southern dishes lovingly made by his grandmother, Sylvia Wood, at her legendary Sylvia's Soul Food Restaurant in Harlem. Williams talks about how he cooked up recipes that took the fat — but not the flavor — out of soul food.


Fat, many say, is the heart of soul food. Lindsey Williams grew up around the Southern dishes made lovingly by his grandmother, Sylvia Wood, at her legendary Sylvia's Soul Food Restaurant in Harlem. Throughout his childhood, Lindsey Williams was always overweight.

Mr. LINDSEY WILLIAMS (Author, Chef): I used to ask adults, like, how'd you get those veins, there? I don't have veins, like, where's those veins come from in your arm? And they used to tease me, be like, 'cause you're too fat. You don't, you can't see your veins, you know? I was 300 when I was 18. In '96, '97, my highest was 400.

AUBREY: A few years ago, Lindsey Williams realized that he had to lose all those pounds, or else. So, he did. And now he's come up with a book of recipes for what he called neo-soul food.

Mr. WILLIAMS: It's a style of Southern food that's healthy, and has a certain look to it. It has a certain vibe to it. It's just, basically, new way of cooking Southern food.

AUBREY: Well, yeah, let's get an example.


AUBREY: Fried chicken? What do you do that's different?

Mr. WILLIAMS: I do a oven-fried chicken, basically. And I was a Special K fan as a kid growing up, so I just played around with different herbs, and the oregano, I love, and the thyme and basil, and garlic powder. And my favorite toy became the food processor. I just food process all those ingredients all together, and then I'm a big fan of yogurt. I dip the chicken in, and give it some thickness. And then I pat it down with seasons that I've put in the food processor.

And that Special K, and those seasons mixed up gave it a nice big fluffiness, and I put it in the, you know, in the oven. And it comes out like fried chicken. It looks like fried chicken, and it tastes so good. It's skinless chicken by the way, too. I take the skin off the chicken.

AUBREY: What would you say is the most blasphemous you did, or have done, with soul food, that is the thing that people would say you can't do that and call it soul food?

Mr. WILLIAMS: I think the collard greens, more or less.

AUBREY: Collard greens. You...

Mr. WILLIAMS: I think so, because I use the olive oil, and I use the garlic, and Southern dishing is not, wouldn't, I don't even remember ever being in my great-grandmother's cabinet. I don't remember that being in there.

AUBREY: Olive oil?


AUBREY: That's the crux of the issue, I think. Now, collard greens is the heart of soul food.

Mr. WILLIAMS: It's a big dish from the South where I'm from. And everybody cooks collard greens so different. I mean, you could have 100 different recipes in collard greens. The basic ingredients of collard greens, the greens themselves, salt and pepper, some people put a little bit of Accent in it, red peppers in there. From the South, you know, my great grandmother used to season it with pork fat.

AUBREY: There you go. Pork fat. Not...

Mr. WILLIAMS: Pork fat.

AUBREY: You start out pretty good with the collard greens. It tastes better with the pork fat, but it's not as good for you. I'm gonna hit you with a couple of other ones that, that are just so classic. Sweet potatoes.

Mr. WILLIAMS: I tell you, it's so simple. I boil the potatoes. I use a natural sweetener, pure vanilla, put it through the food processor, and bam, it's like, puree yams. And it tastes really good, and it's simple. As soon as it's boiled, it takes, like, five minutes.

AUBREY: And what's not on there that a traditional, the...

Mr. WILLIAMS: Sugar.

AUBREY: That's gone.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Tons and tons of sugar. Yes, that's no longer there. And, like, imitation vanilla, which is awful. Good tasting, but bad for you.

AUBREY: Oh, yeah. Do you think that the people who love soul food will embrace this?

Mr. WILLIAMS: I hope that they will embrace it. I feel like they will, because all I did was just substitute some of their sweeteners, and took away some of the whole milk and cream to make it skim milk. I made it much more healthier for them. The whole issue is that you really don't have to get rid of soul food that is so bad for us that it's unhealthy for us, 'cause it's our culture.

This is what we're born and raised eating, and that it doesn't have to be that way. So, if we can continue enhancing it, and making it smart and elegant, the more people that do it, the better, the more the merry for me.

AUBREY: And that was Lindsey Williams who owns a health soul food catering company, and he's the author of the cookbook, Neo Soul.

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Books Featured In This Story

Neo Soul

Taking Soul Food to A Whole 'Nutha Level

by Lindsey Williams and Sylvia Woods

Hardcover, 176 pages | purchase

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Taking Soul Food to A Whole 'Nutha Level
Lindsey Williams and Sylvia Woods

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