Bianca Phillips has been piddlin’ around her mama’s and granny’s kitchens since she was knee-high to a grasshopper (that’s Southern speak for “really little”). She hasn’t had any fancy culinary training, but she’s a firm believer that great Southern chefs learn to cook from the soul. The Arkansas native and current resident of Memphis, Tennessee grew up not too far from the muddy banks of the Mississippi River. That meant cornbread, butter beans, collard greens, and Paula Deen.
As a 7-year vegan and 17-year vegetarian, Bianca is dedicated to veganizing soul food and country classics. She is the author of Cookin’ Crunk: Eatin’ Vegan in the Dirty South, a soulful collection of down-home comfort food recipes made without meats, eggs, dairy, or other animal by-products. She has presented twice at Vegfest in Seattle. Here’s a favorite recipe from her book:
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces tempeh, cubed
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 can (28 ounces) no-salt-added, stewed tomatoes with juice
2 cups sliced fresh okra
½ cup chopped fresh parsley, lightly packed
2 teaspoons dried thyme
½ teaspoon Cajun seasoning
½ teaspoon cayenne
2 bay leaves
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add the tempeh and cook, stirring frequently, until browned all over, about 5 minutes. Add the celery and bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 5 minutes.
Heat 1/3 cup of the oil in a large soup pot over low heat. Gradually add the flour, stirring it in 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time. After all the flour is added, continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture turns dark brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the broth. Add the tempeh mixture, the tomatoes and their juice, and the okra, parsley, thyme, Cajun seasoning, cayenne, and bay leaves and mix well. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaves before serving.