How to make soul food with a healthy twist

These days, traditional soul food is still made with lots of fatty ingredients, sugar, and salt, said Sydnor. So inspired by the creativity and delicious recipes passed down by his grandmother, he used a classic soul food ingredient, sweet potatoes, in fun and healthy ways.

“What I’m going to do is to take those items that I would call the ‘Cinderellas of the ball.’ We’re going to dress that sweet potato up and make it fabulous,” said Sydnor. “If you have an open mind, you can have some fabulous food without the salt, without the fat, without the sugar.”

Sweet potato greens and a sweet potato dressed with salsa and raspberries, by Chef Yuhnis Sydnor of West Philadelphia (Photo courtesy of the Culinary Literacy Center).
Sweet potato greens and a sweet potato dressed with salsa and raspberries, by Chef Yuhnis Sydnor of West Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of the Culinary Literacy Center)

He also used sweet potato greens, the leaves, and stems of sweet potato plants, found at Produce Junction.

He sauteed the greens two ways: one using garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and dry sherry; the other, inspired by Chinese ingredients such as canola oil, ginger, garlic, salt, and shaoxing wine.

Simple, easy, and delicious, according to some of Sydnor’s live audience taste-testers, Johnetta Frazier and Neva White, of the Frazier Family Coalition.

Sydnor also baked a tray full of sweet potatoes covered in olive oil for his “sweet potato bar” of exciting healthy ingredients.

On display: Greek yogurt whipped with rose water, dates, an apricot salsa made with preserved lemon, harissa, pomegranate juice, and pistachios, roasted beets, a pineapple salsa, peanut butter thinned with water and green onions, assorted nuts, toasted pecans, dried cranberries and figs, sorghum, spicy maple syrup, turkey bacon, and more.

“Let your imagination run wild,” Sydnor said. “Live a little! You have 365 days in a year. Why eat the same thing over and over again?”

Sydnor said he chose to use the sweet potato, instead of its sister veggie, the yam, because it has a lower glycemic index: “When people who are diabetics, when they eat it, the sugar breaks down slower.” The sweet potato greens, which can be eaten raw, taste like spinach but are charged with even more vitamin C and are also high in fiber.

Though he was inspired by his family, Sydnor said he is also touched by his experiences traveling and eating around the world as a hotel restaurant manager.

“Soul food is in every culture,” said Sydnor. “Soul food is the food that makes you feel better. Soul food is the food that nourishes you.”