The mixture of smells, flavors, and music will always form part of the history and traditions of those with Southern roots. And, luckily, embracing plant-based foods does not mean eliminating these rituals from our lives. Instead, thanks to an array of plant-based innovations, vegan Southerners can create new traditions with those same key ingredients. Although the streets of Texas are not paved with kale like Brooklyn or Los Angeles, there’s still a way to be a bona-fide country-fried vegan, even in the Lone Star State. Here’s how.
A “traditional” Texas barbecue often features the very non-vegan smoke clouds from sizzling steaks, the smell of burning mesquite chips, and the smooth vocal stylings of Al Green, while the familiar buffet-style spread might include baked macaroni, mayonnaise-laden potato salad, and, of course, something deep-fried with a buttery side. Although vegetables such as collard greens usually make an appearance, they are typically infused with pork. In fact, the rest of the vegetables often contain bits of meat, which, ironically, negates the whole vegetable aspect of them. This quintessential Texan scenario is not exactly welcoming for a plant-based eater. A daring vegan who can win the race to the grill can make portabello pot roast, grilled corn, and a toasty roll with vegan butter, which not only contains familiar flavors for all eaters but also dispels the myth that vegan food is not filling. Rather than submitting to classic potato-salad recipes that feature mayonnaise or some other eggy aioli, contribute delicious vegan potato salads such as this one, this one, this one, and this one.
With all the meat-centric food around which Southern culture centers, people should remember that Southern food is typically enhanced by herbs, seasoning salt, chili powder, cumin, jalapeños, and brown sugar. One very Texan flavor combination is the mixture of chili powder and cumin, while the Lone Star State is also the nation’s leader in jalapeño production. In fact, jalapeños are the state pepper and are sometimes used as one of the official state symbols, and it is no wonder that this pepper is used to flavor proud Texas pots of chili, cornbread, and ranchero-style breakfast dishes. Furthermore, because the South is known for its hospitality, it doesn’t get any more Southern than the Texas sweetener of choice—brown sugar, which is used to accentuate the natural sweetness of sweet potatoes while giving decadence to the pecan pie (which is the state pie).
The county fair is another uniquely Texan event that is married to food. These fairs almost always include food that is found on a stick (and fried), while the epitome of fair food is a sugar-dusted funnel cake. While almost never vegan at a county fair, this Texan staple can be veganized by replacing dairy milk and eggs with non-dairy milk and flaxseed whisked with warm water for the eggs.
If you’re from Texas, you know all about Frito pie. Sadly, this Texan treat is also one of the least vegan-friendly meals in existence. The dish is simple—a bag of corn chips loaded with chili and shredded cheese—and can easily be veganized by substituting beefless crumbles, cauliflower meat, or tempeh for the chili. Retaining the standard spices and using delicious nut or soy cheeses (increasingly available in Southern states) creates a plant-based doppelganger worthy of all Southern stripes.
What’s a vegan Southerner to do when Texas street cred hinges on whether your barbecue sauce is from scratch or if you use mesquite chips or charcoal? You plan ahead, hit up an H-E-B., fill up the cart with pecans, sweet potatoes, watermelon, cornmeal, and pinto beans, and cook. With these ingredients, you have the perfect opportunity to show your family that Southern cooking can remain animal-free.
Born and raised in Texas, Cametria Hill is the author of the newly released A Southern Girl’s Guide to Plant-Based Eating: Recipes from the Vegan Soul that Won’t Make You Broke, a plant-based eating and living guide filled with support, advice, and dozens of recipes that show that home cooked Southern vegan food is possible.