Soul food is delicious, but it’s not exactly the healthiest. This healthy soul bowl recipe is a healthier and more nutritious version of a few classic soul food favorites. It’s packed with lean protein and fiber that will keep you full for hours. So enjoy all the flavors and textures of soul food without any of the guilt!
Bowl VERZUZ Battle: How It Works
Welcome to the first inaugural BOWL VERZUZ! This week is round 3 of the head-to-head battle with my husband, Chef Kenneth Temple. Each week we are given the same featured ingredient, and we must build a bowl around that ingredient. This week’s featured ingredient – fonio.
Every Friday in January, we will share our submissions, and we need you to vote on the best bowl by leaving a message in the comments below. My submission for this week’s battle is Healthy Soul Bowl, which incorporates remakes on a ton of our southern favorites. While Kenneth’s delicious Yasa Chicken Bowl can be found here. If you like mine, leave a message below. If his bowl is your favorite, leave a comment on his page.
BTW, What Is Fonio?
Is it a vegetable? A pasta shape? Someone’s really bad attempt at saying ‘phone’ in Italian? The answer is none of the above. Fonio is a grain native to West Africa and has started to gain popularity in the United States in recent years for its host of health benefits. The gluten-free superfood is packed with nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and significantly more protein than most grains.
If couscous and quinoa had a baby, it would be fonio. The flavor is deliciously nutty, and the texture is light and fluffy when cooked. Because the grain is still relatively new to the States, it can be a bit of a challenge to figure out where to buy fonio. You can find fonio at The Fresh Market, Whole Foods, or online through various retailers.
Healthy Soul Bowl: Remixing Southern Favorites
Many of the ingredients in this bowl are a healthier take on some of our classic southern favorites for example:
- Southern Grits are replaced by creamy fonio grits.
- Candied yams are replaced with lightly glazed maple and pecan sweet potatoes.
- Collard greens & ham hocks are subbed with quick sauteed garlic and onion collards.
- Fried chicken is swapped a lightened up with creole spiced chicken bites.
To bring this cozy soul bowl to life, you’re going to need the key ingredients below.
- Chicken Tenders: I prefer to use chicken tenders because they’re really easy to work with, but any boneless cut of chicken will work fine. Chicken breast and chicken thighs both make great options.
- Buttermilk: Any soul foodie could tell you that soaking your chicken in buttermilk prior to cooking it is absolutely essential. This not only tenderizes the meat to ensure juicy results, but it also adds great flavor.
- Creole Seasoning: Choose your favorite store-bought brand or make your own from scratch. Creole seasoning adds a ton of incredible flavor to the chicken bites and is a definite soul food staple.
- Sweet Potatoes: These serve as the star of our roasted maple sweet potatoes in this soul bowl. Come on, does it get much more soulful than caramelized sweet potatoes tossed in butter and maple syrup? Trust me; once you try these insanely delicious sweet potatoes, you’ll be making them every week.
- Collard Greens: This Southern favorite and soul food classic is a must-try. These collard greens are absolutely mouth-watering, sauteed with onions and garlic, then tossed with chicken broth, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce.
- Fonio: This ancient grain is ultra popular in West African cuisine and features a texture similar to couscous. In this healthy soul bowl, we’re going to transform the humble fonio into the grits of our dreams!
- Heavy Cream: This is the key to achieving creamy, decadent fonio grits that you won’t be able to get enough of. For a lighter option, try swapping out half of the heavy cream for half and half. To make vegan grits, swap out the heavy cream for your favorite nut-based creamer.
How to Make a Healthy Soul Bowl
This Healthy Soul Bowl can be divided into four main components: roasted sweet potatoes, Creole spiced chicken bites, collard greens, and fonio grits. Let’s break down how to make each component and finish with the assembly of this delicious dish.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes: Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, toss the diced sweet potatoes with melted butter until fully coated. Then, sprinkle them with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and salt, and toss until coated.
Pour the potatoes onto a foil-lined baking sheet in a single flat layer. Transfer to the oven and roast for 20 minutes. In a small bowl, microwave the maple syrup and thyme for 20-30 seconds. Stir in the pecans, then set aside.
Remove the potatoes from the oven and use a spatula to release them from the foil. Pour the pecan mixture over the potatoes and use a spatula to flip so that all the potatoes get coated. Return to the oven for 5 minutes, then remove and set aside.
Creole Spiced Chicken Bites: Add buttermilk and hot sauce to a large food storage bag. Seal and shake it up to blend. Then, add chicken to the bag and seal it. Place in the fridge to marinate for 2-24 hours. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400°F/200°C.
In a small bowl, whisk together the Creole seasoning, baking powder, and salt, then set aside. When the chicken is done marinating, drain off any excess marinade using a colander and season it with the spice blend. Use tongs to ensure all chicken pieces are fully coated.
Spray a foil-lined sheet pan with cooking spray. Transfer the chicken to the sheet pan and spread the pieces out evenly. Lightly spray with cooking spray and bake for 6 minutes, then turn, spray and bake for a further 6 minutes or until golden.
Sauteed Collard Greens: Wash collard leaves until clean. Cut off woodsy stems. Stack a few leaves and roll them into a tight cylinder, then cut crosswise into very thin ribbons. Repeat until finished.
Add oil to a large skillet oven over high heat, then add onion and stir for 2 minutes. Next, add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add the collards to the pan in batches and cook down. Add the remaining ingredients and cook for 5-7 minutes when all the collards are in. Then, remove from the heat.
Fonio Grits: In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the vegetable broth or water to a boil. Add the garlic and stir in the fonio. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 3 minutes. Whisk in the remaining ingredients and cook for 3 more minutes or until the grains are tender.
Soul Bowl Assembly: Divide the fonio grits evenly into 4 bowls. Top with collard greens followed by sweet potatoes. Finally, add in the chicken bites and serve with a side of hot sauce. Enjoy!
Soul Food, But Make it Healthy
Growing up, soul food played an integral role in my culinary journey. With the help of my great-grandmother, I started cooking when I was six years old. Soul food dishes are still the ones that make me feel the most at home in the kitchen and make my heart happy.
To sum up soul food in the best way that I can, it’s a type of cuisine with roots in the rural South that has been passed down through many generations of African-American families. Chef Millie Peartree said it best when she said, “while not all Southern food is considered soul food, all soul food is definitely Southern.”
I’ve paid homage to my Southern roots in this dish while adding my own lightened-up take on classic soul food favorites like fried chicken, candied yams, and grits. This healthy soul bowl recipe is made with all the delicious flavors of the dishes you grew up with, but with a slightly healthier twist, you can feel good about. It’s a win-win!
Healthy Soul Bowl Storage Tips
Storing this dish is a breeze if you find yourself with leftovers (lucky you!) or want to make a few extra servings to enjoy throughout the week. You’re going to want to store each of the components –sweet potatoes, chicken bites, fonio grits, and collard greens– separately to ensure the best results.
Once you’ve allowed the dish to cool and have transferred the different foods to individual airtight containers, you can store them as follows:
- Roasted Maple Sweet Potatoes – In the fridge for 3-5 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- Creole Spiced Chicken Bites – In the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for 3-4 months.
- Creamy Fonio Grits – In the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for 3-4 months.
- Sauteed Collard Greens – In the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to 12 months.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about this healthy soul food recipe:
Can you make a vegan soul bowl?
Of course! To make a vegan soul bowl, all you have to do is make a few simple swaps. Replace the chicken with mushrooms, then swap out the heavy cream and butter for plant-based alternatives. If using mushrooms instead of chicken, you can also leave out the buttermilk step.
What can you use instead of collard greens?
While I definitely recommend trying this dish with collard greens (it’s amazing), you have a few easy options if you want to switch it up. Some of the most common alternatives to collard greens include swiss chard, turnip greens, mustard greens, and spinach.
Can you make the ingredients in advance?
Absolutely! You can prep all of your ingredients a day in advance if needed. If you’re prepping ahead of time, make sure you allow additional time to marinate the chicken in buttermilk.
What toppings to add to a soul bowl?
This soul bowl recipe packs in a ton of flavor all on its own, but no soul food dish is complete without hot sauce. In my opinion, this is really the only topping you need, but feel free to add some fresh herbs or pickled onions for an extra pop of color and flavor.
More Hearty Bowl Recipes
Now it’s your turn!
Sometimes preparing healthy meals can seem overwhelming. That’s why it’s my goal to provide simple, healthy recipes without sacrificing flavor! Let me show you just how easy it can be to cook delicious meals for yourself and your family while still staying on track.
I hope this recipe has inspired you to get cooking. Also, try some of my other delicious bowl recipes, Sunshine Clementine Smoothie Bowl and Jerk Soul Bowl – you won’t be disappointed! Remember to come back and leave me a five-star review when you do.
Oh, and don’t forget to cast your vote for the Bowl Verzuz Battle down below as well.
Roasted Maple Sweet Potatoes
- 2 large sweet potatoes peeled and diced
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme optional
- ⅓ cup pecans chopped
Cajun Spiced Chicken Bites
- 1 lb chicken tenders cut into 1-inch cubes (see note 1)
- 1 cup buttermilk see note 2
- ¼ cup hot sauce optional
- 2 tablespoons cajun seasoning
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Oil spray
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt optional – see note 3
Quick Sauteed Collard Greens
- 2 lbs collards cleaned & stems removed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion diced
- 9 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ½ tablespoon worcestershire sauce
- ¼ cup chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Creamy Fonio Grits
- 3 cups vegetable broth or water
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 cup raw fonio
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream or nut creamer
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- In a large bowl toss sweet potatoes with melted butter until everything is coated. Sprinkle them with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, salt, and toss until coated.
- Pour potatoes onto a foil-lined baking sheet in a single flat layer. Transfer to the oven and roast for 20 minutes.
- In a small bowl microwave the syrup and thyme for 20-30 seconds. Stir in the pecans and set aside.
- Remove potatoes from the oven and use a spatula to release them from the foil. Pour the syrup and pecan mixture over the potatoes and use spatula to flip so that all the potatoes get coated. Return to the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven.
To Marinate Cajun Chicken bites
- Add buttermilk and hot sauce to a large ziplock bag. Seal and shake it up to blend. Add chicken to the bag and seal it. Place in the fridge to marinate for 2-24 hours.
To Cook Cajun Chicken Bites
- Preheat oven to 400F/200C.
- In a small bowl whisk together the cajun seasoning, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
- When chicken is done marinating drain the chicken of excess marinade using a colander and season it with the spice blend. Use tongs to ensure all the chicken is fully coated.
- Spray a foil-lined sheet pan with cooking spray. Transfer the chicken to the sheet pan and spread pieces out event. Lightly spray with cooking spray and bake for 6 minutes, then turn, spray and bake for a further 6 minutes or until golden.
Sauteed Collard Greens
- Wash collard leaves until clean. Cut off woodsy stems. Stack a few leaves and roll them into a tight cylinder and cut crosswise into very thin ribbons. Repeat for the rest.
- Add oil to a large skillet oven over high heat, add onion and stir for 2 minutes. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add the collards to the pan in batches cook down. When all the collards are in add the remaining ingredients and cook for 5-7 minutes then remove from the heat.
- In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the vegetable broth or water to a boil. Add the garlic and stir in the fonio. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 3 minutes. Whisk in remaining ingredients and cook for 3 more minutes or until the grains are tender.
To assemble soul bowl
- Divide fonio grits into 4 bowls. Top with collard greens followed by sweet potatoes. Add in the chicken bites and serve with a side of hot sauce.
- Chicken – you can use any type of boneless chicken. I prefer chicken tenders because they are already cut to the perfect thickness and all that’s left to do is cube them.
- Prep ingredients the day before. It’s best to let the chicken marinate in the buttermilk blend overnight if possible.
- Additional salt depends on the original salt content of cajun seasoning. I use a low sodium cajun seasoning and add additional salt to bring out the flavor but it may not be necessary.
- While sweet potatoes and chicken are in the oven you can prepare the greens and fonio over the stovetop on different burners.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate.
**The equipment section above contains affiliate links to products I use and love. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.