“Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul” by Jenné Claiborne, Harmony Books, $19.99, 224 pages, paperback

Vegan personal chef and blogger Jenné Claiborne’s enthusiasm for vegan cooking is contagious.

At an appearance at The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine in New Orleans sponsored by Camellia Brand, she made following a plant-based diet enticing while showcasing recipes from her debut cookbook.

In “Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul,” the Georgia native and Los Angeles resident says she is often asked “if it is difficult to be a vegan from the South” and if she is “embarrassed by the supposed Southern addiction to fried animal products and butter.”

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She points out that “Southerners are all about making things from scratch,” many chefs are building meals around Southern plants, and “of course, I tell them how my great-grandparents from the South — and my ancestors from West Africa — ate mostly plant-based diets because it was efficient, reliable, and nutritious.” She also notes her father was raised vegan in the Hebrew Israelite community, and his vegan family members always brought vegan dishes to get-togethers.

Claiborne told her New Orleans audience, “I love food and cooking. I grew up with a grandmother always in the kitchen. … My nana called everything she made soul food because she said she put soul and love in everything.”

Claiborne named her food blog and cookbook “Sweet Potato Soul” because sweet potatoes “are manna from heaven and have always been my favorite food, and also because they’re Southern, sweet and healthy — just like me.”

When Claiborne went to school in Boston, she began experimenting with foods and got more interested in eating healthier.

“'Sweet Potato Soul' grew out of that, and I became vegan seven years ago. You can ‘veganize’ anything,” she said. The resulting dish “won’t be exactly the same as the original,” she admitted, but will be flavorful and nutritional.

In her book, Claiborne offers cooking tips, suggests Southern pantry staples and provides recipes for breakfast, salads and soups, greens and sides, main dishes, sweets and drinks, and sauces. Among the 100 recipes are those for Crispy Eggplant Bacon, Low-Country Grits, Oyster Mushroom Étouffée, Cure-All Lentil Soup, Black-Eyed Pea Hummus, Happy Hearts “Crab” Cakes and Sweet Potato Tahini Cookies. Many are illustrated with beautiful full-color photographs.


Cheramie Sonnier is a food writer and columnist. Contact her at sonnierfood@gmail.com, and follow her on Twitter, @CheramieSonnier.