American cuisine

South Bend native cooks vegan alternatives to African American cuisine

SOUTH BEND – It’s Jasmine Bradley’s time of year.

Bradley, 25, enjoys cooking, and with Christmas among the remaining holidays on the 2021 calendar, she will be spending much of her time in the kitchen. It’s been that way ever since she was little and watched her mom and grandmother in the kitchen preparing staples like turkey, salad dressing, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese.

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“My grandmother and my mother are the biggest cooks in the family, and even as a child I was in the kitchen,” she said. “I wanted to know how you did something. It smelled so good.

Bradley said she wanted to watch, then she wanted to help – even if that meant nothing more than baking a cake from a mixture. She wanted to be around the food, and also the fellowship that grew among the women who prepared the food.

As her confidence grew, Bradley believed she could improve any dish. This was certainly the case when she lived in the dorms while attending Bethel University.

“I was always in my dorm cooking and having dinner for my roommates and friends and stuff like that,” she said.

Bradley said she’s always looking to expand culinary options for her friends and family, and that’s why she’s up for the challenge of exposing them to vegan alternatives to soul food dishes found on black family tables over the holidays. and throughout the year.

Jasmine Bradley places ingredients in a food processor on Friday, November 12, 2021, during a plant-based Thanksgiving Holiday cooking demonstration at the Transformation Center in South Bend.

Bradley said there were deeply personal reasons she offered vegan options to the dishes she grew up eating.

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“I’ve been a vegan for four years now, and what prompted me to go vegan is to do a lot of research into what’s best for our bodies,” she said. “And being black and knowing that a lot of the illnesses we have are related to what we eat, the way we eat and our lifestyles.

“The diabetes in our family and the death of my grandfather from cancer and other things made me want to take care of my body, and vegetables have all I need for nutrients and stuff like that. And that’s what started me on my way to becoming a vegan. “

Bradley said she spent much of those four years researching how to get the nutrients and protein she needed while on a vegan diet. She has also spent a lot of time researching and experimenting with how to make tasty vegan alternatives to the food that she and her loved ones grew up enjoying. She knew that food had to taste good and be seasoned in a way that made dishes an acceptable alternative to the non-vegan foods they replaced.

For the past several months, she has worked as a vegan lifestyle coach, helping people learn to incorporate healthy foods into their diets. And she attended the Michiana Veg Fest, an annual event that takes place in April to educate people about plant-based diets.

Karen Sommers, Michiana Veg Fest board chair, said inviting people like Bradley to host cooking demonstrations helps achieve their goal of educating people about the benefits of a plant-based diet. .

“One of our board members knew Jasmine and we reached out to her to ask if we could work with her to provide food samples and show attendees how to make vegan meals,” Sommers said.

Sommers said the organization knew Bradley often posts videos showing her cooking vegan meals, including vegan alternatives to staples. Reaching people from diverse communities is also a big part of the group’s mission, Sommers added.

“Our goal is to reach people at all levels and cultures …” she said.

Bradley is starting his own meal prep and catering business, Vegan Bites by Jas. It will be fully launched in January, she said.

Bradley said people want the flavors they find in the foods they’ve grown up with and have grown to love, and that she has been able to find alternatives that capture those flavors.

Take green cabbage. She said cooks add meat and neck bones to them to add flavor.

“I start my collard greens with a vegetable broth and then I season it with garlic, onions, different peppers and things like that,” she said. Bradley then spices the dish up by adding hot sauce. She then lets the greens soak in all these spices.

Mac and cheese is a staple in most households, but apparently not all. Being a vegan, Bradley does not use dairy products, replacing milk and cheese with almond milk and cashews.

Bradley said she started bringing her vegan dishes to family dinners about three years ago, and it wasn’t an easy sale. The people were resistant.

“They were just like, ‘I don’t know. I’m just going to take a bite and put it on my plate.’ And it was all gone by the end of the day, ”she said.

Bradley said part of her success came from not trying to force people to give up meat or cheese altogether. She wants people to include more vegetables in their diets, and the best way to do that is to show that vegan meals can be a tasty alternative.

It worked, she said. Bradley’s mother has adopted a pescatarian diet and her younger sisters are on a vegan diet whenever they stay with her.

Email South Bend Tribune reporter Howard Dukes at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @DukesHoward