As a pickle lover, my fridge is almost always full of empty pickle jars. Yes, you read that right: They’re empty, save for the remaining brine. You see, I can’t really help myself when it comes to those little green guys. No matter how hard I try not to, I always end up eating entire jars in one sitting, usually right after I get home from the grocery store. As soon as I’m finished inhaling them, I’m still a little in denial that they’re all gone, and I have a hard time justifying throwing out something I just bought. So I place the juice-filled jar back in my fridge—a new addition to my collection. “I’ll use the pickle juice eventually!” I tell myself, but then I never do.
The reason I don’t use the pickle juice isn’t because I don’t want to. I just can’t ever think of anything to do with it. (It’s a real pickle, am I right?) But I can’t ignore those jars every time I open the fridge any longer, so I’m setting out to finally make use of them once and for all.
Unsurprisingly, the internet knows of a few ingenious ways to put leftover pickle juice to work. These 11 recipes include ideas that actually make a lot of sense, like salad dressings and sauces that take advantage of pickle juice’s briny, vinegary nature. Of course, there are also some experimental ideas, like pickle soup and pickle bread, for anyone who wants to get a little freaky.
Before I became a vegan food blogger and cookbook author, I was growing up in Georgia, eating a diet light on fruits and vegetables and heavy on Chick-fil-A. I went vegan as an adult for ethical reasons, and I love experimenting with recipes that re-create the soul food flavors of my childhood without animal products. I share many of these recipes on my food blog and also recently published a cookbook, Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul.
One of the most popular misconceptions I’ve noticed is that many people think that soul food and veganism are pretty incompatible. I understand that, but I have to disagree. Soul food cooking is all about optimizing flavor and texture. What we love and crave are the spices, the sauces, and the preparation style. Soul food is about seasonings (smoked paprika, Old Bay, celery, hot sauce) and preparations (smoking, frying, grilling, baking). You don’t need meat and cheese for amazing soul food, and you don’t even need mock meat and fake cheese—you can get outstanding results by applying classic soul food seasonings and cooking methods to vegan ingredients like fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and mushrooms.
Below are my best tips I’ve learned throughout the years for flavorful, soul-filled vegan cooking.
1. Spice things up with Creole seasoning, celery seed, Old Bay, cayenne, and more.
Down South, we don’t skimp on flavor. Luckily, spices are vegan, so it’s easy to achieve that Southern flavor profile without meat. Stock your spice cabinet with essentials like Creole or Cajun seasoning, celery seed, smoked paprika, Old Bay, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, hot sauce, and onion powder. Two of my favorite tasty soul food recipes are New Orleans–Style Red Beans & Rice, spiced with smoked paprika, bay leaves, and Cajun seasoning; and Low Country Grits (pictured above), flavored with Creole seasoning and Old Bay.
2. Fire up the grill for charred flavor.
Grilling is essential to Southern cooking. We love firing up the grill from spring to fall, and even sometimes in the winter. A hot grill gives vegetables and plant-based foods a delicious charred flavor and richness that you can’t get from baking or roasting. Try grilling my Sweet Potato Burgers or Beet Black Bean Burgers (pictured above).
3. Embrace liquid smoke, smoked paprika, and a smoker to replicate the savory, umami-rich flavor of smoked pork.
Think you can’t have satisfying smoky food without pork? Think again! A raw slab of pig flesh doesn’t have much charm on its own—it’s the hours spent in a smoker that make it delicious. The same smoking process works on plants and makes them just as succulent and delicious as meat. Try smoking eggplant, carrots, mushrooms, or tofu in your smoker. If you don’t have a smoker, you can achieve that amazing smoky flavor by using liquid smoke or smoked paprika! Try my Crispy Eggplant Bacon (pictured above) and see for yourself.
4. When you fry, dredge food in flax, cornstarch, and nondairy milk.
Fried food is an important part of soul food culture: think fried chicken, hush puppies, and fried green tomatoes. Replacing the egg and dairy in a dredge (that’s the coating for fried food) is easy when you use ground flaxseed and cornstarch in place of the egg, and nondairy milk instead of regular. Replacing the meat is easy too! My favorite vegan swaps are cauliflower or oyster mushrooms for fried chicken. Make sure to give my Vegan “Chicken” and Waffles (pictured above) a try.
5. Fill up on beans.
Everyday soul food isn’t complete without beans. Kidney beans, butter beans (aka lima beans), and black-eyed peas are staples in most Southern diets. Beans are full of fiber and protein, and they add texture and flavor to any dish. Plus, they’re versatile and inexpensive. Hoppin’ John (pictured above) is a classic Southern black-eyed pea and rice dish that will leave you full, satisfied, and feeling truly nourished. I recommend buying dry or canned beans in bulk and cooking with them frequently.
6. Sweet potatoes, always!
Sweet potatoes have been my favorite food for longer than I can remember, and they play a huge role in soul food. I love their flavor and texture, but I also love their versatility in cooking. You can add mashed sweet potatoes to some baked goods in place of eggs, or to replace some of the oil. You can also use less added sugar when baking with sweet potatoes because they have so much sugar naturally. My Sweet Potato Pecan Cinnamon Rolls (pictured above) make the perfect breakfast treat.