Regional Cuisines

From South Florida, the Deep South,
the Central Plains, and the Rockies

By Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

Rice, beans, tropical fruit, root vegetables, nuts... There are so many ingredients available in the different regions of the United States, used in so many flavorful ways. Regional American cuisine reflects the variety of native products combined with the resourcefulness and traditions of the people settling its valleys, mountains, coastlines, or prairies.

Regional cuisine used to be defined broadly as Eastern, Southern, Central, and Western. We know better. Just as the scenery varies from town to town, so do ingredients and cooking techniques. Don’t like the food here? Just go on over to the next town! There are too many subregional American cuisines to count. And in addition to regional and subregional cuisines, there are the culinary cultures of American cities. Most metropolises offer a variety of cuisines that vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Just think about barbecue sauces. There are styles from Chicago, Kansas City, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, and Santa Rosa, to name a very few.

This article will give you just an introduction to some of the sub-regional cuisines of the bountiful United States. It will get you thinking of how to use the regional and seasonal ingredients in your area.

Recipe Index

Florida Fruit Salad with Avocado-Lime Dressing
Hearts of Palm Salad
Deep South
Hoppin’ John Salad
Tuskegee Peanut Soup
Central Plains
Beet and Apple Salad
Wild Rice with Black Walnuts
Rocky Mountain States
Red Potato, Corn, and Soyrizo Chowder
Prairie Beans


Floribbean cuisine incorporates foods, flavors, and ingredients from the Caribbean, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Latin America, and Cuba, with dashes of Africa, India, and Southeast Asia not too far in the distance. It is truly New World cuisine.

One of the reasons for this is the region’s rich history. South Florida has a tropical climate and an inviting coastline that has attracted settlers for hundreds of years. The Spanish explored the region and introduced European spices to the native cuisine. Slaves from Africa brought eggplant, yams, okra, and sesame seeds. Workers from the Bahamas contributed seasoned rice and pea stews. New England railroad workers brought chowders.

The British had control of Florida for a while in the 1700s and introduced baking and steaming into the Floribbean repertoire. There was a large Jewish influx to the Miami area in the 1920s; you could get a good rye bread and a bowl of borscht! The Cuban migration in the 1950s heavily influenced the local cuisine, adding to the dietary landscape such items as saffron-scented rice, strong coffee, and crusty bread, to name a few. Today, flavors from Haiti, Nicaragua, Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Cambodia are available in the cities of Florida.

Also, there are many kinds of foods available in Southern Florida. In addition to traditional crops, tropical and Latin American fruits, vegetables, and starchy vegetables, such as taro or yucca, are grown. And there’s always the indigenous swamp cabbage, or “hearts of palm” as it’s known in the gourmet stores.

Florida Fruit Salad

with Avocado-Lime Dressing

(Serves 4)

This recipe takes advantage of seasonal fruit and creamy avocados.


  • 1 cup peeled and pitted ripe avocado
  • ½ cup vegan sour cream or silken tofu
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tablespoon apple juice concentrate
  • ½ teaspoon hot sauce

Place all dressing ingredients in the canister of a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Chill until ready to serve.


  • 2 cups torn or cut romaine or red leaf lettuce
  • ½ cup peeled and diced avocado tossed with 2 Tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 firm bananas, sliced (about 1 cup) and tossed with 2 Tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 cup fresh pineapple chunks (Drained canned pineapple is fine.)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen, thawed mango chunks
  • ½ cup fresh papaya chunks
  • ½ cup diced fresh orange
  • Toasted sliced almonds for garnish (optional)

Place lettuce on a serving platter. Arrange fruit in a colorful pattern. Just prior to serving, pour dressing over fruit and garnish with almonds, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 267 Fat: 12 grams
Carbohydrates: 42 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 18 milligrams Fiber: 8 grams

Hearts of Palm Salad

(Serves 4)

Hearts of palm is the ‘dressed-up’ name for Florida swamp cabbage. Although it is sometimes possible to find refrigerated bags of hearts of palm, most of us will use the canned product.

  • One 1-pound can or 2 cups drained hearts of palm
  • ½ cup diced green bell pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup diced fresh oranges
  • ¼ cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Lettuce leaves (as desired)
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped pecans (optional)

Slice hearts of palms crosswise, as you would a banana. Place hearts of palm in a salad bowl and toss with remaining ingredients, except for lettuce and pecans. Allow to chill for at least 20 minutes.

When ready to serve, line a serving platter with lettuce. Top lettuce with salad mixture and garnish with pecans, if desired. Serve cold.

Total calories per serving: 126 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 14 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 534 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Deep South

When you think of Deep South cuisine, you usually think of pumpkin or sweet potato pie, cooked greens, red beans and rice, cornbread, and peach preserves. The roots for these dishes began long before European explorers or settlers arrived on the scene, though. Deep Southern cuisine was originally Native American. It included the succotash of the Powhatans and dried berries of the Algonquians, along with squash, pumpkin, and corn grown in the region.

South Carolina grew rice in the 1700s and exported tons of the grain to England. British sailing crews took rice away and returned with spices from India and recipes for curries and pilafs made with Carolina rice. In the 1800s, the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road connected Pennsylvania to South Carolina. The people from Philadelphia had German, Scandinavian, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish backgrounds and cooking styles, which further enriched the existing culinary culture.

In addition, French Huguenots brought smooth sauces and golden-brown gratins to the region, and Spanish settlers planted pomegranates, figs, and peaches. African slaves cooked “food from the soul” and used sweet potatoes, peanuts, corn, peppers, cabbage, onions, and okra in their cooking. The value of the peanut was understood in the Deep South, and you’ll find many recipes using peanuts and peanut butter.

Hoppin’ John Salad

(Serves 5)

Black-eyed peas are eaten on New Year’s Eve to guarantee a prosperous year to come. Eat them year-round in this salad for good health.

  • ½ cup long-grain white rice (uncooked)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups uncooked black-eyed peas (or 3-½ cups cooked or canned black-eyed peas)
  • 1 Tablespoon nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup diced green bell peppers
  • 1 cup cooked and cooled green peas
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar
  • Oil and vinegar or vinaigrette salad dressing (optional)

Place rice in a small pot, add 1 cup water, and bring to a fast boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and allow to cook for 20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. When rice is cooked, place in a bowl and refrigerate to cool, about 40 minutes.

For uncooked black-eyed peas, rinse and place in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Allow them to cook for 40-50 minutes, or until tender. Drain black-eyed peas and return to the pot. If using canned black-eyed peas, simply rinse them and set aside. If using frozen black-eyed peas, prepare according to package directions. Toss prepared black-eyed peas with melted margarine, black pepper, and parsley. Allow to cool.

In a large salad bowl, combine cooled rice, black-eyed peas, bell peppers, green peas, oil, and vinegar. Cool until ready to serve. If desired, serve with additional oil and vinegar or a vinaigrette salad dressing.

Total calories per serving: 285 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 47 grams Protein: 13 grams
Sodium: 40 milligrams Fiber: 10 grams

Tuskegee Peanut Soup

(Serves 6)

The Tuskegee Institute, in Tuskegee, Alabama, was founded by Booker T. Washington in the 1880s. George Washington Carver, the famous scientist, was the head of Tuskegee’s agricultural school and developed innumerable peanut recipes. Here is a vegan adaption of one of his peanut soups.

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 4 Tablespoons diced carrots
  • 4 Tablespoons diced onions
  • 3 Tablespoons diced celery
  • 3 Tablespoons diced green onions
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1-½ quarts vegetable stock (about 6 cups)
  • 10 Tablespoons peanut butter (5/8 cup)
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco

Spray a large pot with oil and allow to heat. Add carrots, onions, celery, and green onions, and allow to wilt, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, stirring, and cook for 3 minutes, or until onions are tender. Briskly stir in flour to form a paste. Gradually add stock, stirring, until it is incorporated. Bring to a fast boil, reduce heat, and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and whisk in peanut butter, pepper, and hot sauce. Return to stove, stirring, and allow to heat for about 3 minutes, or until heated thoroughly. Serve hot.

Total calories per serving: 204 Fat: 13 grams
Carbohydrates: 16 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 597 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Central Plains

The Central Plains states eventually became the breadbasket of the country. Before that, this area had the cuisine of Native Americans, pioneers, and immigrants.

Native Americans had wild berries and nuts, wild rice, and corn left from the original Inca and Mayan inhabitants. In the early 1800s, Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes brought with them potatoes, turnips, and cabbage, which they used in hearty stews and soups.

Berries were dried and made into juice by the Native Americans and turned into preserves and pies by immigrants. Also, nut trees were plentiful. They supplied sources of protein and oil, as well as ingredients for rice dishes, stuffings, cakes, cookies, and pies.

Beet and Apple Salad

(Serves 4)

This is a colorful salad that tastes even better the next day.

  • 1-½ pounds fresh red beets, unpeeled but with tops removed (about 3-½ cups)
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 Tablespoons vinegar, divided
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 1 cup diced green apples, unpeeled
  • 1 Tablespoon prepared mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Place beets in a large pot, and add water, 2 Tablespoons vinegar, and sugar. Cook beets over medium heat until tender, about 60 minutes. Drain and peel. Dice peeled beets and combine with apples.

Whisk mustard, horseradish, remaining vinegar, oil, and pepper together in a small bowl. Toss dressing with beets and apples and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Note: Prepared horseradish is usually found in the refrigerated section of the market.

Total calories per serving: 145 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 27 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 249 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Wild Rice with Black Walnuts

(Serves 4)

This side dish is rich and wonderfully flavorful.

  • 1-½ quarts vegetable stock (about 6 cups)
  • 1-½ cups uncooked wild rice
  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 2 Tablespoons diced onions
  • 1 Tablespoon diced celery
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 Tablespoons chopped black walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Place stock in a large pot and bring to a boil. Stir in rice, and cook at a low boil for 40 minutes or until rice is tender. Drain the rice and, if you like, reserve the stock in the refrigerator for making soups or for cooking vegetables. Otherwise, discard the stock. Allow the rice to cool.

Spray a large frying pan with vegetable oil and heat. Add the onions, celery, and garlic, and cook until onions are tender, about 3 minutes. Add the walnuts and cook an additional minute, stirring.

Combine the rice, onion/celery mix, and parsley in a large bowl. Cover and serve warm, or chill until ready to serve.

Total calories per serving: 310 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 56 grams Protein: 12 grams
Sodium: 697 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Rocky Mountain States

How often have you thought of the Rocky Mountain states—Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming—having their own cuisine? They do! Much like the plains, there were many “original” ingredients, supplemented by settlers and pioneers to create a distinct cuisine.

Native Americans used wild berries, fresh and dried beans, and mushrooms in many of their dishes. Basque and Spanish settlers added tomatoes, fresh herbs, peppers, and chilies to these traditional dishes. The potato is now indigenous to this area, probably originally cultivated by Peruvian explorers. There are more than 100 varieties of potatoes grown in the Rocky Mountain States. Who hasn’t had a steamy baked Idaho or Oregon potato?

While settlers traveled over the trails, they learned to use native chokeberries for drying, instead of raisins or juice. These pioneers made corn cakes and Mexican flat bread with corn flour. They also learned to make ashtunkala, a Native American stew of beans and dried corn. In season, pine nuts were harvested and used for cooking and for snacks.

Beans have always played a big role in Rocky Mountain cuisine. To this day, almost all the lentils in the States are grown in this region. However, beans originally grew wild, and settlers cultivated the more successful crops. The Mormons, traveling along the Oregon Trail, perfected one-pot dishes, based on beans that supplied energy and satisfied hunger while conserving cooking fuel.

Cowboys expected chuck wagons to feed them hearty meals, usually based on beans and sourdough bread. The Dutch oven, a cast-iron pot 6-8 inches deep with a tight fitting lid, was the main cooking tool used for breads and stews. Typical stores on the wagon were coffee, flour, baking powder, dried beans, and sugar. If dried corn was available, the chuck wagon could produce “cold flour.” This was a mixture of cornmeal and water that was prepared like polenta and served with cinnamon and sugar or strips of dried vegetables, like chilies or carrots.

Red Potato, Corn, and Soyrizo Chowder

(Serves 6)

Think rich, thick, and hearty. If you want this to be really authentic, roast the corn before slicing it off the cob.

  • ½ cup Soyrizo or vegan Southwestern- or Mexican-flavored sausage
  • 4 Tablespoons diced onions
  • 2 Tablespoons diced celery
  • Vegetable oil spray as needed
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or broth
  • 2 cups diced, unpeeled red rose, white rose, or boiling potatoes
  • 3 whole corn on the cob, steamed or grilled
  • 2 cups soymilk
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce, such as Tabasco

Heat a large pot. Add vegan sausage, and cook thoroughly, about 3 minutes. Add onions and celery. If this mixture is dry, spray a little vegetable oil into the pan. Cook until onions are tender. Stir in flour to make a paste. Pour in stock and stir, cooking 5 minutes. Bring to a fast boil and add potatoes. Lower heat, stir, and allow to cook until potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Slice the corn kernels from the cob and add to the soup. Place the soymilk in a blender or food processor. Remove about 1 cup of potatoes from the soup. Purée until smooth. Add back to soup. Stir in parsley and hot sauce and allow to cook until thoroughly heated. Serve hot.

Total calories per serving: 186 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 27 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 330 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Prairie Beans

(Serves 6-8)

This type of dish was a staple of the pioneers and settlers.

  • 1 cup dried pinto beans
  • Water to cover
  • 2 Tablespoons diced onions
  • ½ cup chopped fresh tomatoes
  • ½ cup canned diced tomatoes with liquid
  • ½ cup diced fresh or canned chilies
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley

Rinse pinto beans with cold water. Place in a glass or plastic bowl, cover with cold water, and allow to soak for at least 8 hours.

Drain beans and place in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a fast boil. Reduce heat, and allow beans to simmer until tender, about 50-60 minutes. Drain beans and save the cooking liquid. Place beans in a refrigerator and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine half the cooking liquid (about 1 cup) with onions, tomatoes, chilies, syrup, chili powder, mustard, cumin, oregano, and parsley in a small bowl. Mix into the cooling beans. Pour bean mixture into a baking dish. Cover and bake for 1 hour or until bubbly.

Total calories per serving: 146 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 28 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 153 milligrams Fiber: 10 grams

Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE, is VRG’s Food Service Advisor and the author of Vegan Menu for People with Diabetes.