“The recipes capture all the soulfulness of soul food but don’t make you feel like you’re gonna die afterward.” Carla Hall

Gabriele Stabile

Whether you love the study of soul food and how it relates to Southern food or just appreciate delicious recipes that can be made for a busy weeknight meal, Carla Hall’s Soul Food – Everyday and Celebration deserves a spot on your kitchen counter.

What’s the difference between Southern food and soul food? “Black cooks,” says Carla Hall. “And I’m one of them.” After years of cooking for the television public (Hall was a contestant on Top Chef and is currently a co-host on The Chew), she felt it was time to really explore the roots of soul food, the food she grew up eating as a girl in Nashville. On a road trip across the South, she visited with African-American chefs, farmers, cooks, and others who share her passion for celebrating their heritage and distinctive foodways. These experiences, and the recipes inspired by them, formed her latest cookbook, Carla Hall’s Soul Food.

While Southern food and soul food share many of the same seasonings, ingredients, and techniques, the big difference, Hall says, is that black cooks bring an extra touch of well, soul, to soul food. “There’s an extra oomph in soul food,” Hall writes. “It’s like the difference between a hymn and a spiritual. Both sound beautiful and express the same message, but the spiritual’s got groove.”

While Carla’s book celebrates soul food, it also recognizes the painful history of this beloved cuisine, which was created through the ingenuity of slaves. “We didn’t get to choose what we ate. But we made the most delicious dishes from what little we had,” she writes. “And what we cooked for the slave owners effectively became what we know as ‘American’ food today.”

Through essays and interviews, Hall spotlights African-American chefs such as John Hall, who returned home to Birmingham, Alabama, after cooking in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world because he felt an obligation to “lead by example, teach up, coach up…teach kids here how to cook and eat these vegetables.” Or Matthew Raiford, who reluctantly returned to the family farm in Brunswick, Georgia, and realized his newly acquired knowledge of organic farming wasn’t really anything new at all.

WATCH: Meet Chef John Hall And His Mother, Marion

 

In Carla Hall’s Soul Food, she demonstrates how delicious, fresh, and healthy everyday soul food can be through recipes such as Brown Sugar Baked Chicken and Succotash Salad with Corn and Lima Beans, while also including recipes for crowd-pleasing “celebration dishes” like Pineapple-Habanero Honey Fried Chicken and Banana Pudding. Whether the recipes are for weeknights or special occasions, Hall has adapted them in her book for both the novice and busy cook by keeping cooking times short and cutting out extra pans and fussy steps, when possible.

As Hall writes, “Southern food’s delicious any which way, but when it’s made in the Black-American tradition with influences from Africa and the Caribbean, it delivers the kind of warmth and joy that makes you want to get up and dance.”