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Food & Drink

Chef Carla Hall shares her love of soul food

| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, 12:03 a.m.
Carla Hall
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Carla Hall
Carla Hall’s Banana Pudding: “If soul food had a signature dessert, this would be it.”
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Carla Hall’s Banana Pudding: “If soul food had a signature dessert, this would be it.”
Sea Island Shrimp and Grits
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Sea Island Shrimp and Grits
'Carla Hall’s Soul Food'
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'Carla Hall’s Soul Food'
Brunswick Stew uses a variety of garden vegetables to help stretch what little chicken or pork families had on the farm.
Submitted
Brunswick Stew uses a variety of garden vegetables to help stretch what little chicken or pork families had on the farm.

When life gives Carla Hall lemons, she makes Gingerbread Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting.

The popular TV chef and co-host – with Michael Symon and Clinton Kelly – of ABC’s former Emmy Award-winning daytime food talk show “The Chew” shares her recipe for the decadent dessert in her new cookbook, “Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration” (Harper Wave/HarperCollins Publishers, $29.99).

When “The Chew” was unexpectedly canceled by the network after seven seasons this summer, Hall didn’t have much time to grieve its untimely departure. She was about to launch a book tour with the release of her third cookbook on Oct. 23.

An amazing ride

“I am so grateful for all the good times and incredible friends I have made over the past seven years on The Chew.

“It has truly been an amazing ride,” she tweeted when the cancellation was announced in late May, adding, “I am looking forward to new adventures.”

Her book tour includes one stop in Pennsylvania on Nov. 9-11 in Hawley, Wayne County — although she says she hopes to plan a return visit to Pittsburgh, where she last made a Market District appearance in 2014 with the release of her second book, “Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World.”

Poconos appearance

Hall will be chef and co-host at a health and wellness weekend event at The Lodge at Woodloch Resort in the Poconos, one of her favorite destinations, where she says she’ll participate in all of her favorite things — crafts, a nature walk, a dinner featuring her recipes and a yoga class instructed by her husband, Matthew Lyons.

Her “new adventures” also include making frequent appearances as a food contributor on “GMA Day,” the ABC show that replaced “The Chew” in its afternoon time slot.

She introduced her “Carla Hall’s Soul Food” cookbook on the show, telling co-hosts Michael Strahan and Sara Haines, “For me, soul food is the food of my ancestors, everything that I had for Sunday supper at my grandmother’s house, but also things that came from her garden.”

Passion for sharing recipes

Hall is passionate about sharing everyday recipes that demonstrate how African-Americans were cooking farm-to-table long before it was a fad. She maintains soul food is part of Black American culinary history, which distinguishes it from Southern food.

“Southern food’s delicious any which way,” she said, “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.”

Soul food tends to be more seasoned than Southern dishes, featuring seasonal vegetables such as okra, bitter winter greens like collards, kale and turnips and grains including sorghum, millet and grits.

Hall, who grew up in Nashville, Tenn., traveled through South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, sharing stories and meals with African-American farmers, chefs and cooks as research for her cookbook.

“Everyone I talked to on the trip — and all the African-Americans I’ve known who feed others — take pride in their food. We all should. I’m proud of it. This is part of our heritage,” she said.

Recipes from ‘Carla Hall’s Soul Food’

Hall said her great-aunt Lucille’s husband made the best Brunswick stew. The variety of garden vegetables in the recipe, including lima beans, string beans and cabbage, helped stretch what little chicken or pork they had on the farm.

Banana Pudding

Hall said if soul food had a signature dessert, this would be it. Layers of buttery cookies, banana slices in custardy pudding and a fluffy vanilla topper meld into a big ol’ hug of a dessert: “Everyone who tastes my banana pudding says, ‘You’ve taken me back!’ One woman looked me right in the eye with tears in hers and told me, ‘It’s heaven.’ That is why I make this.”

Serves 12.

Pudding

¼ cup cornstarch

¾ cup sugar

6 large egg yolks

¼ teaspoon salt

1½ cups whole milk

½ cup half-and-half

½ cup mashed ripe banana

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cups heavy cream

2 ripe bananas, cut into ½-inch chunks

Meringue

6 large egg whites

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Vanilla shortbread cookies (Recipe in cookbook)

Directions

For the pudding: Whisk the cornstarch, sugar, egg yolks and salt in a medium bowl. Heat the milk, half-and-half and mashed banana in a medium saucepan over medium heat until bubbles begin to form around the edges. While whisking the egg yolks, add the hot milk a little at a time. When the bowl feels warm, whisk in the remaining milk and whisk well.

Return to the saucepan and set over medium heat. Whisk until the custard thickens and then boils for 2 minutes. Put the vanilla and butter in a large bowl and strain the hot cream over them through a fine-mesh sieve. Stir until smooth, then press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until cold.

Whisk the cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Whisk one third of the whipped cream into the pastry cream to loosen it, then gently fold in the remainder until incorporated. Fold in the banana chunks.

For the meringue: Whisk the egg whites and the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer set over a saucepan of simmering water until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is warm to the touch. Immediately transfer to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk on medium-high speed until shiny, stiff peaks form. The bowl should no longer feel warm. Whisk in the vanilla and vinegar.

Preheat the broiler.

Place 12 ramekins on a half-sheet pan. Crumble a shortbread cookie into the bottom of each. Divide the pudding among the ramekins, then top with the meringue. Broil until golden brown. Stick 2 cookies into each ramekin and serve immediately.

Brunswick Stew

Serves 8.

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large onion, diced

2 carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

3 garlic cloves, sliced

½ teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon chile flakes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

4 cups unsalted chicken broth

1 bay leaf

1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ½-inch pieces

2 cups frozen lima beans

1½ cups fresh corn kernels

1 cup sliced okra

1 3 cup Worcestershire sauce

2½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

Directions

Toss the chicken with the oil and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken in batches, flipping once, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Pour out almost all the fat from the oven.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, and chile flakes and stir for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and stir for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, broth, and bay leaf; bring to a boil.

Stir in the potatoes, lima beans, corn, okra, and chicken. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer 20 minutes.

Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Simmer until the chicken is tender, about 40 minutes. Discard the skin and bones of the chicken and tear the meat into large pieces. Return to the stew and serve hot.

Make ahead: The stew can be refrigerated for up to three days.

Sea Island Shrimp and Grits

To celebrate from-the-garden freshness, Hall said she added aromatics and vegetables and herbs to her take on shrimp and grits. “But I’ve kept out dairy, which isn’t big in Gullah-Geechee cooking. You don’t need it! Cream in grits is cheating. Yes, you have to stand over the stove and whisk for almost an hour, but your reward is silky grits. The only sauce here comes from the juices that the shrimp and tomatoes let out while cooking — and it’s plenty to run in rivulets into the grits.”

Serves 4.

Ingredients:

Grits

1 cup stone-ground grits

1 bay leaf

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Shrimp

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails on

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/ 2 onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon chile flakes

2 plum tomatoes, cored and finely diced

3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

For the grits: Bring 4 1/2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. While whisking, add the grits in a slow, steady stream. Whisk in the bay leaf and 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue whisking until the grits are thick and creamy, 40 to 45 minutes. Stir in the thyme leaves and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Season with salt. Cover and keep warm over very low heat, whisking occasionally. I like my grits loose, so I add water if they start to stiffen. You can too.

For the shrimp: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add the shrimp to the skillet and sear until just opaque, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chile flakes and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and cook, gently folding, for 1 minute. Return the shrimp and any accumulated juices to the skillet and toss just until well combined.

Divide the grits among serving plates and top with the shrimp mixture. Garnish with the parsley and serve immediately.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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