By SHAUNA STUART Al.com
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Chef Carla Hall knows soul food. She’s been cooking it for her entire career.
Now, her mission is to reclaim it. When she set out to trace the path of soul food throughout the South, that journey brought her to Alabama.
In her recently released cookbook, “Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration,” her first step in reclaiming soul food is to define it.
“Soul food is the true food of African Americans,” she writes.
Hall explains the origin of soul food from its roots in West Africa throughout the United States: dishes from the Cotton Belt of Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama that dispersed to the rest of the country during the Great Migration as millions of African Americans moved from the rural South to the North and West in the early to mid1900s.
And that relocation, Hall notes, is when soul food began to undergo a transition. Foods that traveled well – such as fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, normally reserved for holidays and large gatherings – began to eclipse daily meals based in vegetables and grains.
“Our celebration foods – smoked whole hogs, candied yams, caramel cake – became what we ate all the time,” writes Hall. “We forgot about all of the amazing daily meals we created from greens and beans and grains.”
With roots in her African heritage (Hall has traced her own ancestry to Nigeria and Bioko, an island of Equatorial Guinea) the dishes in “Soul Food” are present-day twists on culinary traditions passed down from black cooks.
Hall weaves through the ways African Americans prepared food with seasonal vegetables, meats, and, for those on the coast, an abundance of fish and shrimp.
She redefines soul food with a collection of her favorite recipes, combining daily meals, like black eyed pea salad with hot sauce vinaigrette, with rich celebration dishes such as poured caramel cake.
“This book shines a light on those everyday foods my people were eating for generations in the South,” writes Hall. “That, my friends, is as much soul food as our celebration meals.”
But after this warm welcome and embrace, the acclaimed chef and TV personality makes it plain: “You may be wondering, ‘What’s the difference between Southern food and soul food? Easy answer: black cooks. And I’m one of them.”
At its core, “Soul Food” is more than a collection of recipes. It’s a history lesson. It’s a love letter. It’s Hall’s rededication of soul food to the black culinarians and griots of black foodways that came before her.