Although the term “soul food” means different things to different people, the one thing that remains consistent is what it needs to be created correctly: a lot of soul. That’s exactly what celebrity chef, TV host, and former model (did you know this?!) Carla Hall makes sure to deliver in every meal. With a list of incomparably delicious cookbooks under her belt (Cooking With Love happens to be my personal favorite), Auntie Carla—who I have full permission to call refer to as such, BTW—makes it known that while soul food today can be many things, the one thing we must remember about it is how it started.
“As Black people, we are everywhere—our food is everywhere,” Carla, who was born in Nashville, told Delish. “But the more you can allow yourself to be influenced [by] the way that soul food maybe 400 years ago was influenced, the richer we are.” The chef credits a years-ago trip to D.C.’s NMAAHC with the realization that the cuisine was so much bigger than she’d ever imagined: “Until I was there and looking at the vast perception of all of the Black people from around the country, I’d never really thought about it. I thought that the South owned soul food because that’s where I lived.”
Now, as a longstanding icon in the soul food community, Hall has shifted her perspective of soul food and strives to reach and expand as many people’s palates as possible. Before she can do that for you, though—and before she can give you her ultimate soul food cookbook recommendations—she’ll need you to get past that one misconception that almost everyone (yes, including you) has about soul food: “that it’s fattening or that it’s going to kill you.”
“Our food is so much more than…smothered pork chop or mac & cheese. Our food is a direct descendant from West Africa. When we think about the migration of some ingredients [crucial to soul food cooking] and you take the Africans, the Native Americans, the settlers—that makes soul food. We probably wouldn’t have the soul food that we have if it weren’t for the influence of the Native Americans. That’s huge. Soul food is much bigger than the box that [people] have put it in.” In summary? It is well worth your time to learn about where soul food really comes from: “If we don’t understand where we’ve been, why we should feel proud of who we are as a people, and that we have made contributions, there’s no way we will ever value our history or our food. We have to go back.”
Though her soul food roots come from her grandparents—her family—that hasn’t stopped the renowned chef from learning from her peers. These are the 10 soul food cookbooks you’ll find in Carla Hall’s kitchen.
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“Jocelyn Delk Adams is the real deal. When you talk about somebody that was baking with her Big Mama, this is what is meant,” Carla said. “I met her online and ended up cold-calling her when I was in Chicago. I had never met her before, so basically, it was tea with two strangers. But I love her book. You can slide that one right on up to the top of my list.” If you’re looking to perfect your cake game, this is the cookbook for you.
SOUL: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes
“I love Chef Todd,” she said. “There’s not much more that I can say other than how great he is. This cookbook is one way that proves it.” This critically revered book is filled with historical soul food recipes, almost all of which are tweaked with Todd’s exploration of his heritage.
Soul Food Love
Soul Food: Classic Cuisine from the Deep South
“Soul Food: Classic Cuisine from the Deep South by Sheila Ferguson is another one of my favorites because looking at how some of these dishes were made…you can’t change them without knowing what they were to start,” Carla explained. “You need to have a sense of that [original] flavor and taste.”
Son of a Southern Chef: Cook with Soul
“I think Lazarus Lynch is so energetic, and full of color and love, and just a touch of the unexpected. I think he embodies who we are as people in terms of being creative and being unapologetically wonderful, colorful, and textured.” Since this book’s debut, it’s been called a cookbook unlike any other that’s been published innumerable times.
The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food with Global Flavors
Carla raved not only about this forthcoming book, but also about its author: “Love her. She’s traveled a lot because she was a flight attendant, so she’s borrowing from all of these other cultures and that’s OK,” she said: “You can borrow from other cultures when you’re steadfast and you know who you are. VanTrece does a great job at that.”
KitchenWise: Essential Food Science for Home Cooks
“I love Shirley Corriher! She does essential food science for the home cook and it’s such a great book. She’s from the South and I have been using her books for decades. [This one] is a great reference book for the home cook.”
The Book on Pie: Everything You Need to Know to Bake Perfect Pies
“I’m a little biased when it comes to The Book on Pie,” she said. “It’s so good because I love pies.” Plus, have you ever heard of anything more beautiful than “mix and match” pie-making? I certainly haven’t.
The Good Book of Southern Baking: A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread
“This is another book I could nerd out on. It took [Kelly Fields] a long time to do it, but it’s filled with tried and true recipes.” It is simply the only book one needs if they’re looking to excel at Southern pastry.
Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration
OK, fine, Carla did not include her own book on her list, but we’re doing it for her: It’s fresh, it’s joyful, and it’s not one to be missed.
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