Carla Hall is one busy chef: She's on ABC's The Chew, teaching her co-hosts how to make her "groundnut" or peanut stew; she's opening a restaurant in Brooklyn, Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen; and she's coming to Lexington for the Incredible Food Show this month.
The Nashville native and former contestant on Bravo's Top Chef plans to feature Southern favorites with a healthy twist. She's been working on recipes for her restaurant, which will be opening in late November. Collard greens, mac and cheese, and black-eyed pea confit are all in the mix, she said.
"A lot of things that are typical Southern food but I'm taking the pork out, making it vegetarian," Hall said. "I want to maintain the history and the integrity but don't want people to think it's too heavy.
"I really believe vegetables are becoming the star of the plate. We've been doing bitter greens forever in the South, and now they are more widespread. ... It's a great thing for everybody that they can get raw kale everywhere. Southern food is becoming the 'in' thing, putting it in fine dining restaurants."
She loves black-eyed peas and beans of all kinds and plans to feature them in a slightly different way.
"The way I'll make them for the restaurant, I'll cook them quickly and then coat with olive oil, chili and garlic, and preserve them," Hall said. Then they can be used as a relish or served with cornbread.
Although she does eat meat, the former caterer said she is always thinking, "What are the vegetarians going to eat?" and that has led her to come up with some tasty options.
"Everybody always wants to wow people with things that are meaty and fatty and heavy," Hall said. "Nobody does a really fresh salad, a really fresh vegetable ... but I think that's changing."
For a cooking contest on The Chew, she made a vegetarian version of the groundnut peanut stew in her cookbook, Cooking With Love, Comfort Foods That Hug You. It used red pepper, fresh ginger, ground cumin, and diced chilies and habaneros to spice up sweet potatoes, tomatoes and red beans.
"It's so good," she said of the dish, which draws on black traditions in the South. "It uses ingredients that are common in West Africa."
In her own cooking, Hall is drawn to fresh seasonal vegetables.
"I love any kind of greens," she said. "One of my favorite, favorite things is chow chow pickle, which I eat on everything. In North Carolina they call it 'permanent salad' ... because it's permanently in your fridge."
Lately she's been sauteing mixed greens such as collards and kale, adding onion, garlic and chili flakes.
"Then at the very end I add chow chow. And it's really really good," she said.
Hall has visited Kentucky before but had never heard of, let alone tasted, a hot Brown, Kentucky's famous open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon, tomato, cheese and mornay sauce.
For her next cookbook, she is working on dessert recipes and hopes to try some local sorghum while she is here.
"And now I want to check out that turkey sandwich," Hall said, referring to the hot Brown.