Saturday November 28, 2015
Soul Food Love honors the kitchens of four generations of black, southern women. However, the present kitchens of Alice Randall and her daughter Caroline recognize the unhealthy lifestyles that stemmed from their relatives’ calorie-laden recipes. They have chosen to stray from fat-heavy, overly-creamy dishes and lighten them while simultaneously preserving their traditional techniques. The introduction makes clear that this is not a book concept built by blaming past recipes, but rather one which chooses to honor their stories and update them to incorporate these foods to a healthier, more vibrant way of life.
Randall prefaces the Warm Onion and Rosemary Salad with a description of her childhood dining table, a massive piece of furniture that sat eighteen, enough for the gatherings they would host on Sundays after church. The meals were composed of no-fuss recipes that could be served easily at room temperature. This reliance on cold mains and side dishes created a craving for the warmth of wrapping her hands around a steaming bowl, aiding her in its comfort. With only three ingredients plus a sprinkling of salt, this salad is nothing more than bringing out the flavor of a plump and gleaming onion, blistering its skin to give it a charred, smoky glory. A caramelized beauty.
The Moorish Pizza combines the easy preparation of flatbread with the appeal of Mediterranean-inspired appetizers. It combines the creamy textures and familiar flavors of hummus and baba ghanoush (whose recipes the book also includes), layering them atop pita. Finish with parsley for color, some coriander and a drizzle of olive oil, and you have a dish that can be taken from starter to main, delicious, comforting, and only seemingly-indulgent.
There is a section for what they call “Crowns”, dome-shaped dishes given an elaborate presentation to celebrate the cherished guests they serve. For her Cauliflower Crown, Randall reflects upon her time spent in New Orleans, where she first tried whole roasted cauliflower, mesmerized by its buttery-golden appeal. Her version omits the whipped cheese, wine, or sugar the original boasts, but with just a few tablespoons of olive oil and the earthy bite of rosemary, this is enough to satisfy a crowd.
For me, thoughts of the south begin and end with Sweet Potato Pie. I know that with this comes the addition of heavy amounts of butter and sugar, but Randall relies upon the natural creaminess of the potatoes and the warmth of a few spices to create a lighter alternative. She holds onto the pecans though, because some traditions need to be retained.
Brown sugar, cream, and of course butter -- these are the central ingredients which have come to define southern cooking. Randall respects this, but understands that they can sometimes be done without (or at least done with a little less). Mother and daughter know that the past is adaptable, but that the future should always contain at least half a cup.