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‘Diplomacy happens at the table’

Chef Carla Hall, seen here in Austin in April 2019, dishes about soul food and Juneteenth. (Photo: Rick Kern/Getty Images)

Juneteenth is a widely celebrated holiday that commemorates the last slaves being freed in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

As with most holidays, food is an integral part of the celebration. Red drinks and foods like strawberries and watermelon are traditional, as they represent strength and perseverance in bondage. Barbecued meats and soul food round out the offerings of this shared meal gathering.

With most of the country in phases of reopening, you may not be able to attend a large barbecue or dine out in celebration today. We’re bringing the restaurant experience to you with our 3D chef’s table. Chef, television host and cookbook author Carla Hall shares three of her favorite recipes in augmented reality.

Launch the experience below to join her.

To hear the personal stories behind each dish, activate the audio in the top right corner. And to learn more about Hall’s philosophy on food’s place in our current political climate, as told to Yahoo Life, continue reading. 

What’s the common theme behind the dishes you chose to share at your chef’s table? 

I wanted to show people the dishes that I enjoyed for Sunday suppers. These were the dishes that I looked forward to with my family, some of them during celebration time, some of them not, but it was always about family and coming together at the table. With soul food, there is a balance between everyday dishes and celebration dishes. There’s also ways to take an everyday dish and to elevate it in the way that makes it a celebration. I wanted to show a dish with a balance between the raw and the cooked, the rich and the fresh. I also wanted to show something that seems so decadent and beautiful can be so approachable. 

You’ve included a strawberry cake for Juneteenth. What does the holiday mean to you?  

It is a time of reflection, a time of acknowledging when information was passed to enslaved people in Texas, where they weren’t aware of the Emancipation Proclamation. So for me, it’s also about passing on information. And information is power. Because if you don’t have the information, you don’t get the benefits. I do think it’s important for the country to recognize this as a day that slavery had ended. This should not be a holiday that is only recognized in the Black community.

You’ve worked with places like the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture on using food to tell cultural stories through history.  What role do you see food playing in our nation’s path forward? 

Through food, you can see someone’s culture. I think that’s really important. In this day and age, we need to make sure that we don’t look at another culture’s food with judgment. Food is an opportunity to showcase culture and get away from stereotypes. Let’s talk about watermelon and how the negative stereotype came about after emancipation. Many of the formerly enslaved started growing and selling watermelon to make a living. When it was seen that they were being very industrious and selling this crop, they started being teased. People began associating the watermelon with being shiftless and gave it that negative connotation. We should not make up stories about a culture, but rather understand why they eat certain things and be open to learning about these cultures.

Do you think food will be a part of our nation’s healing?

Diplomacy happens at the table. It’s really hard to sit across from someone and have a meal with them and not feel fellowship with them. That is a place of diplomacy and peace and welcoming. I always talk about cooking food with love. The healing process starts with the preparation of food. When you make food with the intention of sharing and giving people something that is nourishing, then the healing begins. 

What have you been working on while in quarantine? Any upcoming projects you’re excited about?

Since quarantining, I’ve been in D.C. a lot. I’ve been dating my husband, my house, my yard, my neighborhood. It’s been great, lots of wonderful walks, seeing things from a different perspective. I was really excited to partner with Cuisine Solutions and learn more about the method of sous vide cooking where all of that flavor and moisture is locked in. We used one of their products in the oven-smothered chicken dish. I have a show coming out on Netflix called “Crazy Delicious,” on June 24, and I’ll go back into the studio in mid-July for “Best Baker in America,” which will be on the Food Network this fall. 

Here are the recipes shared in Carla Hall’s AR chef’s table:

STRAWBERRY CAKE 

Makes one 9-inch cake

CAKE

Unsalted butter and all-purpose flour, for the pan

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 cup (½ ounce) dehydrated strawberries, broken into small pieces

TOPPING

¾ cup heavy cream

¾ cup sour cream

¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

1 ½ pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the paper, then flour the pan, tapping away any excess.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Combine the cream and vanilla in a medium bowl. 

Beat the dry ingredients with the paddle attachment on low speed until well mixed. Add the oil and beat until evenly distributed. With the machine running, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until fully incorporated. The mixture will look like coarse sand.

Add the egg then egg yolk, beating well after each addition and scraping the bowl occasionally. While beating, add the cream mixture in a slow, steady stream. Beat just until smooth. Fold in the dehydrated strawberries until evenly distributed. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake until the top springs back a little when gently pressed, 25 to 27 minutes. 

Cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes. The sides should have come loose from the pan. If not, run a knife around the sides of the pan. Center a piece of parchment over the cake and invert onto a cutting board or another rack. Peel off the bottom parchment and invert the cake back onto the rack, top side up. Remove the top parchment. Cool completely.

For the topping: Whisk the cream, sour cream and sugar until soft peaks form. 

Transfer the cake to a serving plate. Dollop the cream over the cake, then top with the strawberries. Serve immediately.

OVEN-SMOTHERED CHICKEN 

2 teaspoons onion powder

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

6 chicken legs, excess fat trimmed

Kosher salt

2 onions, very thinly sliced

6 garlic cloves, lightly smashed and peeled

¼ cup unsalted chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne in a small bowl. Season the chicken generously with salt, then sprinkle with the spice mixture. If you have time, cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Toss the onions and garlic in a 3-quart shallow glass or ceramic baking dish. Spread in an even layer and put the chicken skin-side-up on top. Pour the stock all around. Cover the dish tightly with foil.

Bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 hour. Uncover and turn the chicken in the pan juices. Arrange them skin-side-up again. Bake until the meat is fork tender and the skin is lightly browned, about 30 minutes longer.

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Use a fork to smash the garlic and onions into the pan juices and stir well to form a light pan gravy. Season to taste with salt and spoon all over the chicken.

Note: Chicken thighs may be substituted for legs. Dark meat works better than white meat, because white meat will dry out. 

SOUTHERN MEATBALLS WITH SPICY KETCHUP, GOLDEN POTATO PUREE AND TOMATO-CUKE SALAD  

MEATBALLS 

3 eggs, beaten

¾ cup oatmeal, finely ground

¾ cup milk

2 teaspoons ground cumin 

2 teaspoons ground cayenne

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground chicken

6 cloves garlic, minced

1½ small onion, minced

1½ ribs celery

3 medium carrots

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped 

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

SPICY KETCHUP

2 cups fire-roasted tomatoes

½ cup horseradish

2 tablespoons vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

GOLDEN POTATO PUREE

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and kept whole

¼ pound unsalted butter

2 cups whole milk, warmed

Salt to taste 

TOMATO-CUKE SALAD

4 plum tomatoes, seeded and ¼” dice

1 medium white onion, thinly sliced

1 English cucumber, thinly sliced in half-moons

¼ cup celery and parsley leaves, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons dill, chopped

4 tablespoons white vinegar

⅓ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 325°F.  

For the meatballs: In a large bowl, combine egg, oatmeal, milk, cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Let stand for 5 minutes. Process garlic, onion, celery and carrot in a food processor until finely chopped. 

Add ground meats and finely chopped vegetables to oatmeal mixture. Add herbs to bowl. Gently toss until thoroughly combined. Be careful not to over-mix. Form mixture into 1-inch meatballs and place on sheet pans. Chill for at least 30 minutes in refrigerator. 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove meatballs from fridge. Heat a large skillet with olive or vegetable oil. Sear the meatballs until golden brown on all sides and finish in the oven until cooked through, about 4 minutes. 

For the spicy ketchup: Combine all the ingredients for the spicy ketchup in a small pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. Cool, then puree. Set aside. Serve on the side with meatloaf. 

For the potatoes: Put potatoes into cold salted water and bring them to a boil. Boil until soft or tender (about 15 minutes). The key is a stainless steel ricer for mashing. If you don’t have a ricer, you can use a mixer with a paddle as well. Add butter and milk; stir into potatoes. Salt to taste if necessary. Mashed potatoes can be made ahead of time and reheated in a microwave before serving.

For the salad: In a large bowl, add the tomatoes, onion, cucumber, celery and parsley. Drizzle white wine vinegar, olive oil and sugar. Toss to combine. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with the meatloaf.

AR production by Jon San and Henry Keyser

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