Alice Randall is a multi-talented individual. She is a New York Times best-selling author — “The Wind Done Gone,” “Pushkin” and “Ada’s Rules” to name a few, — an expert on African American cookbooks and soul food, teaches at Vanderbilt University and writes country music, including Trisha Yearwood’s “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl).”
Randall is also an advocate for healthy eating and determined to break the genetic cycle of obesity in her African American family, penning the op-ed feature in the New York Times titled “Black Women and Fat.”
“Today the kitchen that once saved us is killing us,” she writes in her latest book, “Soul Food Love: HealthyRecipes Inspired by One Hundred Years of Cooking in a Black Family.” “Foodways in much of black America are plain broke-down. Too many young black women have lower life expectancies than their mothers. And most don’t even know it.”
Randall admits it’s not just black America in the Sun Belt that’s dealing with an unhealthy lifestyle, but African Americans are “particularly hard hit” by these sobering statistics.
Her cookbook honors the generations who came before her, who found solace, community and sustenance in their cooking, in addition to fear and pain enslaved in terrible situations. The kitchen was also a place where Randall shared stories with her own daughter, a contributor to the book, Caroline Randall Williams, whose chapters is as heartfelt as her mother’s.
But soul food can be healthy, Alice Randall insists, offering recipes that may take out the calories and fat but leave in the flavors we all love. There’s sweet potato, kale and black-eyed pea soup and a pot of green without the ham hocks. There’s the poet pot pie that uses sweet potato mash to top a vegetable shepherd’s pie and a peanut chicken stew.
“My goal is to be the last fat black woman in my family,” Randall wrote in the New York Times.
Not an easy feat for anyone, but her cookbook makes it easier.
For instance, below is a recipe for fruit salad, which Randall calls a “soul food staple.” Instead of using commercial fruit cocktail — “an abomination that should never be served to anybody’s child,” Randall writes — use fresh fruit in this innovative style.
“As an added bonus, this salad is also something of a botany lesson,” she added. “Many people forget that avocados are fruits. Same with tomatoes. This recipe is a tasty reminder.”
Talk about the perfect summer salad.
New School “Fruit” Salad
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
2 pinches of pepper
1⁄4 medium watermelon, preferably seedless
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 avocados, diced
3⁄4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Direction: Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Remove the rind from the watermelon and chop the flesh into 1/2-inch cubes. Combine with the tomatoes and avocados in a serving bowl, and gently toss. Add the feta cheese and the dressing, and toss again.
And here’s an easy recipe for spicy pepper chicken.
Spicy Pepper Chicken
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1⁄3 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (3- to 4 pound) chicken
Directions: Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Mix the cayenne, olive oil, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.
Remove the giblets, neck, and liver packet — anything stuffed in the interior of the chicken. Rinse the chicken inside and out, and pat dry. Put the chicken in a baking dish with low sides. Season it generously with salt and pepper inside and out. Starting at the neck of the chicken, and making sure to break no more of the skin than you have to, rub the oil mixture onto the chicken flesh, including the legs. The whole chicken should appear reddish.
Roast the chicken for 20 minutes to crisp the skin, then turn the heat down to 400 degrees. Continue to roast the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees. The juices should run clear and colorless when you pierce a thigh. This can take another 25 to 40 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and let the chicken rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving.
Chere Dastugue Coen is the author of "Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History," "Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana" and "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana" and co-author of "Magic's in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets." She also writes Louisiana romances under Cherie Claire, including "A Cajun Dream" and "The Letter." Write her at email@example.com.