Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes

Photographer Greg DuPree, Food Styling Torie Cox, Prop Styling Mindi Shapiro

          While most days I want something quick, easy and delicious to make, there are also times when I love to spend an afternoon cooking and when I do, I often turn to a cookbook I haven’t used before. This weekend it was Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes by Todd Richards which won the IACP award for Best Cookbook in America of 2019. It is indeed a soul food cookbook, but the recipes are sophisticated, taking this type of cooking in a different direction than is traditional. Richard’s recipes are organized by ingredients such as corn, tomatoes, melons, stone fruit, berries and roots (as well as other categories such as eggs and poultry, pork and beef) make it easy to pair them with what’s in season.

          If you’re trying to save time in making any of the recipes below, go with pre-made pie crust for the Blueberry Fried Pies. I guess you can also cheat and buy some great fried chicken already made for the Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Waffles, it avoids the mess of frying though you’ll miss out on Richard’s great tasting version. Or you can skip the fried chicken and just make sweet potato waffles which are delicious all by themselves. Though these recipes seem long, once you start cooking, I think you’ll find they really aren’t difficult, just a little more time consuming than throwing hamburgers and un-shucked corn on the grill.

Photographer Greg DuPree, Food Styling Anna Hampton, Prop Styling Thom Driver

          Richards, who was nominated twice for the James Beard Award as the Best Chef of the Southeast, competed on Iron Chef, is originally from Chicago. His culinary heritage stems from classic soul cooking.

“It then progressed forward,” he says.

His mom loved Chinese food and typically ordered yakamein—noodles, broth and pork bell with a soft-boiled egg and scallions. Because his dad was frugal, when they ordered take-out any leftovers in the kitchen had to be used as well. His recipe for Collard Green Ramen which is in the cookbook harkens back to when there were collard greens on the table along with the yakamein.

“It/s a dish I was eating when I was 5, 6 years old,” says. Richards. “The way that I interpreted it is a little bit different because of my background in cooking, but it’s the exact same dish I was eating as a kid.”

His Blueberry Fried Pie has similar roots. Chicago had a Hostess factory and what Richards describes as a “whole Hostess culture.”  He has a vivid memory of tearing the paper off their fried pies and so his recipe is, for him, like being a kid in Chicago again.

‘I interpret this recipe a little bit differently: Instead of cooking the blueberries to mush, you make the liquid and then you put the blueberries inside of it,” says Richards, who is the owner/chef of Richard’s Southern Fried in Atlanta, Georgia. “That way when you bite into the fried pie you get all this fresh blueberry flavor, one that’s not overly sweet. What I’ve done is taken my childhood memories and progressing them to fine-dining dishes.”

Photographer Greg DuPree, Prop Stylist Claire Spollen, Food Stylist Torie Cox

The following recipes are courtesy of Soul by Todd Richards (Oxmoor House, $35).

Blueberry Fried Pies with Meyer Lemon Glaze

Chef’s note: Leftover filling is great on pancakes, waffles, or ice cream. 

Makes about 20 pies

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3⁄4 cup (6 ounces) water

1⁄4 cup (2 ounces) dark rum

1 teaspoon orange zest (from 1 orange)

1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Pinch of kosher salt

1 thyme sprig

4 cups fresh blueberries (about 1 1⁄4 pounds)

Erika Council’s Piecrust (recipe below)

All-purpose flour, for dusting

1 large egg

4 cups (32 ounces) vegetable oil        

Meyer Lemon Glaze (recipe follows)

Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Add 1⁄2 cup of the water, and whisk until combined. Whisk in the rum, orange zest, vanilla bean paste, and salt. Add the thyme sprig. Cook over medium, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from the heat, and fold in the blueberries. Let stand for 30 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme sprig.

Cut the piecrust in half. Refrigerate 1 portion until ready to use. Roll out remaining portion to 1⁄8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into 10 circles with a 4 1⁄2-inch round cookie cutter, re-rolling scraps once. Repeat with remaining dough half.

Spoon about 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of each dough circle. Whisk together the egg and remaining 1⁄4 cup water. Brush the edges of the pies, and fold over so the edges meet. Press the edges together with a fork to seal. Repeat the process with the remaining dough, filling, and egg wash.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium to 375°F. Fry the pies until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook about 2 more minutes. Drain on paper towels, and let cool  20 minutes. Drizzle with Meyer Lemon Glaze.

Serve with: Ice cream, lemon sorbet

Meyer Lemon Glaze

1 cup (about 4 ounces) powdered sugar

2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice

1 to 3 teaspoons heavy cream

Whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl. Whisk in the heavy cream, 1 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Makes 1⁄2 cup

Erika Council’s Piecrust

This basic piecrust is by Erika Council, a talented baker in Atlanta and founder of the blog Southern Soufflé, where she shares Southern Soul food recipes and her family’s legacy. Her grandmother is the legendary Mildred Council, owner of Mama Dip’s, a 40-year-old restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This piecrust recipe can be used for both sweet and savory pies.

Makes enough for 2 (9-inch) piecrusts

3 cups (about 12 3⁄4 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

6 ounces (3⁄4 cup) very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces

1⁄3 cup very cold vegetable shortening

6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse a few times until combined. Add the butter and shortening, and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas, 8 to 12 times.

With the processor running, drizzle 6 tablespoons of the ice water through the food chute, and process until the dough begins to form a ball. (Add up to 2 more tablespoons, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed, to reach desired consistency.)

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface, and shape into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

To use: Cut the dough in half. Roll each half into 1 1⁄8-inch-thick round on a well-floured surface.

Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Waffles

This recipe is as American as apple pie. Yet most every culture has a version of it. I prefer to brine all birds before cooking for best flavor and texture. 

Serves 4

4 cups (32 ounces) water

1 cup (8 ounces) whole buttermilk

6 tablespoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons hot sauce

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons granulated garlic

2 teaspoons onion powder

1 1⁄2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

1 (4-pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces

5 cups (40 ounces) vegetable oil

Seasoned Flour (recipe below)

Sweet Potato Waffles (recipe follows)

Maple syrup

Stir together 4 cups water, buttermilk, and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl; add the chicken pieces to the brine. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 28 hours.

Heat the oil in a deep cast-iron skillet over medium. Remove chicken from the brine, and let any excess liquid drip off; discard the brine.

Dredge chicken in Seasoned Flour to coat; add to the hot oil, 1 piece at a time. Cook, turning every few minutes, until golden and a meat thermometer registers 165°F. Drain on paper towels. Serve chicken on Sweet Potato Waffles with maple syrup.

Sweet Potato Waffles

Makes 4 (8-inch) round waffles.

1 medium-size sweet potato

1⁄4 teaspoon blended olive oil   

2 cups (about 8 1⁄2 ounces) all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (8 ounces) whole milk

1⁄2 cup (4 ounces) whole buttermilk

3 ounces (about 1⁄3 cup) butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1⁄2 teaspoon maple extract

2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Rub the potato with the oil. Bake in the preheated oven until tender, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool for 20 minutes.

Preheat a Belgian waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions. Stir together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Stir together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

Peel and mash the sweet potato and stir into the milk mixture. Stir milk mixture into the flour mixture. Pour about 1⁄2 cup of batter onto hot waffle iron and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions until golden brown.

Serve with: Egg dishes, green salads, braised vegetables   

Seasoned Flour

Every Soul and Southern kitchen has a good all-purpose seasoned flour to use for frying. This will keep for months in a cool, dry place or even longer in the freezer.

Makes about 2 1⁄4 cups

2 cups (about 8 1⁄2 ounces) all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 1⁄2 tablespoons granulated onion

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, and store in an airtight container.