Carla Hall wants people to travel the globe in their kitchens — and creative use of seasonings is the ticket. Her latest book, Carla's Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes From Around the World (Atria, 2014), promises (in the words of the front flap) to turn "your favorite go-to dish into a culinary trip around the world."
Hall, co-host of ABC's The Chew, wrote the book with Genevieve Ko. She opens with a spice chart, outlining the important herbs, spices and aromatics used by the world's major cuisines. Her global theme was born out of the 2012 presidential election, where the Washington, D.C.-based Hall recalls politicians spending much of their time emphasizing the "smallest differences" between people. Her book, on the other hand, focuses on what people have in common, namely a desire for delicious, comforting food, and how spices, herbs and other aromatics can help transform a familiar dish into something new.
Take her Hungarian-style chicken with sour cream and paprika. "This is the dish where this whole book started," the recipe head note reads, and the dish is based on the chicken with milk gravy that Hall's grandmother used to make. And while the flavors of the finished dishes will be different, the recipes share many of the same cooking techniques.
Hall doesn't stop with chicken. Peas are buttered and seasoned with tarragon in the French fashion, mashed British-style and spooned up in an Indian chili, pea and coconut chutney. Eggplant stars in an Italian caponata, a Chinese hot and sour stir-fry and an Indian potato and tomato stew. Cornmeal turns up as Southern cheese grits, Italian polenta and a Jamaican porridge.
"I want you to explore some of these cuisines," says Hall, a former competitor on Bravo's Top Chef. Hall says people tend to be afraid of spices — too hot, they fear — and she wants readers to feel at ease enough to play with the spices and herbs called for in the recipes.
"I want you to feel you are making something awesome," she says.