Atlanta chef wants ‘to touch people’s hearts’ with soul food cookbook

Fresh Salmon Croquettes and Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad.
© The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food with Global Flavors by Deborah VanTrece, Rizzoli New York, 2021. Images © Noah Fecks but no image may be used, electronically or in print, without written permission from the publisher.

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Fresh Salmon Croquettes and Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad. © The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food with Global Flavors by Deborah VanTrece, Rizzoli New York, 2021. Images © Noah Fecks but no image may be used, electronically or in print, without written permission from the publisher.

Check out recipes from Deborah VanTrece’s new ‘The Twisted Soul Cookbook’

Chef Deborah VanTrece, the chef/owner of Atlanta’s Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, shares some of her most beloved recipes in her first cookbook, “The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors” (Rizzoli New York, $35).

VanTrece, who grew up in Kansas City, traveled the world as a flight attendant, and graduated from culinary school in Atlanta, where she soon learned that the foodways of her family were often considered a footnote.

“Basically they told you soul food existed, and that was kind of it,” VanTrece said, following up with a wry laugh. “I remember one teacher, who actually just turned to me and asked me to talk about it.

“It was strange to me that we spent days on different cultures, and spent such a small amount on soul food. And there was no one there qualified to teach it. For me, that was kind of an awakening. The question was, ‘What’s wrong with our food?’ ‘What’s wrong with the food I grew up with?’”

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Deborah VanTrece, the chef/owner of Atlanta’s Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, is author of "The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, $35). Courtesy of Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

Deborah VanTrece, the chef/owner of Atlanta’s Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, is author of "The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, $35). Courtesy of Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

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Deborah VanTrece, the chef/owner of Atlanta’s Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours, is author of "The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, $35). Courtesy of Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

In “The Twisted Soul Cookbook,” VanTrece writes about a series of eureka moments, when she “became determined to give soul food a higher profile in her cooking and catering.”

Studying Charlie Trotter’s cookbooks, she made the connection between soul food and Southern food, and the food her grandmother and great-grandmother were cooking.

“I was seeing food that I grew up with that he had taken and elevated into these beautiful fine dining dishes, with all kinds of colors, and different ingredients,” she recalled. “That was something that really spoke to me.

“No one was taking the soul food that I grew up with and figuring out ways to present it, where it became what I called art on the plate. And that’s what I decided I wanted to do.”

VanTrece found inspiration in women such as Edna Lewis and Leah Chase, and other chefs who honored African American food with their recipes.

“They were utilizing fresh products, and the best things, and they understood seasonal vegetables, and what to do with them,” she said. “So the knowledge was there all the time, not just in professional chefs, like an Edna Lewis, but all of the black women who were in white women’s kitchens preparing the meals for their families.”

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"The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, $35) by Deborah VanTrece. Courtesy of Noah Fecks

"The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, $35) by Deborah VanTrece. Courtesy of Noah Fecks

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"The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, $35) by Deborah VanTrece. Courtesy of Noah Fecks

For a time, VanTrece wondered if she had a cookbook in her, but finally decided there were plenty of stories to tell, and recipes to share.

“In the broader term, soul food goes across all cultures, and we all have something that touches our soul, and some food that touches our soul,” she said.

Ultimately, VanTrece said she “wanted to touch people’s hearts” with her cookbook. “I wanted to elevate the soul food I grew up with, and marry it with all of the travel, and all of the history, and all of the stories,” she said.

Recently, VanTrece took on a new role as creative director at Twisted Soul, while promoting chef de cuisine Robert Butts to executive chef. With that move, she’s able to take on a bigger role as a mentor, working with several organizations and companies to advocate for minorities in the restaurant business.

“Turning over the kitchen, that was a big deal for me,” she admitted. “But it brought me a lot of pleasure. I didn’t have a mentor. I had my family, and their common sense, more than anything. I figured it out as best I could. I screwed it up a few times. And I want to keep others from screwing it up as bad as I did.

“Because I have been vocal and outspoken about the inequities in the industry, I want to continue to be a bit of an activist, and be a huge mentor to those who need it. That will be the role that I’ll take on a little bit more now — to push the agenda of more women, and more African Americans and people of color, and more restaurants that are owned by people who look like me.”

RECIPES

These recipes from “The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors” by Deborah VanTrece (Rizzoli New York, $35) offer a glimpse into her personal mix of traditional and internationally inspired flavors.

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Buttermilk Dressing is drizzled onto Fresh Salmon Croquettes With Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad in this image from "The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, 2021) by Deborah VanTrece. Courtesy of Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

Buttermilk Dressing is drizzled onto Fresh Salmon Croquettes With Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad in this image from "The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, 2021) by Deborah VanTrece. Courtesy of Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

caption arrowCaption
Buttermilk Dressing is drizzled onto Fresh Salmon Croquettes With Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad in this image from "The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, 2021) by Deborah VanTrece. Courtesy of Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

Fresh Salmon Croquettes With Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad

“My inspiration for this dish is my enduring love for Latin culture and food, specifically Spanish croquetas,” VanTrece says in “The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors.” “Although similar in preparation, they taste entirely different from the salmon croquettes that my grandma made from canned salmon. Of course, the freshness of ingredients is the difference.”

In addition, VanTrece notes that the croquettes can be made smaller and served as hors d’oeuvres.

Fresh Salmon Croquettes With Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 2 pounds skinless salmon fillets, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup Ritz cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup dried breadcrumbs, divided
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
  • 2 teaspoons granulated onion
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Note: See recipes for Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad, and Buttermilk Dressing below.
  • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and red bell pepper and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Set aside to cool slightly.
  • In a large bowl, gently fold together the salmon, cooked onions, celery, red bell pepper, cracker crumbs, 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs, the mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, dill, capers, eggs, seasoned salt, granulated onion, granulated garlic, Old Bay, and cayenne until well combined.
  • Place the remaining 1/2 cup breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl.
  • With your hands, divide the salmon mixture into 6 patties. Dredge each patty in the breadcrumbs, patting to help the crumbs adhere, and transfer to a shallow dish.
  • Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes to firm.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Heat the olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the patties to the skillet and cook for 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Transfer the browned croquettes to a baking dish and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until firm to the touch. To serve, divide the pea and radish salad among 6 plates and top each serving with a salmon croquette. Drizzle buttermilk dressing over each croquette, and pass the remaining dressing around the table. Serves 6 as a main course; 12 as hors d’oeuvres.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 6: 472 calories (percent of calories from fat, 50), 36 grams protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 26 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 188 milligrams cholesterol, 765 milligrams sodium.
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Chef Deborah VanTrece prefers watermelon radishes in her Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad, which can be found in "The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, 2021). Courtesy of Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

Chef Deborah VanTrece prefers watermelon radishes in her Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad, which can be found in "The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, 2021). Courtesy of Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

caption arrowCaption
Chef Deborah VanTrece prefers watermelon radishes in her Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad, which can be found in "The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, 2021). Courtesy of Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad

“This is a pretty spring salad,” VanTrece says in her new cookbook. “Fresh mint brightens all of the flavors with its spicy-sweet fragrance. Watermelon radishes are my radish of choice for this recipe; they are peppery with a hint of sweetness and add great balance.”

Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen peas (thawed, if frozen), blanched and drained, then chilled
  • 6 slices applewood smoked bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 cup thinly sliced radishes
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, plus additional leaves for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt and ground white pepper
  • In a large bowl, combine the peas, bacon, radishes, red onion, chopped fresh mint, and lemon zest, toss gently with the mayonnaise and honey. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with whole mint leaves. Serves 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 195 calories (percent of calories from fat, 54), 8 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 12 grams total fat (4 grams saturated), 19 milligrams cholesterol, 324 milligrams sodium.

Buttermilk Dressing

“This dressing is so universally loved, it doesn’t need an explanation,” VanTrece says in “The Twisted Soul Cookbook.” “The extra herbs just add a notch to the flavor factor. It’s not only great for salads, you can use it atop salmon, fried green tomatoes, or as a dip for chicken wings.”

Buttermilk Dressing
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon granulated onion
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • In a food processor, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, salt, granulated garlic, granulated onion, and pepper and process until smooth. Pulse in the fresh parsley, oregano, thyme, and chives until just combined. The dressing should be creamy but with a pleasing texture from the herbs. Makes about 4 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per tablespoon: 23 calories (percent of calories from fat, 70), trace protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams total fat (trace saturated fat), 3 milligrams cholesterol, 75 milligrams sodium.
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Aunt Lucille's 7UP Pound Cake brings with it happy memories for chef Deborah VanTrece, author of "The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, 2021). Courtesy of Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

Aunt Lucille's 7UP Pound Cake brings with it happy memories for chef Deborah VanTrece, author of "The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, 2021). Courtesy of Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

caption arrowCaption
Aunt Lucille's 7UP Pound Cake brings with it happy memories for chef Deborah VanTrece, author of "The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors" (Rizzoli New York, 2021). Courtesy of Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

Credit: Noah Fecks

Aunt Lucille’s 7UP Pound Cake

“This is a pound cake, and the only cake I can ever remember my Aunt Lucille ever making,” VanTrece says in her first cookbook, “The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors.” “For me, it will always carry cherished memories of celebrations and good times. This is the kind of recipe that reminds you how good old-fashioned cakes were (and can be). Definitely use 7UP for this recipe because it has a high level of carbonation that helps the cake to rise, and gives it a brighter, fresher lemon-lime flavor than other sodas.”

Note: For best results, VanTrece swears by Baker’s Joy No-Stick Baking Spray with Flour and recommends a smoother Bundt pan for less chance of sticking.

Aunt Lucille’s 7UP Pound Cake
  • For the pound cake:
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups cake flour, sifted, divided
  • 3/4 cup 7UP, divided
  • For the 7UP glaze:
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons 7UP
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime zest
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Spray a 10-inch Bundt or tube pan with nonstick cooking spray (see note above).
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and granulated sugar for 5 to 7 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the lemon zest, lemon extract, and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Add the flour one-third at a time and mix on low speed, alternating with 1/4-cup portions of the 7UP, mixing well after each addition.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 30 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and lift the pan off of the cake. Let the cake cool on the rack.
  • While the cake cools, make the glaze: In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, 7UP, and lime zest until smooth.
  • Using a 6-inch wooden skewer or toothpick, poke holes in the top of the cooled cake. Slowly spoon the glaze over the cake, letting it run into the holes and over the surface.
  • Set the cake aside for 10 minutes before serving to let the glaze absorb into the cake and give it a lightly lacquered finish.
  • The cake can be made well in advance, wrapped tightly in plastic, and frozen for up to 4 months. It will keep moist and can be pulled out to thaw several hours before serving. It’s great served alone or with ice cream or fresh fruit compote. Serves 12 to 16.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 12: 598 calories (percent of calories from fat, 38), 6 grams protein, 89 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 25 grams total fat (15 grams saturated), 138 milligrams cholesterol, 36 milligrams sodium.

Recipes excerpted from “The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food With Global Flavors,” © 2021 by Deborah VanTrece. Reproduced by permission of Rizzoli New York. All rights reserved.

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