Preparing For Summer With Celebrity Chef Carla Hall

Celebrity chef Carla Hall, a former contestant on the TV reality show Top Chef, drops by the Tell Me More studio to share her favorite easy-to-prepare summer recipes. She also offers guest host Allison Keyes tips on how to enjoy healthy eating.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, and that means it's time to take out the grill and fire it up, fire it up. Today we're going to be talking about a few new takes on some classic cookout fare. So put down those beef patties and your great aunt's potato salad recipe, and listen up. Our guide on this new culinary journey is chef Carla Hall.

She's the owner of Alchemy Catering in Washington, D.C., but you might know her better as one of the finalists on season five of Bravo's hit TV show "Top Chef" yay - where she was perhaps best known for always cooking with love. Chef Carla is in our Washington, D.C., studios with us right now. Welcome.

Mr. CARLA HALL (Chef; Owner, Alchemy Catering): Hi, Allison. Thanks for having me.

KEYES: Absolutely. You're even dressed for Memorial Day, in your pale green. It looks great.

Ms. HALL: Thank you.

KEYES: So.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: We were talking about food, obviously, and for me that usually means some burnt hot dogs, some burnt hamburgers, maybe some chips. But you have a different take on the burger.

Ms. HALL: I have a different take on the burger, but there's still a place in people's hearts for those burnt hot dogs. People still want those, sometimes, on Memorial Day. But for this Memorial Day, I've taken some old favorites and re-tweaked them. And I've taken turkey burgers, but instead of doing just regular turkey burgers, sometimes you want some oompah - you want some pizzazz in your patty. So I've done a Persian turkey burger.

KEYES: What makes it Persian? Because I guess when I think of turkey burgers, I've had some good ones, but a lot of the time they're kind of bland.

Ms. HALL: Well, see, that's the thing. And I think healthy doesn't mean nasty.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HALL: You know, if it's healthy and you don't want to eat it, it really doesn't help you. So, I've added some garlic and cumin and mint and cilantro and - which is making this burger really yummy. And you do have to add in a little bit of oil because if you put that burger on the grill and there's no fat in it, it's going to stick. It's going to make you mad. And the rest of the day, you're just not going to have a good time.

KEYES: And your burger will be all broken up. When you say oil, you mean olive oil or...

Ms. HALL: You can use olive oil inside the actual burger, not on the grill necessarily. You do need that, but you need to put some oil back into the meat.

KEYES: Should your cilantro be fresh - and aren't you impressed that I know what cilantro is? Hah.

Ms. HALL: Allison, I'm so impressed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HALL: Because before we started, you told me that they had the backup turkey for you at Thanksgiving dinner.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Oh, my mother's going to say oh, no.

Ms. HALL: That's OK, Mom. We all have those moments.

I actually would prefer fresh herbs. Now, there are some people who don't like cilantro. So if you do not like cilantro, don't use it. You know, a recipe is a guide, and I love the fact that these burgers were made from my recipe - and then the person who makes it makes them their own. And that's the important thing.

KEYES: So you can add anything you'd like to add with it.

Ms. HALL: Yeah.

KEYES: Can you do a different preparation than grilling these? Can you make them in a pan or do them in the microwave?

Ms. HALL: Mm-hmm. You can make them in the pan. I'm not a fan of the microwave because I believe there's flavor in the brown. And so when you sear a piece of meat or tofu or whatever, that caramelization imparts flavor. So I actually wouldn't use a microwave. But you could broil them in the oven.

KEYES: OK.

Ms. HALL: You could sear them in a pan - you know, bring home the bacon and start it up in a pan. OK. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HALL: Yes, there you don't have to just grill.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Question, because I guess when I think of burgers, especially on Memorial Day, I guess I'm thinking of those huge packages of the store-bought buns, and people are fighting over them at the supermarket. And this is pita instead. Don't you have to have a bun for a burger?

Ms. HALL: Absolutely not. You don't have to have a bun. Our thing is all about taking the thing that you knew and that you grew up on, and reworking it for your current sensibilities. So bread - if you don't want the bread, you can have an open face or just on a salad, if you want. Because the thing is, we want you to have an experience. I want you to eat this burger and feel like you've traveled.

Yes, it's Memorial Day, but I want you to feel like you've traveled and you have something special.

KEYES: So we're sitting somewhere with incense, with cool buildings in the background and...

Ms. HALL: Yes, exactly.

KEYES: ...some stars in the sky.

Ms. HALL: You know, on some cushions and, you know, maybe not with a pipe.

KEYES: And you still just make these old-fashioned, the way you make a big ball and smoosh them a little bit.

Ms. HALL: Yeah. And patty it. Yeah. And you know, one of the things and, you know, people think that they know how to make burgers, but you want them to cook, you want them to cook through. But sometimes, I will make an indentation in the middle so that it doesn't puff up in the middle and you end up with a burger that's smaller than your bun. That's one of my pet peeves.

KEYES: Right?

Ms. HALL: You know, I so don't want a hockey puck in the middle of my bun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HALL: And so - like, these are beautiful - if you all could see them. They're the perfect size, and then the pitas are punched out with a cookie cutter. They're perfect. So, you can do...

KEYES: And the cucumber is a very bright, pretty green.

Ms. HALL: Yeah.

KEYES: You would think it was a pickle.

Ms. HALL: You would think it was a pickle.

KEYES: Because I kind of think that cucumbers should be pickles, frankly. But...

Ms. HALL: I love fresh cucumbers on my sandwiches.

KEYES: OK. Should we taste these? I think we should.

Ms. HALL: I think we should.

KEYES: OK.

Ms. HALL: Let's dig in.

KEYES: Yay.

(Soundbite of eating)

KEYES: Mm.

Ms. HALL: Mm.

KEYES: The yogurt-cucumber sauce is lovely. What's in that?

Ms. HALL: You've got a little bit of cumin, garlic, of course the cucumber and the yogurt. And if you don't like the sour taste of the yogurt, then you can mix in a little bit of light sour cream.

KEYES: Mm-hmm. Excuse our chewing. But if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes, and I'm talking with Chef Carla Hall about a few new ideas for your Memorial Day cookout. Now I really am chewing.

So for many of us, it wouldn't be Memorial Day without potato salad. But is it your grandma's potato salad - or is there a new way to do this?

Ms. HALL: You know, my grandma made potato salad - and I'm from Nashville, Tennessee, home of the Grand Ole Opry and the Titans. So we made potato salad with pickles, a little relish, some egg, you know, mayo - yummy. But the thing is one, sometimes you're going to be outside and you want to be careful about using mayo and having the...

KEYES: Right.

Ms. HALL: ...potato salad sit out in the hot sun.

KEYES: So, what is it that you do with your potato salad that makes it different? And is it healthier?

Ms. HALL: Well, what I do, I do a peasant potato salad. And what that means, to me, is throw whatever vegetables you like into the potato salad, and then I use a yummy vinaigrette. So this is also a great way to use seasonal vegetables that you found at the market, like green beans; you can use peppers; you can use peas. But for this potato salad, just imagine little green beans cut into rounds.

KEYES: When you say cut into rounds...

Ms. HALL: So, you have the long pole, so you are slicing them into little circles.

KEYES: OK.

Ms. HALL: I mean, OK, it takes a long time. But OK, maybe...

KEYES: Because you saw my raised eyebrow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HALL: For those of you who can't see, Allison is looking at me like, what? How long is that going to take?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: And do you have a knife that's going to do it?

Ms. HALL: Right. Exactly. So what you can do, actually - to that point - is when you fresh beans and you snap them into like, one-inch pieces, OK? And then you blanch them in salted water. You can add carrots. You can add olives, and all of these wonderful, different flavors. And then you do a vinaigrette. I think for this recipe - and you'll see on the website - I did a shallot vinaigrette. But you can add all these herbs to your potato salad.

And it's just interesting. And then the thing that I love about it, with every bite it tastes different, depending on what is on your fork.

KEYES: So for you, Carla - Chef Carla - what is the most essential thing for Memorial Day? What is the thing that must be on your grill for that day?

Ms. HALL: Good food.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Well, duh. But is there a particular kind of good food?

Ms. HALL: I think - for me, I like to have a variety. You know, and honestly for me - and if you all could see these beautiful burgers that are only like, two inches in diameter, I want to...

KEYES: They look kind of like sliders - for the people that are hip to White Castle - but a light kind of brown sliders.

Ms. HALL: Exactly. I think you should think about your portions. And one, because you just don't want to fill up like that and just overeat. But two, because you do want to have a little bit of this and a little bit of that. So as the person who is cooking, if you can think about that before you get to the grill and portion your chicken, portion your fish, portion your burgers so that people can eat around your buffet without feeling overstuffed, I think that's important. Think about flavors, too, just the oompah. It doesn't have to be salt. It can be fresh herbs. It can be dried herbs. Just give the oompah.

KEYES: Something surprising that'll make people go, man, that was some good barbecue.

Ms. HALL: Exactly. Create a food memory.

KEYES: So, what are you having for your cookout? Are you doing a cookout?

Ms. HALL: Oh, Allison, now my eyebrow's going up.

KEYES: See, wait, for you all that can't see, she's giving me the same look I gave her. I'm a little sad about that.

Ms. HALL: Well, if somebody's having a party, because I'm a caterer, I end up working on these holidays. But I'm actually going to two parties. So I get the day off, and other people get to cook for me. OK, this is when I can put in my requests. OK, so I would like some two-inch sliders - these turkey burgers here are really nice - and that peasant potato salad. You can go online and get that recipe. That's what I would like for you to make for me.

KEYES: All righty. So Chef Carla Hall - who is not inviting us to her house, sadly - is the owner of Alchemy Catering.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: And she was also a finalist of Bravo's TV show "Top Chef: Season Five." Thank you so much and happy Memorial Day, and we're going to be eating some more of this food.

Ms. HALL: Oh, we're so going to eat some more of this. Thank you for having me, Allison. This was fun.

KEYES: Absolutely. If you'd like to find recipes for Persian turkey burgers with cucumber-yogurt sauce and peasant potato salad, go to our Web site, NPR.org, click on TELL ME MORE, and it'll be on the programs menu - with cool pictures and everything.

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Peasant Potato Salad

By Carla Hall

(Makes about 6 cups)

3 cups assorted potatoes, 1/2" dice (Yukon, purple, red bliss, or fingerling), about 2 pounds

1/2 cup blanched green beans, cut into 1/4" rounds

1/2 cup sweet peppers (red, yellow and/or orange), 1/4" dice

1/4 cup kalamata olives, slivered

1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs (parsley, thyme, tarragon and or basil)

1 recipe shallot vinaigrette

Directions:

1. Cook potatoes in generously salted water until tender. Rinse and cool on sheet pan.

2. While potatoes are cooking, prepare vinaigrette and vegetables.

3. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, vegetables, olives, scallions and herbs. Toss gently to combine. Drizzle enough dressing to coat potatoes and vegetables. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Chill or serve room temperature.

Shallot Vinaigrette

1 small shallot, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup rice wine or champagne vinegar

3/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Vinaigrette preparation:

In a blender or food processor, add shallots, garlic, Dijon and vinegar. Process until smooth. Slowly pour in oil while blender is running to create an emulsion. Season with salt and pepper.

Persian Turkey Burgers on Pita with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

By Carla Hall

Chef Carla Hall's Persian Turkey Burgers i i

hide captionPersian Turkey Burgers

Emily Ochsenschlager/NPR
Chef Carla Hall's Persian Turkey Burgers

Persian Turkey Burgers

Emily Ochsenschlager/NPR

1 3/4 pounds coarsely ground turkey breast meat (or thigh meat if you can spare the calories)

2 tbsp vegetable or canola oil

1 tsp kosher salt

1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

2 tsp fresh mint, chopped or ½ tsp dried

2 tsp fresh cilantro, chopped or ½ tsp dried

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp lime zest

1 tsp lime juice

3 of each: pocketless pita, punched out with 2" cookie cutter

Za'tar (2 tablespoons dried thyme, 1 tablespoon sumac, 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 teaspoon table salt)

Olive oil

1 recipe cucumber yogurt sauce

Garnish: diced tomato and diced cucumber

Directions:

1. Prepare turkey mixture: combine all ingredients and gently toss. Test for seasoning by cooking a small portion. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

2. Shape patties into 2" rounds. Sear in skillet until done.

3. Prepare pita: brush rounds with olive oil and sprinkle with za’tar seasoning. Grill or toast rounds just until warm.

4. Serve burgers on pita with cucumber yogurt sauce. Garnish with chopped cucumbers and diced tomatoes.

Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

1/2 European cucumber, finely diced (not peeled)

1/2 cup yogurt

1/2 cup sour cream

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon lime zest

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Set aside 1/4 cup of cucumber for garnish.

2. Combine all ingredients at least 1 hour before serving.

Cooking spray directions:

1. Combine all the spices and set aside.

2. Combine the turkey, apple and oil. Mix well. Add in the spice mix and thoroughly combine.

3. Spray nonstick skillet with cooking spray and saute until browned on both sides and cooked through.

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