Carla Hall Shares Her Must-Have Kitchen Tools, Go-to Dishes for Summer and More

Plus, she shares the surprising ingredient she uses in salad dressings.

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Portrait of Carla Hall on a designed background
Photo: Getty Images / Rich Fury

Whether you recognize her from Top Chef, The Chew or numerous other Food Network shows, chef Carla Hall is known for her soul food cooking, energetic personality and positive attitude. When EatingWell recently got the chance to chat with Hall, we learned all about her favorite kitchen tool, her go-to dishes for summer (all of which I will be making ASAP), what eating well means to her and more.

What Eating Well Means to Hall

For Hall, eating well is about more than food. Instead, it's about taking care of her body, especially as she ages. Hall says, "Eating well means my memory, eating well means my skin, eating well means actual energy and the way that I think," and we couldn't agree more with this well-rounded definition of a healthy lifestyle and diet.

And part of that healthy diet means finding a balance when Hall orders takeout. As she and her husband move from city to city this year for various work projects, Hall says she's been eating out more frequently (Hall's current project is serving as a judge for The UPS Store's "Small Biz Challenge"). While it's a great way to support small businesses like The Chastain in Atlanta (Hall raves about their bacon and egg biscuit), she says she can't enjoy rich, indulgent meals every time she orders out. Instead, she has to think about striking a balance so she's still eating healthy.

Must-Have Kitchen Tools

When asked what kitchen tools she can't live without, Hall's response was immediate: a microplane (buy it: Amazon, $16). Aside from the traditional uses like zesting citrus or grating cheese, Hall also uses her microplane with garlic and even almonds (learn about more uses for a microplane here). In addition to the microplane, Hall says she also needs a peeler, a 7-inch skillet for things like omelets and grilled cheese and a 10-inch pan with high sides that's perfect for one-pot dishes (buy them: Target, $15; Made In, $149).

Go-to Dishes for Summer

As summer approaches, Hall says she already knows what dishes she'll be making for a potluck. The first item on the menu is her Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Hot Sauce Vinaigrette. Hall describes the dish as "a sitting salad," i.e., a salad that gets better the longer it sits. Plus, "it's not going to spoil in the sun," which is perfect for warm-weather gatherings. Best of all, parts of the dish like the black-eyed peas and vinaigrette can be made ahead of time while the tomatoes and cucumbers can be added right before serving to keep things fresh.

In addition to the salad, Hall says she'll also be making her iced tea soda. The refreshing drink combines homemade black tea simple syrup (which is two parts water, one part sugar with two tea bags infused into it) and soda water or seltzer with ice for a cool and tasty beverage. If you want to get creative, Hall recommends adding lemon or orange peel or even a sliver of habanero or scotch bonnet pepper to the simple syrup for a spicy-sweet flavor.

Finally, for dessert, Hall's go-to recipe is her triple lemon cake, which features lemon cake, lemon curd and lemon buttercream. Although she says it is labor intensive to bake, Hall loves the flavor of lemon because it pairs so well with herbs, a flavor combination she thinks more people should try. Whether it's strawberries with basil or melon with tarragon, Hall thinks herbs add "another dimension" without adding more sugar. If Hall doesn't have time to make the lemon cake, she opts for her grandmother's plain pound cake (Want a shortcut? You can try Hall's pound cake for yourself. Buy it: Goldbelly, $65 for a pack of two).

Ingredient Staples in the Kitchen

Hall's love of lemons means she always has the citrus in her fridge. Additionally, she says she always keeps celery, garlic, vinegar and condiments including mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard. For Hall, these three condiments means she "can do any kind of salad dressing, even with the ketchup." With the ketchup, Hall combines it with soy sauce, rice vinegar and a little bit of garlic for a tomato-soy dressing that works well with lettuce, julienned vegetables and cold noodle salads. She also keeps staples like hot sauce and spices like curry, cumin, cayenne pepper, chili flakes and cinnamon stocked in her pantry.

Cooking Advice

According to Hall, one dish that all home cooks should know how to make is roasted chicken. Not only is roasted chicken delicious, but it's sure to impress anyone. In addition to the roasted chicken, Hall says other staples like scrambled eggs and roasted vegetables are other important dishes to know.

For Hall, roasted vegetables come into play frequently when she needs a tasty meal on busy weeknights. To go along with the vegetables, Hall will take advantage of the air fryer to make seasoned chicken breast and a side of brown rice. Hall loves this meal because "it's all passive cooking," which means you have time to focus on other things. While Hall uses a Philips air fryer, she's also a fan of Drew Barrymore's air fryer because of its gorgeous color options (buy it: Williams Sonoma, $200).

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