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Wheeler del Torro talks healthy soul food, plus recipes that won't kill you


Fellas: Start cooking in an outfit like this, and any and all technical mishaps will be overlooked.

In the aftermath of this whole Paula Deen diabetes "shocker," the one solid message we can come away with is this: crunchy, delicious, fried stuff isn't exactly the best thing for you. Neither is lard. Or doughnut-burgers.

Bummer. But we all knew that was coming. Who's the guy in the tux?

That, my friends, is infectiously passionate chef Wheeler del Torro, best known as the mastermind behind vegan ice creamery 3 Scoops in Brighton and host of pop-up restaurants all over the globe. Just in time for Black History Month, del Torro is unleashing his healthy soul food pop-up restaurant, Fillet of Soul, on Boston during the month of February.

"I had a lot of clients complaining that they were missing out on real soul food, which is unfortunately a lot of deep-fried stuff," del Torro tells me over the phone. "They were all trying to lose weight and eat healthier would contact me and say, ‘You're supposed to be this great vegan genius, come up with something.'"

Nothing like peer--or client--pressure to get the creative juices going. Soon he had adapted a roster of soul food into a guilt-free ode to fresh ingredients and health-conscious eaters. Where tradition dictates chicken and waffles, del Torro goes for faux chicken and waffles. Healthier frying oils take the place of lard, a four-cheese mac & cheese features soy cheese, and cleaned up versions of collard greens and black-eyed peas make the cut as well.

His goal, he explains, is to introduce soul food rookies to a revamped version of the beloved cuisine. Diners will be able to call in and place orders with del Torro, and a delivery service will run it right to your door.

When he asks me what I classify as "soul food," I throw out the classics, imagining a muggy Southern afternoon of cooking in the kitchen--fried chicken, lemonade, collard greens, chocolate pie. He agrees with me, but adds that the whole point of soul food extends past the plates, and has little to do with the actual dishes themselves.

"It's about the people you cook with and cook for. It's really about love and sharing and making something together," he says. "It shows that you're going to do something with your hands, and shows you really care."

With the internet, people are stepping away from interacting with each other," he continues. "I think one of the bases for soul food was to get people together and share around the table."

Del Torro, who grew up bouncing between New York City and London, is no stranger to bringing people together around the world. He's taken his pop-ups, which began as impromptu dinner parties thrown by his teenaged self, from Paris to Tokyo and back again. Time and again, good ol' fashioned Southern cooking charmed his dinner guests.

"I think a lot of people are looking at how African Americans were able to create comfort food from scraps and stuff that other people would throw out," he says. "A lot of people right now are turning to soul and comfort food because people are having to learn how to be scrappy and tough it out."

Coinciding with Fillet of Soul will be del Torro's Dining in the Dark events, hosted at 3 Scoops, where he gets a little fancy and throws around some high-tech foodie science projects.

"99% of the things I do are vegan, but I also work with other chefs and do collaborations. My goal is to get people to try things they wouldn't always necessarily try," he says. "Yesterday, I got invited to a culinary thing where they were having things like ox cheek and crocodile meat. Man, there are so many cool veggies out there, and things we can do with technology where you can make something really great."

Below are two recipes straight from del Torro's vegan soul artillery. Cozy up to the stove with someone you love.

Collard Greens

2 large bunches of collard greens

1 tablespoon seasoned salt

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 hot peppers, diced

1 fresh clove of garlic, minced

1 large onion, diced

2 tablespoons of vegan margarine

1/2 cube vegetarian vegetable broth

Franks RedHot (I put that **** on everything)

Vegetable, olive, or sesame oil for sauté

 

Sauté garlic, onion, hot peppers, and salt in oil over medium heat until onions begin to appear translucent. Add sautéed mixture to a large pot.

Add approximately 3 quarts of water, adjusting as needed for the size of your collard bunches. Bring water to a boil, and mix in broth and black pepper. Reduce heat to simmer while you prepare the greens.

Wash greens thoroughly. Remove stems by tearing them leaves from top to bottom, away from the stems. Arrange the leaves in stacks of 8-10. Roll the leaves up and slice them into bite sized strips, about 1".

Add the greens to the pot.  Add margarine and Frank's Red Hot to taste. Cover pot and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Preparation time: Prep 20 minutes, Cook 60 minutes

 

Fried Chicken

Dry Jerk Rub*

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour


4 tablespoons cornmeal 


1/2 cup water


2 tablespoons baking powder


1 pound mock chicken (try Healthy Chicken from May Wah Healthy Vegetarian Food)

3 1/2 cups vegetable oil

Vegan margarine

*Homemade Dry Jerk Rub: Combine equal amounts (usually a teaspoon of each) of chili powder, cayenne, chives, onion flakes, salt, coriander, ginger, black pepper, allspice, cloves. Grind until you have a fine powder.

 

Melt margarine in a small bowl. Brush on chicken. Place chicken in a plastic bag with rub and shake. The rub should coat the surface of the chicken.

Mix together the flour and cornmeal in a deep bowl.  In a separate bowl, place 1/2 cup water.

Add 1/3 cup of the flour mixture to the bowl of water and stir. Add the baking powder to the dry flour mixture and mix.

Dip chunks of the chicken into the batter, then dredge each piece of chicken into the flour mixture and coat.

Fry chicken pieces in hot oil on medium-high heat in a large skillet or deep fryer until crispy and golden brown, turning as needed.

Makes 4 servings

Preparation time: 25 minutes. Cook 10 minutes

 

3 Scoops is located at 403 Washington Street in Brighton. 617.987.0999 or www.3scoopsboston.blogspot.com for more information. For more info on Wheeler del Torro, visit www.wheelerdeltorro.com.

 

 

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