The Spice Carla Hall Uses To Add Meaty Flavor To Vegan Dishes

Carla Hall, a "Top Chef" veteran and former co-host of "The Chew," is often associated with southern cuisine and comfort food. She has written such cookbooks as 2018's "Carla Hall's Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration" and found different strategies to adapt some of her favorite recipes to suit different dietary needs. She herself follows a flexitarian diet and has become well versed at finding meaningful substitutions for some standard ingredients. For instance, her mother and sister don't eat dairy because of issues of high cholesterol so Hall tells Southern Living she turns to coconut milk or almond milk as a swap for sour cream in her cornbread.

Hall may not be a vegan herself, but she clearly knows how to make meatless dishes taste amazing. She has proved that classic soul food can be made vegan without sacrificing flavor and has a trick up her sleeve to accomplish this impressive feat. And lucky for you, this flavor-boosting ingredient may already be in your spice cabinet.

Smoked paprika works like magic

Smoked paprika is a must-have for Hall to enhance many of her plant-based dishes. Regular paprika is made of chiles that have been dried and crushed into a powder and smoked paprika comes from drying these chiles over a fire made with oak wood, which gives the spice its distinctive flavor.

Hall depends on smoked paprika to lend a meaty richness to such dishes as her vegan take on the southern collard greens. Traditionally these greens are cooked with ham hocks, which add both fat and flavor to the dish. As she explains on her website, she uses a generous amount of smoked paprika in the potlikker, or simmering liquid, that she creates for the collards. Hall also uses smoked paprika in place of pork in other vegetable dishes, such as green beans, to provide a hearty, earthy flavor.

Hall even thinks smoked paprika works great with grains. As she explained to Essence, "My grains have been vegan for years. Even at my restaurant my grains were vegan. And I use smoked paprika instead of ham or turkey or smoked chicken."