Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Leah Chase: Down Home Healthy

It seems many of us have diets on our minds these days. The desire to begin the new year resolving to eat less junk food, nibble more fiber, increase HDL (good cholesterol) and lower the "bad" cholesterol (LDL) overwhelms our balance. Is it any surprise that January is Diet Month???

Oh, I've made diet resolutions before. When I think back though I don't ever remember "going on a diet" for health reasons. The deeper I dig into whatever bit of memory I have left, dieting to me was usually a fad or a phase. Fact is, I'm a pretty healthy eater although, I can't say the same for my cooking. How can that be you may ask. Well, I'm not one to substitute anything for butter! I'm very unhappy about the lack of fat left on showcase meat. Bacon has become my buddy! I cover most large pieces with some sort of bacon before roasting, sometimes I use plain old butter. (I think they call this barding:) I use whole milk, eggs and cheese! Oh I'm sure I could go on. My key seems to be eating very little. (minus the mallomars and Hershey's kisses and...and...and...:) Bottom line? A clean bill of health! (as I sit here munching on my miniature Reese's Peanut Butter Cups:) Somethings gotta give before my heart does.

Cooking shows don't help you know. I'm yet to find a "healthy" cooking show that has more to offer in benefits of diet awareness than some of the "healthy" blogs I visit. Off the top of my head, I just read a hilarious post over at Jim's titled Nutritional Value of Baked Stuffed Post. Another  interesting post I happened upon was over at Coco Cooks. Not only is her review most interesting, she's giving away a copy of The Mayo Clinic Diet Book (hurry you have until January 10th)

As a matter of fact, the other night I was so exhausted from unpacking, that I decided to quit early and catch a glimpse of the Iron Chef America: Super Chef Battle episode. All those beautiful vegetables from the White House Garden doused in calories!!! As tempting as that Cauliflower au Gratin oozed try me, I would have preferred a "kicked up" roasted version.

Down Home Healthy

Today is the day the acclaimed "Queen of Creole Cuisine," Leah Chase was born in 1923. (follow that link if you want to see a video of Leah Chase "expertly" frying chicken and cooking up other goodies.) They're from the show In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs which aired on PBS. Leah Chase was also interviewed by The History Makers in 2002.

Does the Dooky Chase Cookbook ring a bell? Leah Chase is Dooky Chase's Star Chef. Down Home Healthy: Family Recipes of Black American Chefs Leah Chase and Johnny Rivers is a gathering of recipes which focuses on enjoyable foods that are "lower in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium; higher in fiber; and promote good health."

I make my bread pudding without butter and with evaporated skim milk and egg whites now. (Ed Note: 2 egg whites equal 1 whole egg yolk in recipes. Don't laugh, but I've been know to use the egg yolks as a shampoo.) Same rich taste, fewer calories and next to no fat. For a delicious sauce, mix cornstarch with a little water and stir it into the hot milk, sugar and seasoning mixture. You don't have to use the traditional butter and flour. ~Leah Chase~

First, an extract about this extraordinary woman from wiki:

Leah Chase is the author of The Dooky Chase Cookbook. Her restaurant, Dooky Chase, was known as a gathering place during the 1960s among many who participated in the Civil Rights movement.

As the owner and chef extraordinaire of the popular Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans, Leah Chase has distinguished herself as a community and civic leader through her dedicated involvement with numerous charities and organizations. The preeminent chef in the Dooky Chase kitchen, Mrs. Chase has established a reputation as one of the best purveyors of Creole cuisine in the nation.

Leah Chase was born in rural Madisonville, Louisiana and moved to New Orleans at the age of 18. After working briefly in a laundry in the French Quarter, she found a job at the Colonial Restaurant on Charter street. It was the first time she had ever seen the inside of a restaurant. In 1946, she married Dooky Chase, Jr., and shortly after entered his family’s restaurant business, which would grow into the present day Dooky Chase. Her husband’s mother was running the restaurant, and as Leah says, “Black people had no other place to go, so she had a captive audience.” Over the years, as Leah’s expertise and popularity grew, she was able to exert more influence upon the cuisine and atmosphere at Dooky Chase. She successfully grafted her country roots, both in ethics and food, to the black Creole tradition of the city, and soon the restaurant became a reflection of Leah herself, and of the black community as a whole.

The Dooky Chase Restaurant was not spared by Hurricane Katrina.

Mrs. Chase (everybody calls her Leah but a real queen deserves more respect) joined her husband in his family restaurant in the 1940s, determined to serve the kind of food she learned to cook at home.  Although it is located in an African American neighborhood and originally catered to blacks, the restaurant now serves African Americans, white Orleanians and tourists, American presidents and other celebrities. The restaurant was wrecked by the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina and was closed for over two years while Mrs. Chase lived in a nearby FEMA trailer. (source)

There's a wonderful interview with Leah Chase about rebuilding the restaurant and its historic significance over at the Creole Folks blog.

"...We played a big part in that Civil Rights movement. We owe that to come back. What we try to tell people is just realize you can go anywhere you want to now. Years ago Duke Ellington came and the only place he could sit down and eat was Dooky Chase. Nat King Cole. Sarah Vaughan. All those people. Now you have many places. I'm so glad. You know what? People remember..."

The Recipes

There are so many recipes to savor in this delightful booklet. It may only be forty-four pages but it is just jammed packed with deliciousness, healthy tips and personal commentary. It was a difficult choice to choose a recipe. I was leaning toward the recipe for Catfish Stew and Rice but when I read Ms. Chase's introduction to New Orleans Red Beans, I just had to include it.

"Monday was laundry day in our house. Laundry day meant red beans and rice to us because we let them cook all day as we washed and starched and dried and ironed the family's clothes. We had plenty of thyme in the garden, so we used lots of that. What we didn't know then was just how Healthy our Monday dinners were. Today's version made without fat, is even healthier. It's just what the doctor ordered."

New Orleans Red Beans

FYI: Elvis Presley would be celebrating birthday #75 on January 8th. See my Quick Links post from last year:) It has his favorite foods:)

1. Creole Queen: Leah Chase (rebuilding Dooky Chase’s Restaurant)
2. Dedication of Leah Chase Louisiana Gallery
3. In the kitchen with Mme Early: black women in restaurants
4. Eating for a Healthy Heart


  1. Louise - there are no bad foods. You should eat guilt free, as long as you practice moderation. Isn't there enough guilt in the world already? What a great story about Leah, too!

  2. Louise -- it's really good how you (and Leah Chase) point out that soul food is not necessarily fatty or unhealthy, quite the contrary in fact. Thanks! Jan

  3. Happy birthday Mrs. Chase! I'm pretty sure the bell ringing in my head is because Virginia Living did an article on her a couple of years ago, but I'm too lazy to look it up and confirm that...

  4. I love this and thank you now I am starving. I too have tried to healthify some of my dishes but being a tried and true southern girl, my bacon and butter and breads aren't going anywhere! I can't wait to explore more of your posts. Love the site and the cooking always brings me peace and comfort it must be from all those years in my Big Mama's kitchen baking and cooking.

  5. Thanks for the interesting variety of sources for healthy food -- good New Year's Diet to all!


  6. My children can recite the mantra by heart: "Go select two veggies from the freezer, one of which must be green!" No dinner is complete without the starch and vegetables, plus bread, to make it nutritious. Since none of my kids are overweight (I am so saddened when I look around at teenagers these days, even more than looking at overweight adults, who have presumably seen "better days"), I presume that my cooking is a healthy diet. And my two sons who room together in SC follow my rules for meals, which warms my heart to no end! Thanks for reminding us that after all the holiday treats, we need to eat healthy again!

  7. There were years where I was "crazy" of trying all kind of diets to lose my weight. At the end, I realized that the most important is not loosing weight but for health concern and the key conclusion is... eating in moderation :)

    Ah, now that you mentioned the Iron Chef America, it's also just showing on our cable TV and I forgot to watch it. I usually watch the Iron Chef Japan.

  8. Great post. Shes a pioneer for Black Chefs. Love the concept of that cookbook. Evaporated milk Im learning is a great low fat substitute in cooking.
    Take it easy on yourself. Im not for deprivation at all. Its all about balance.

  9. Hey there Louise!
    Thanks for linking to my post :) You're sneaky........

    You always create stuff that makes me think. Thanks! Yes there is no substitute for butter, real whole milk real cheese. You just don't get the same flavor if you don't use the real thing. Like you said its all about moderation.

    Kinda like when I want a hamburger. Now it might be healthier to have a turkey burger or a tofu burger, but come on when I want a Hamburger I want a Hamburger. Last time I cooked a turkey I didn't see any red meat. Hey that commercial didn't become famous because it said "Wheres the Turkey?" or "Wheres the Tofu?" If you know what I mean :)

    BTW your Links are fine :)

  10. An interesting book! All foods are good, unless they are industrially produced! A balanced diet is the best!

    Happy New Year!



  11. Louise, thanks for this wonderful story. Living in Europe, I often hear that America has no real cuisine. I always dispute that, pointing several distinct cooking traditions. Creole cuisine is always high on my list.

    Happy Thursday!

  12. I agree, it is the "diet substitutes" that are going to kill us. People have been eating animal fat for millenia.
    Thanks for the introduction to this chef, we don't hear much about her up here.

  13. I've been waiting so long to do some "real" cooking T.W. This is NOT the year to worry. I'll think about it next year:)

    Thanks for dropping by Jan. It's so nice to "meet" you. I'm delighted you enjoyed this post. There is so much more to Leah Chase than Gumbo. Amazing lady!!!

    I do think I came across that article online Channon. Now, I'm sorry I didn't include it. I could have saved you the trip:)

    Hi Stephanie (busymom3) Thanks so much for visiting. You sure do have some schedule!!! I'm so glad you enjoyed your visit. Drop by anytime. Hold on tight to all that bacon and butter. I know I am!!!

    Glad you enjoyed it Mae. Hope you're feeling better:)

    I feel a poem in the making here, Marjie I too was always very conscience of what my kids ate when they were younger. Neither was overweight. I sometimes sent my kids to school with food that was so healthy, the teachers thought I was depriving them. Once when my son "traded" snacks with a schoolmate, I was called down to school to remove him from dancing on his desk. Not something I was accustomed to. Later I found out about the incident and that the teacher actually encouraged the "swap." Once I reminded her of the reason, she never did that again!!! My grandkids are very active and my daughter is very good about what they eat and drink. They have NEVER had soda!!! I'm so glad to see some effort is being made to educate children about what they put in their bodies. If only they could learn to respect their bodies with a healthy diet, I think they may just think twice about other unhealthy situations.

    There's an Iron Chef Japan, Selba? I don't watch too much food TV but I do enjoy Alton Brown, Iron Chef and Chopped. Chopped is my fave. I love to see what the would be's come up with when left with a hodgepodge of ingredients.

    It's a GREAT cookbook Courtney. There were so many tips and tricks I had to leave out all in the name of shorter posts:) I do think I will revisit it again. There are some really interesting personal recipes both from Leah Chase and Johnny Rivers.

    I'm not "sneaky" Jim. As I was reading your post, I realized it fit in quite nicely. Oh yes!!! When I want a Hamburger, I want a REAL hamburger with EVERYTHING that is a hamburger to me. Cheese, Onions, Mushrooms. No pickles or Ketchup. I dislike Ketchup immensely!

    Thanks for popping in Rosa. I can't wait to see what you conger up with your new toy. I'll be by later to check:)

    Happy Thursday to you Kate! So, I'm thinking when it's Thursday in the states it's Thursday in Belgium too? Just wondering:)

    I have had the discussion about American cuisine many many times. When people get really huffy about it, I refer them to any one of my many cookbooks filled with a harvest of true American recipes!!!

  14. I too prefer butter over any of that spread margarine "stuff". Butter had gotten a bad wrap through advertising.

  15. Lovely post, Louise. Thanks for reminding me of a great lady!

  16. I am in love with this post, Louise. Bring on the butter and bacon fat! Come on, they're not the ones killing us...it's those chemical-laden "diet" products that are!

    It's the first time I'm hearing about Leah Chase...but she sounds like an incredible woman, and I wish she could cook for me!

  17. I wouldn't worry about the butter or the bacon just eat moderately! I agree about the blah meat in the meatcases, they remove all the fat. And such a great story about leah chase!

  18. All foods are good and healthy.


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise