Tanya Holland is the queen of West Coast soul food and a genius cook. Her latest cookbook celebrates the rich past and present of Black foodways in the West—and dishes up super satisfying soul food recipes.

Vegan Winter Greens Stew
Photo reprinted with permission from Penguin Random House

Have you ever made a dish that feels like life itself? That fills the kitchen with the aromas of simmering vegetables and the promise of wintery comfort? That puts you in a meditative state as you chop, stir, knead, simmer, and taste? That fills your body and soul with warmth and nourishment and makes you glad to be alive? Tanya Holland’s vegetable and winter dumpling soup is one such dish. And it’s vegan. We can thank chef Holland for this gift, and for all the gifts of her new cookbook California Soul: Recipes from a Culinary Journey West

Simply put, chef Tanya Holland is the queen of West coast soul food. The accolades and honorifics are many: Michelin Bib Gourmands, frequent topper of top restaurant lists, fierce Top Chef competitor, host of the Food Network series the Melting Pot. Honorifics aside, Holland has been a consistent deliverer of deliciousness at all of her Bay Area restaurants, from the multiple iterations Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland and San Francisco to Town Fare at the Oakland museum. While she was busy evolving this mini restaurant empire, she also was honing her skills as an educator and entertainer. Her first book New Soul Cooking, penned when she was chef at Berkeley’s now shuttered Le Theatre, laid out a formula of forward-looking, lighter soul food some two decades before it became a nationwide trend. She went on to write yet another book, and hosted the podcast Tanya’s Table, on which she interviewed the celebrities that frequented her spots. 

Tanya Holland in the Garden
Chef Tanya Holland in the garden

Photo reprinted with permission from Penguin Random House

Like many casualties of the pandemic and the economy, the Brown Sugar restaurants are sadly closed, but like a gift, a new book that builds upon her influential oeuvre has arrived—and it’s a beauty. California Soul: Recipes from a Culinary Journey West is a synthesis of all the thoughtful cooking, personal and cultural backstory, heartfelt hospitality, and damn fine cooking Holland is known for. We learn not only about Holland’s move to Oakland, where she found a city and culture more welcoming to an ambitious Black female chef than anywhere she’d been back east but also the broader context of Black foodways that preceded her. 

You will find California-ready versions of soul food, such as black-eyed pea dip (spiked with smoked paprika and fresh thyme) and po’ boys (made with fried artichokes) as well as profiles of Black farmers, winemakers, and food businesses, along with “historical detours” that chronicle Black culinary history in the West—which make the volume as much a photojournalistic record as a cookbook.

While I’d long been an admirer of Holland’s career arc, it wasn’t until a chilly winter night in Oakland a few years ago that I had the honor of eating at Brown Sugar Kitchen and getting a taste of Holland’s special touch. Sure enough she was there. I asked her what a hungry and cold diner should order, and without hesitation she told me to get the oxtails and collard greens and a glass of red wine and, of course, she was right. In this excerpt from the book we’re happy to share with you a recipe that delivers all that comfort first hand.

Vegan Winter Greens Stew with Herb Dumplings

Vegan Winter Greens Stew

“This vegan play on chicken and dumplings is perfect for a wintry meal,” explains Tanya Holland. “The body of the stew is hearty, with bold round flavors and a slight kick from the mustard and lemon. The aromatic, airy herb dumplings are ideal for soaking up the delicious broth. It’s like a comforting bowl of braised greens with extra veggies and dumplings to make it a meal.”

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