The Biggest Misconception People Have About Soul Food, According To Tanya Holland - Exclusive

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If your experience with "soul food" has been limited to fried chicken with biscuits or sauce-smothered pork, then there is a whole world of delicious and nutritious cuisine that's never made its way to your plate. So says Tanya Holland, guest judge on this season's "MasterChef," who is the founder of the Oakland, California-based soul food restaurant, Brown Sugar Kitchen. She also has her own TV show, "Tanya's Kitchen Table," on the OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, per OWN.

"[People think] that it's heavy and it's fat — that it's bad for you," Holland told Mashed in an exclusive interview. "The origins are not very protein-centric because that wasn't affordable," she added, referring to the history of how this cuisine was developed, in the homes of African Americans living in the South over generations (via New York Times). "So the protein was really more of an accent to the vegetables or the beans or the rice or the potatoes." Indeed, Holland cooks often with vegetables from her own garden. "We have squash and cucumbers and tomatoes and lots of herbs. And for me, that's just a great summer simplicity," she said. "Making a cucumber tomato salad, with some red onions and light vinegar, was really one of my mom's staple condiments at the table. So it definitely sticks with me."

These are the soul food dishes home cooks get wrong, according to Tanya Holland

Be honest: When you eat soul food, do you pile your plate high with cornbread, biscuits, and chicken, but go light on the collard greens? That may be because you never experienced this soul food staple the way it's supposed to be prepared, Holland pointed out. This can happen in particular with plant-based dishes. "There's so many ingredients that people haven't had the right way that they say they don't like! Like I've had people say, 'I don't like sweet potatoes or yams,' and then they have mine and they like them," she said. "And the same with black eyed peas. If they're cooked for a long period of time, they might taste really too dirty and too earthy." The right spices and cooking technique makes all the difference, Holland added. "So, having any of the ingredients cooked the right way could really change people's minds about them," she explained.

You can avoid these mistakes by educating yourself about the right way to cook soul food — Holland has written several cookbooks (via Amazon) — and also by taking tastes while you're cooking to make sure you're flavoring it right. "I mean, you have to taste as you go along," Holland said. "You just have to taste your food. I just witness so many new cooks just not tasting their food."

Catch chef Tanya Holland on this season of "MasterChef" on FOX.