“I don’t remember by dad ever cooking — just eating!” Laila, 39, tells PEOPLE, from her kitchen in Los Angeles. “He loved soul food, so he loved the greens, the cornbread stuffing, the baked chicken.”
“I remember when I was young, my dad would pick me up from school and take me to the burger joint on the corner,” she recalls. “They knew him there, they’d call out, ‘Hey champ!’ when we walked in. My dad LOVED burgers.”
It wasn’t anything fancy — that wasn’t Muhammad’s style, Laila says — “but the burgers had that good beef that you know they put together by hand and seasoned well, and it was great.”
Those childhood memories inspired Laila to create her own version of her dad’s favorite meal, which she winkingly calls “The Greatest of All Time Burger” in her new cookbook, Food for Life, due out in January.
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Other than the occasional burger, Laila says that her dad was pretty health-conscious to keep up his boxing strength. She adopted that lifestyle too when she entered the ring as a teen.
“I learned that the purpose of food was to nourish my body, because it was going to affect my performance either way,” she says. “I wasn’t going to eat a slice of cake — not because it was going to make me fat, but because the sugar was going to affect me in the boxing ring.”
Laila, a self-taught cook, figured out how to make lighter versions of the soul food recipes that she grew up eating, many of which fill the pages of her book. And those recipes — her stewed chicken in particular — became some of her dad’s favorites.
“It’s the flavors that I actually prepare in my own kitchen for my own family. That I cooked for my father that he ate,” Laila says of her book. “No one else is going to have that.”