Cookbook cover for Lighten up, y'all

LIGHTEN UP, Y’ALL: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome

Virginia Willis Angie Mosier

Ten Speed Press

March 2015

ISBN: 978-1607745730

Sample Recipe
Request a Copy


Virginia Willis is the author of the acclaimed cookbooks Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all. She writes the popular column Down-Home Comfort for and is a contributing editor to Southern Living. She lives in Atlanta, GA.

A mouth-watering collection of recipes for classic Southern comfort food—including chicken and gravy, slow-cooked greens, macaroni and cheese, and chocolate brownies—made lighter, healthier, and completely guilt-free.

Virginia Willis is one of the most respected authorities on Southern cooking—so when she decided to lighten up her diet, she wanted to do it without sacrificing any of the flavor or richness that makes Southern food so appealing. The result is LIGHTEN UP, Y’ALL, a collection of easy-to-make, chef-approved recipes for all the Southern favorites. Willis’ recipes for Bourbon Grilled Pork Chops, Garlic Chicken and Greens with Cornmeal-Herb Dumplings, and Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage Gravy prove that Southern food can be both delicious and healthy, while family-favorites like Big Rich Texas Sheet Cake will keep everyone happy.

Crab and Celery Rémoulade Wraps

Makes about 2 cups to make 16 wraps


Rémoulade is a fairly mild classic French mayonnaise-based sauce much like tartar sauce, but in Louisiana where I grew up, they kickit up a notch with paprika and a dose of cayenne pepper. I’ve lightened up the base and included a bit of horseradish for flavor, but not too much so it won’t overpower the crab. This sauce is addictive and would be equally scrumptious with grilled shrimp or fish. Just remember, a dab will do ya!

Since childhood, I have loved crabbing. While vacationing on the coast, we’d cast nets baited with chicken necks off the dock and wait for the hungry crabs to swim in. Blue crabs are the classic Southern choice for this dish, but any sustainable lump crab meat will do.

2 tablespoons plain 2 percent Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 stalks celery, sliced sharply on the diagonal into 1/8-inch thick pieces
1 tablespoon freshly grated or prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound lump crab, picked over for shells and cartilage
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 heads butter leaf lettuce, for accompaniment

In a large bowl, stir together the yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard, celery, horseradish, parsley, shallot, garlic, lemon zest and juice, hot sauce, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Add the crab and fold together as gently as possible. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

To serve, spoon a tablespoon or so of the rémoulade into the lettuce cups and serve immediately.

Calories 19 Fat .6 g Carbs 2 g Fiber .4 g Protein 1 g

Sweet Potato Gratin with Herb Crumble

Serves 8


Earthy, rich sweet potatoes are one of fall’s most delicious vegetables and pair wonderfully with pecans, one of fall’s most delicious nuts. You’ll be shocked when you take a bite of this dish. Everyone always assumes they will be hit with a rush of sugar, and yet this sweet potato dish is distinctively full-flavored and savory, a welcome departure from typical marshmallow-topped and bourbon-drenched sweet potato dishes. This recipe utilizes whole wheat pastry flour, which is more nutritionally dense than refined all-purpose flour, but also is not as dense and heavy as regular whole wheat flour. Look for Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour in well-stocked grocery stores. I know Thanksgiving can be tricky. No one wants to give up a favorite dish, but slip this one into the mix and it’s certain to become a family favorite.

If you want to take a serious shortcut for this dish you can substitute one 29-ounce can of pumpkin puree or canned sweet potatoes.The herb-pecan topping tastes equally great with both.

3 large sweet potatoes
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour, plus more for your hands
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
3 tablespoons 2 percent milk
1 tablespoon pure olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. (This will help with clean up.) Spray a 2-quart shallow baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Using a fork, pierce the sweet potatoes in several places and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until fork-tender, about 50 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool.

When the potatoes are almost tender, prepare the topping: In a small bowl combine the chopped pecans, flour, Parmesan, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Add the milk, oil, and sage. Stir until well combined. Set aside.

When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes, discarding the skin. Place the pulp in large bowl. Add the brown sugar and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Smash the squash with a potato masher until chunky.

Transfer the sweet potatoes to the prepared baking dish. Lightly flour your hands and crumble the topping in small, cherry size pieces on top of the sweet potatoes. Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Calories 98.02 Fat 7.35 g Carbs 7.28 g Fiber 1.41 g Protein 1.98 g

These recipes may be reproduced with the following credit:

Recipes from LIGHTEN UP, Y’ALL by Virginia Willis. (Ten Speed Press; March 2015; $24.99/hardcover; ISBN; 978-1607745730).

Contact: Lorraine Woodcheke