Cookbook cover for SECRETS OF THE SOUTHERN TABLE: A Food Lover's Tour of the Global South

SECRETS OF THE SOUTHERN TABLE: A Food Lover’s Tour of the Global South

Virginia Willis

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
May 1, 2018
ISBN-13: 978-0544932548

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Georgia-born, French-trained chef Virginia Willis is one of the most well-respected authorities on Southern cooking today. She is the author of five previous cookbooks, including the James Beard Award-winning Lighten Up, Y’all and is the author of the “Cooking with Virginia” column on Her articles have appeared nationally including Food52, CNN, All Recipes, Country Living, Eating Well, Family Fun, and Fine Cooking.  The Chicago Tribune has named her one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Willis lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

From the rolling hills and hollows in Appalachia to the flat salt marshes of South Carolina to an urban farm in metro-Atlanta, the South has a strong tradition of good food and generous hospitality. The region is well known for fried chicken, grits, and biscuits (and there are irresistible recipes for those inside this book), but there are some Southern foodways that many may find surprising: There have been Chinese Americans living in the Mississippi Delta since the 1800s; at one time more Italians lived in New Orleans than New York City; and an Atlanta suburb is known as the “Seoul of the South.” The South is rich in cultural diversity and the food of the modern global South reflects this.

Here, with her signature charm and wit, chef and award-winning cookbook author Virginia Willis shares a one-of-a-kind collection of classic and new recipes: Pimento Cheese Tomato-Herb Pie, Chicken and Butterbean Paella, West African Chicken Stew, Greek Okra and Tomatoes, Mississippi-Style Char Siu Pork Tenderloin, Brown Butter and Thyme Whole-Grain Cornbread, Catfish Tacos with Avocado Crema, and much more. Along the way, she introduces you to the Southern farmers, purveyors, chefs, and small-business owners who are growing and making this extraordinary food.

Stunning documentary photography by renowned Southern photographer Angie Mosier transports you across the South and the seasons to Florida’s gulf coast, the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, and the farms and fields of Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Texas, and Tennessee. Together, these stories and the recipes that accompany them celebrate the delicious diversity and ever-evolving heritage of Southern cooking.

Asian Cajun BBQ Shrimp with Grilled Baguette from Secrets of the Southern Table

Serves 6

Barbecue shrimp in New Orleans has nothing to do with a grill, a pit, or even barbecue sauce. Barbecue shrimp in New Orleans is a dish of butter-poached shrimp flavored with dried spices and herbs. It’s what happened to shrimp scampi as it traversed the Atlantic and crossed the levies of the mighty Mississippi. In the nineteenth century, trade routes opened between Sicily and New Orleans and thousands of Italians migrated to New Orleans. By 1870, New Orleans claimed the largest Italian-born population in the United States—even greater than the New York City area! A more recent immigration trend in the region has been the Vietnamese, leading to the introduction of new flavors into this Southern dish.



  • 1 baguette, cut into thirds and halved lengthwise
  • 1½ pounds extra-large (16/20-count) shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon homemade or store-bought Creole seasoning, or to taste
  • 8 tablespoons (½ cup) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½ jalapeño, or to taste, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped lemongrass
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Working with a few pieces at a time, cook the bread until browned and toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. (Alternatively, heat the oven to broil and broil the bread until toasted, about 2 minutes, depending on the strength of your broiler.) Set aside and keep warm.

Place the shrimp in a bowl. Add the Creole seasoning and toss to coat. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, jalapeño, ginger, and lemongrass. Cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the shrimp and increase the heat to medium-high. Add the lemon juice, hot sauce, and fish sauce. Cook, turning once or twice, until the shrimp are firm and pink, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Spoon the shrimp and juices atop the grilled bread. Serve immediately, with lots of napkins.

Tomato-Ginger Green Beans

Serves 4 to 6

Green beans are also known as string beans or snap beans and are traditionally simmered for a long time with a hunk of some kind of pork—bacon, fat back, or hog jowl. My grandfather could eat a mountain of green beans and planted his garden accordingly. My grandmother would cook them in her pressure cooker, which would transform them from a bright green, crisp vegetable into soft-as-silk, army-green vegetable noodles. I remember the safety valve emitting little bursts of steam and the meaty, vegetal aroma that filled the air. There’s always going to be a place in my heart and at my table for those old-fashioned Southern recipes, even as I appreciate the influences on Southern food and cooking from different cuisines and cultures.

Tomatoes are actually a fruit, not a vegetable, and marry particularly well with spicy ginger in this dish. While most ginger is imported, the sandy soil and hot climate of the Southeast is conducive to growing ginger, and a number of farmers are adding both it and turmeric to their crop rotation. And no, it’s not a typo. I’m suggesting ¼ cup chopped ginger in this Southeast Asian–inspired side dish.


  • 1 pound string beans (French-style haricots verts work especially well), stem ends trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup very finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
  • ½ jalapeño, or to taste, seeded and chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set it nearby. Line a plate with paper towels.

Add the beans to the boiling water and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well in a colander and then set the colander with the beans in the ice-water bath to set the color and stop the cooking, making sure the beans are submerged. Once chilled, transfer the beans to the prepared plate. Pat dry with paper towels and then transfer to a bowl.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the tomatoes and jalapeño and cook until warmed through, 5 minutes.

Add the cooked green beans and toss to coat and combine. Cook, tossing and stirring, until the green beans are heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cilantro; taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. This dish is delicious served hot, warm, room temperature, or cold. If served cold, make sure to taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper, as chilling a dish dulls the seasoning.

These recipes are excerpted from SECRETS OF THE SOUTHERN TABLE © 2018 by Virginia Willis. Photographs © 2018 by Angie Mosier. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Contact: Breanne Sommer