Real Southern Food, Lightened Up

Virginia Willis

Virginia Willis

Chef Virginia is the author of 3 cookbooks, blogs for FoodNetwork.com and is a contributing editor for Southern Living.

My books are very, very personal. I am a storyteller. I write about my family and my childhood. I’ve written about joy and happiness and loved ones dying and hearts being broken. This is the most personal book I could have ever written. It’s my story.

Crab and Celery Rémoulade Wraps

Crab & Celery Rémoulade Wraps

Crab and Celery Rémoulade Wraps

Rémoulade is a fairly mild classic French mayonnaise-based sauce much like tartar sauce, but in Louisiana where I grew up, they kick it 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.

Blue Crab with white background
Blue Crab


1. 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.

2. 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

Asparagus and Baby Vidalia Onion Salad with Lemon-Tarragon Vinaigrette

Asparagus and baby vidalia onion salad

This salad absolutely sings spring. Asparagus has not traditionally been a Deep South crop, certainly not on a large scale. It requires a cold winter so that the plants can go dormant. The first time I saw asparagus growing was while visiting Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. I was shocked to see it comes straight up out of the earth, one spear at a time, just like someone stuck them in like darts in a dartboard.

Vidalia onions on the other hand, are a very common sight in the South — and one of my absolute favorite ingredients. Increasingly, in the spring you can find baby Vidalia onions, harvested before they reach maturity and essentially overgrown green onions. If you cannot find baby Vidalias, you may substitute green onions.


1. Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. Line a plate with paper towels.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the asparagus and cook until bright green and just tender, about 3 minutes. Without draining, add the onions and cook until both vegetables are tender, an additional 30 or 45 seconds.

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, and oil. Set aside. Drain the asparagus and onions well in a colander, then set the colander with the asparagus and onions in the ice-water bath (to set the color and stop the cooking), making sure the asparagus is submerged. Once chilled, remove the asparagus and onions to the prepared plate. Pat dry and transfer to a large bowl. Add the cucumbers and herbs. Add the reserved dressing and toss to coat and combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Calories 139 Fat 7 g Carbs 16 g Fiber 6 g Protein 5 g