U.S. Rice Common Thread in Traditional Southern Cuisine

Cover of The Austin Cookbook shows red plastic takeout basket holding tortilla filled with beef, avocado & cilantro on colorful tablecloth
Apr 06, 2018
ARLINGTON, VA -- Two new cookbooks are exploring the relationship between rice and the traditional cuisine of regions in the South.  Secrets of the Southern Table: A Food Lover's Tour of the Global South by Virginia Willis takes readers on a vivid sensory journey through Louisiana rice country, while The Austin Cookbook by Paula Forbes is a love letter to the land of barbecue, breakfast tacos, and Tex-Mex.

Both books are testaments to how a region’s culture is largely defined by its food.  The recipes collected and created by Willis and Forbes are the product of hundreds of years of history, unique geography and climate, and population migration.  The Cajun dishes of Willis’s childhood in Louisiana are a result of the historical Creole melting pot of the area, and the modern flavors of Central Texas are influenced by Northern Mexican and Tejano traditions, including the “Chili Queens” of San Antonio.

Willis warns readers against lumping the South into one big category, and these two cookbooks couldn’t be more different.  But one of the threads that connects them is U.S.-grown rice.  From Texas to Louisiana to South Carolina, rice holds all these Southern delicacies together.  

“Southerners are rice people,” said Willis, explaining that while she grew up eating Cajun food in Louisiana, her grandmother in South Carolina also raised her on rice with very different flavor profiles.

“Rice is essential to Texas cuisine!” added Forbes.  “People have been growing rice in Texas for almost 200 years.  It’s not just a part of Tex-Mex but also Texas Gulf Coast dishes like jambalaya, barbecue sides, and more.”

Everyone’s got their own favorites.  Willis reminisces fondly about gumbo, while Forbes says she’s a big fan of Texmati when she’s cooking curries, but she also loves the wonderful texture of Calrose.

One thing everyone can agree on is that it’s essential to use U.S. rice in all these recipes.  Willis thinks it’s important to buy local and regional whenever possible.  “In terms of culinary heritage, it makes the most sense.  Of course you could make étouffée with Asian basmati, but why would you?”

Secrets of the Southern Table: A Food Lover's Tour of the Global South will be released May 1 through most major booksellers, and is currently available for pre-order through Amazon.  The Austin Cookbook was released last month and is also available anywhere books are sold.