At times like these, living on the Gulf Coast can seem like a mixed blessing. After the umpteenth concerned friend or relative has asked why we continue to put ourselves in harm’s way, it might be time for a reminder of the best aspects of the coastal lifestyle.
Cookbook author Lucy Buffett captures some of the best aspects of the Gulf Coast in her second cookbook, “Gumbo Love: Recipes for Gulf Coast Cooking, Entertaining and Savoring the Good Life.” The book is filled with recipes and photos evocative of the entire region.
“ ‘Gumbo Love’ is my love letter to the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico — the place of my birth, the place where generations of my people walked the sandy shores, frolicked in the salty waves, sailed the crystal green waters, and cooked pots and pots of seafood gumbo before I was even a notion,” she writes. “Whatever saltwater secret it is that makes us coastal Southerners a little ‘different,’ a little mystical, it has nurtured a heart connection to a place that I love, a family I cherish, and a cuisine I am proud to serve.”
Buffett celebrates the individual cuisines of the Gulf Coast, from Cuban influences in Key West through the Cajun and Creole traditions of Louisiana and down to the Mexican seafood of Veracruz.
“The food cultures of the entire Gulf Coast create our own melting pot of flavors and food traditions that have influenced our cuisine, making it the most diverse and flavorful in this country,” she said.
Of course, one constant from Key West to Veracruz is the hot, humid summer weather, so it’s not surprising that Buffett includes large sections of salads and cold appetizers.
“In the Deep Coastal South, where the summer temperatures soar, it’s custom to throw together some meals that don’t require the heat of cooking, so cold salads become main players on menus,” she said.
While some of her salad choices are to be expected, such as Shrimp Remoulade, others are more off-beat, like her deconstructed version of the classic New Orleans muffuletta, served chopped-salad style. By dicing all the usual ingredients of a muffuletta, including ham, several kinds of salami, cheese and olives, she creates a gluten-free muffuletta, though sandwich lovers could still spoon the salad into a ciabatta roll or other crusty bread.
In other recipes, Buffett uses Southern staples such as watermelon but gives them a more coastal accent. Her watermelon salad pays homage to the Greek fishing communities of Tampa Bay and Tarpon Springs by adding feta cheese and mint to the sweet and spicy salad.
Even her remoulade recipe adds a new outlook to the classic sauce. While most versions have a mayonnaise base, Buffett has created a remoulade sauce from vegetable oil, spicy Creole mustard and fresh herbs. Chunkier than most remoulades, the sauce can be poured over boiled shrimp or mixed with chopped shrimp for a tangy shrimp salad.
“Gumbo Love” can remind us of the more carefree side of Gulf Coast living, as we clean up and regroup and help our neighbors. Conveniently, the muffuletta salad recipe makes enough to feed a small neighborhood.