In the December 2012 issue, writer and culinary historian Robb Walsh digs into the latest trend he’s spied in the Texas restaurant scene—a morphing of ethnic influences and heritage foods that he calls the Creolization. This theme, which has resulted in culinary mash-ups like Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish and Pakistani fajitas, became clear as Walsh criss-crossed the state doing research for his latest book, Texas Eats: The New Lone Star Heritage Cookbook (Ten Speed Press).
In his introduction to Texas Eats, Walsh writes, “Texas has produced an amazing number of blues guitarists and singer-songwriters, but not so many opera singers. Likewise the state is better known for its folk cuisine than its haute cuisine. Texas top chefs do well in those televised cooking contests against chefs from other parts of the country. But our real strengths are folk foods like barbecued brisket, cheese enchiladas in chili gravy, and chicken-friend steak, and in those categories, it’s hard to find any state that can compete.
“The bicultural border cuisine called Tex-Mex is the most famous culinary hybrid in the state, but it’s not the only one. There are also thirty-some ethnic groups in Texas, each one with its own folk foods and each one contributing to our statewide potluck. In Hallettsville, a Czech-Tex hot dog has both sauerkraut and chili con carne on top. In Arlington, Korean doughnut shops sell jalapeño kolaches. In Sugar Land, Indian immigrants put chutney on their fajitas. And that’s part of the reason Texas food traditions are so fascinating.”
Similarly, that’s why Walsh’s Texas Eats is so fascinating. We love a cookbook that serves both as mealtime inspiration and cultural culinary roadmap, and Texas Eats shines on both fronts. In chapters about Lone Star Seafood, East Texas Southern cooking, Vintage Tex-Mex, Central Texas and the Hill Country, Country and Western, and New Texas Creole, Walsh juxtaposes human-interest tales and culinary history with recipes that run the gamut from Galveston Crab Cakes to Texas Green Chile Posole.
For a recent casual dinner party with friends, I prepared Walsh’s recipe for Green Gumbo, a fish stew that Walsh describes as “a traditional Friday soup among the Catholic Cajuns of East Texas and western Louisiana.” It’s a tasty stew of panfish (I used Texas drum because my fishmonger at Austin’s Quality Seafood offered it on sale), carrots, onion, celery, parsley, potato, and collard and mustard greens—spiced up with three types of pepper (including cayenne), thyme, and bay leaves. It’s an extremely forgiving recipe—a plus for me since I rarely follow a recipe to the letter—and proved popular at the table, especially with a glass of Cava, a libation I’m sure would meet approval from the Catholic Cajuns who invented it.
You can find Texas Eats at online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, or see www.tenspeed.com. —Lori Moffatt