3 classic meals in the Big Easy (and how to make them at home)

New Orleans, no matter how battered by circumstance, keeps on cooking. For almost three centuries, it has suffered fires, floods, and battles under the flags of three nations. Hurricane Katrina dealt perhaps the biggest blow, yet since 2005 the city has become a hotbed of experimentation in schooling, housing redevelopment, and, of course, cuisine. New Orleans is now home to more restaurants than before the storm, testament to the role of food here, a fact all the more amazing given that the population hasn’t fully rebounded and tourism remains down by about 16 percent.

Something old, something new, and always uniquely local: that’s New Orleans―its food and its cooks. Take celebrated Chef Donald Link, author of Real ­Cajun and proprietor of Cochon and Herbsaint, two popular restaurants. Link is a German Cajun from western Louisiana who sells Italian-style cured meats (and a remarkable duck pastrami) at his celebrated new charcuterie and sandwich shop, Cochon Butcher. “New Orleans,” Link says with wry understatement, “is a city that has had a lot of culinary influences.”

Long may it be that way. Those of us who might have worried about New Orleans can rest assured that the city’s food culture (steeped, ­admittedly, in equal parts butter and tradition) remains unbowed.

We chose three iconic specialties from the Big Easy: each emblematic, each delicious, and each, now, lightened up for a brighter, healthier ­tomorrow. Click on the recipe links to get an authentic taste of this inimitable city without leaving your kitchen.

BREAKFAST: Pain Perdu at Cafe Adelaide

This New Orleans take on French toast is custardy, rich, and indulgent -- the perfect way to start any day in the Big Easy. You can order it at Cafe Adelaide, named for Adelaide Brennan, the redheaded grand dame of the NoLa restauranteur family that brought us the likes of Commander's Palace and Brennan's. Our lightened version of Pain Perdu uses reduced-fat milk and just 4 teaspoons of butter. 

Go there: Cafe Adelaide (504) 595-3305
Make it at home: Cooking Light  Pain Perdu recipe

LUNCH: Muffulettas at Central Grocery or Link's Cochon Butcher

The first muffuletta was created at the Central Grocery on Decatur Street. This hubcap-sized bit of business (one is big enough for two or even a small family) offers testimony to the ­Sicilians whose grocery shops once dominated the French Quarter. Now, as then, Central Grocery serves a delicious muffuletta composed of Italian cured meats and provolone layered on round bread, then topped with a tangy olive spread. Seating is scant; for a more ­relaxed experience, try an upscale (and smaller) version made with house-cured meats and high-quality cheese at Link’s Cochon Butcher (504-588-7675, cochonbutcher.com). We captured the essence of this sandwich by swapping some of the high-sodium, high-fat meats for chicken breast, which allows for a satisfying portion.

Go there: Central Grocery (504) 523-1620 orLink's Cochon Butcher (504) 588-7675
Make it at home: Cooking Light  Muffulettas recipe

DINNER: Shrimp Étouffée at Galatoire's

This seasoned stew, often roux-based, is traditionally made with ­crawfish harvested from Louisiana wetlands. Home cooks might not easily find “mudbugs” in their grocery, but shrimp make a perfectly acceptable ­substitute. It’s a popular dish in many of the city’s enduring restaurants, including Galatoire’sOur take on this classic still achieves strong flavor, but with salt-free Cajun seasoning and less butter in the roux.

Go there: Galatoire's (504) 525-2021
Make it at home: Cooking Light Shrimp Étouffée recipe