Latin-American Books Bring Sizzle to Summer
By Amy Manczak
How better to stay cool this summer than to learn from those who live in these
temperatures year round? Latin American Cooking Across the USA, by Himilce
Novas and Rosemary Silva, and Rick Baylesss Mexican Kitchen offer some
tantalizing fire for your taste buds.
Latin American Cooking (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997, $27.50, 331 pages) covers the food
of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia,
Guatemala, and nearly every other corner of Latin America.
The authors took to the roads, skies, and cyberspace to uncover what everyday Latin
Americans were cooking up in American kitchens. Thankfully, second and third generation
home cooks retained the tradition of flavorful salsas, root vegetables, beans and rice,
but eliminated some dishes like roasted guinea pig.
Recipes begin with homey tales on the origin, what makes It'special, and serving
suggestions. The authors describe unfamiliar ingredients, such as yuca (a dense,
starchy tuber that tastes like a buttery potato with a hint of sweetness), and dende
oil (a reddish orange oil extracted from the fruit of the African palm).
Some of my favorites included orange-scented pumpkin soup; shrimp stew with coconut
milk, lemon, and cilantro (the coconut milk adds warmth while the cilantro refreshes); and
the tamales negros, a specialty of inland Guatemala. Admittedly, the tamales
were a lot of workbut worth it for an occasional treatwith bold flavors of
raisins, prunes and green olives for the filling, and a mole sauce of chicken,
pumpkin seeds, tomato, and chili.
Almost all the recipes call for easy-to-find ingredients and simple preparations, which
is the point of the book: making another cultures cuisine accessible to the average
American home cook. It made me finally break down and buy those exotic ingredients that
Ive never tried or had only in restaurantslike plantains and cactus paddles
(nopalitos)that are now available in many grocery stores. Finally, I know what to do
Try a Little Topolobampo at Home
Living in Chicago, Im lucky enough to have Rick Baylesss Frontera
Grill/Topolobampo restaurants in my hometown. Every dish Ive had there has been
innovative and flavorful. Could I recreate them at home? Mostly, yes. Rick
Baylesss Mexican Kitchen (Scribner, 1996, $35, 448 pages) is comprehensive,
educational, and mouthwatering.
Perhaps youre wondering why youd want a book on Mexican food written by a
gringo. Bayless proves love conquers all and he loves Mexican cooking. The
book imparts his passion to the reader. Its nicely organized, beginning with
"essential" recipes that form the building blocks of many dishes that follow.
Essentials are salsas, sauces and seasonings. After each, he lists "simple ideas from
my American home" spicy chicken hash, seared fish with tangy habanero. I could
have been happy with these ideas alone.
But I became even happier as I ate my way through dishes such as anchiote-grilled
turkey breast with tomato, chili, and mint, and chilied tortilla soup with shredded chard.
My favorite basic salsa was the roasted tomatillo-chipotle. Bayless notes that the Indian
people of southern Mexico and Central America have consumed more tomatillos since
pre-Colombian times than the more familiar (to us) red tomato. Tomatillos are small, pale
green, and covered with a papery husk. They differ from green tomatoes, however, having a
tangier, more citrusy flavor and richer texture.
Many recipes are not quick-n-easy. They have intense, complex flavors that come
from multiple ingredients and effort. They are worth it when you have the time. As
for weeknights or simple summer weekends, youll find those, too. Use the advance
preparations, shortcuts, variations, and improvisations that accompany each recipe.
There are eight pages of photographs obviously only a fraction of the dishes. I
would have preferred more. A "Sources" section and excellent index complete the
Youll be glad you added a few (or more) of these bold, satisfying dishes to your
summer repertoire. Still, on a sweltering summer day, its a treat to let someone
else perform their labor of love over a hot grill or stove. Im off to make
reservations and let Rick practice what he preaches.