Time for some catching up!
The first two books of the Autumn 2022 season, were originally posted on the Kitchen Art & Letters website. However, as I return for a couple months of traveling and holiday-ing and recovering from all the fun, I want to get us caught up here on Wander, Eat, and Tell, too!
First, Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martínez
The original post from 10/30/22 (found HERE) was written from Peru where I also met Martínez’s wife Pia León, the chef of their world-famous Central. Here’s a condensed version…
The Latin American Cookbook includes recipes and cultural wisdom from at least 20 of those richly diverse countries. Although Martínez and the folks at Phaidon make a noble effort to be inclusive and representative, even this 432 page book of 600 recipes barely scratches the surface. But it’s a great start! And certainly, an apt beginning for our upcoming cooking journeys this season.
More About The Latin American Cookbook
Our cookbook club loves a lively discussion! Topics jump from ingredients and substitutions, culture and social issues, art and music, beverage pairings, and on to design and editing of the physical book itself. This book brought up all those things, sometimes all at once!
The table of contents of the Latin American Cookbook groups recipes by broad ingredient categories. This proved to be a divisive decision with strong reasoning coming from each side. Many found categorizing by ingredient needlessly complicated. It did not suit the way they use their cookbooks. Some would have preferred grouping by course in a meal, others would like to see recipes listed by country.
Of those in favor of the ingredient based categorization, several participants noted a preference purchasing ingredients then looking for great recipes to use them in. Others – myself included – who use their cookbooks as references more than for cooking, found the ‘by ingredient’ design great for comparing uses for each ingredient, noting regional and cultural similarities and differences.
Then came the question of who’s included, and who’s not. The Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Puerto Rico are notably absent from the content of this book. I’d love to hear in the comments if you’d like to contribute your thoughts on that decision.
Another line drawn with regard to content is one very much expected given the author of the book. Authenticity is paramount. Some ingredients required may prove challenging for North American and European cooks to obtain. And some of those have no acceptable (to Martínez?) substitutions. No further explanation is offered.
Personally, I would have liked more notes on specific types of chiles and herbs. Are the fresh or dried? Can you substitute the jarred paste that’s available in the US for fresh? Is there something similar that would work in a pinch, even if not authentic?
At least I know if I want to make the rhea egg recipe, I can substitute ostrich egg… if I must.
Speaking of authenticity, I’d be remiss not to note the number of comments about the chapter that included insects, cuy (guinea pig), and types of offal that are not typically consumed in the US. Although we all acknowledged the importance of having this knowledge, there were a few people who were turned off immediately when they opened the book to this section without advance warning.
About The Author
Virgilio Martínez is a Peruvian chef, restaurateur, and author of several books. Most notably, he is one of the founding partners (along with his sister Malena and wife, world-class chef Pía León) of Mater Iniciativa, a gastronomic collective that includes world-famous restaurant Central in the Barranco district of Lima, and several others globally.
In their words, the mission of Mater Iniciativa is to “Promote megadiversity without borders. Be a source of knowledge for the world about food; educating, raising awareness and conveying knowledge. Design food experiences that communicate values such as connectivity (with nature and between people), cultural identity, respect and care for the environment around us.”
Other books by Virgilio Martínez include, Mater Catalogue: 30 Species for Central (with Malena Martínez), Central, and Lima: The Cookbook.
Notes On What We Cooked
Street Cart Ceviche: Want to learn how to make a true Peruvian ceviche? This is the recipe you’re looking for. Simple, concise, delicious, and truly authentic. I can vouch for that now… I’ve had it a few times in Lima recently, and even learned to make it from a local chef. The leche de tigre alone is worth owning a blender. Don’t skip the garnish either. The sweet potatoes provide balance, and the crunchy corn is addictive. That, by the way, is a separate recipe: Cancha Serrana. You can get the dried corn online easily enough. You’ll be happy you did. Want to see a video of me making this recipe? You can find it here!
Empanadas: There are several recipes for empanadas from various places in the Latin American Cookbook. The consensus was positive, and a wild mushroom version was a star. Note that a couple dough recipes received less than stellar reviews… not bad enough to prevent further experimentation though!
Bahia-style Shrimp: Thickening stews with grated yuca (cassava) is a very good thing. Seems that cassava flour will also do in a pinch. The result is silky and rich, a unique and appealing texture. Personally, I made a mash up of two shrimp recipes that were very similar. Experimentation is encouraged and rewarded!
Peruvian Lamb Cilantro Stew: Super tender, very spicy, and a crowd pleaser according to the one person who made it so far… the description was enough to make several (including me) vow to add it to this season’s “to cook” list.
Cheese, Corn, & Lima Bean Salad: This salad is all that. It says lima beans in the title, but fava beans in the recipe. Do yourself a favor, wherever this book calls for favas, go right to frozen baby lima beans and skip the expense and crazy amount of prep that favas demand. This salad will be on regular rotation for summer gatherings from now on.
Pine Tarts: That’s Guyanese pineapple hand pies to the uninitiated. This was another dough recipe that left the cook challenged to try, try again. But the caramelized pineapple filling made for a truly authentic experience and dreamy flashbacks to happy visits to this lesser-known Latin American region.
Brigadeiros: Brazilian-style milk fudge balls coated in chocolate sprinkles, coconut, or other fun shakes. What’s not to love about sticky rich condensed milk, cocoa, and a ton of chocolate sprinkles? The teens in my house enjoyed making them, we all enjoyed eating them!
Our second book of the season was…
The Chilean Kitchen by Pilar Hernandez and Eileen Smith
The original post from 11/22/22 can be seen HERE. The following is a condensed version…
After the prodigious amount of material we attempted to absorb from Virgilio Martínez’s book, this book felt more like a leisurely swim in a tranquil inlet versus that deep dive into a vast ocean of information.
My aquatic analogies end there. Although Chile has about 2,600 miles of coastline, the recipes in this book (for the most part) come firmly from the land. They represent the home kitchen – specifically, the home kitchens of the central part of the country. The everyday food of people who eat simply and well.
The cuisine of Chile embodies its history from its indigenous people, to the pre-Columbian settlers, Spanish colonization, and more recent immigrant groups. You’ll find hints of flavors and techniques from Germany, Italy, and France, Peru, Venezuela, and Haiti.
Comida chilena is more than criolla – a blend of Spanish and indigenous foods. It is a fluid blend of old and new, history and innovation, geography and seasonality “braided together” to give what the authors call comida chilena (Chilean food).
What it is not is just as important. It is not spicy, complicated, or expensive. And it is not “restaurant food”. In fact, because of Chile’s political history, restaurants were not really part of their culture until after the 1990s. Since then, the country is making up for lost time. But that’s for another story.
About The Chilean Kitchen
As mentioned earlier, Chile has over 2,600 miles of coastline. North to south, it covers ten distinct climate zones including subtropical, desert, Mediterranean, and even ice cap in Patagonia. This is just one of the reasons the authors (wisely) chose to contain the scope of their coverage to the populace (and popular) central region of the country, around the capital of Santiago where nearly half the country’s population resides.
I’m a big fan of choosing to work within a limited scope, so I applaud the authors decision to work with a narrow focus for their first book. In addition to the choice of geographic location, they also stick with home cooking from the 1980s to present. The constraints work for them, and we are rewarded with a book that is, at once, approachable and informative.
As a chef and adventurous cook and eater, I can still appreciate approachability in a cookbook. A book that takes its reader to a place, provides an insider glimpse of a culture that is new to them, and welcomes them by accentuating commonality without compromising authenticity is doing a service.
In The Chilean Kitchen, the pantry chapter helps the reader understand the Chilean ingredients and offers thoughtful substitutions (and honest notes on those that don’t have equivalents). Though I must say, Thai chiles are definitely not a reasonable substitute for mild to medium heat of ají verde!
The 75 recipes in The Chilean Kitchen each reflect the authors’ objective to take the reader along for meals with family, weekend getaways to the country or a visit to their grandparents. Real food, comfort food, simple ingredients prepared in a way that will surprise you with their unexpected depth.
The time saved skipping extensive urban foraging trips for special ingredients and complicated preparations can then be spent on one of Chiles greatest culinary assets… sobremesa. “Long, after-meal conversations at the dining room table.”
About The Authors
Pilar Hernandez is credited with writing the recipes for The Chilean Kitchen. She grew up in Rancaqua, a small city south of Santiago, “surrounded by fearless home cooks,” and later moved to Houston, Texas in 2003. She writes the award-winning Chilean blog (in Spanish) En Me Cucina Hoy and its sister website (in English) Chilean Food and Garden.
Hernandez is a trained physician who brings a scientific approach to recipe development and testing. Our group can vouch for the benefit that brings to the reader-cook. She is also “notoriously food-trend-averse,” so we feel confident that these recipes are able to stand the test of time.
Eileen Smith is an American who originally trained as a lawyer and worked as a journalist. She moved to Chile in 2004. She learned about Chilean home cooking through her personal journey to recreate the home cooking of her Ashkenazi Jewish childhood in Brooklyn with the foods found in Santiago.
Smith writes about the food, drink, culture, travel, and “things that make us human.” She wrote the text for The Chilean Kitchen. Smith and Hernandez met through social media in the late 2000s. They connected when Smith interviewed Hernandez for an article for NPR. Later, Smith contacted Hernandez to collaborate on what is now The Chilean Kitchen, their love letter to the food and the country that has shaped both of them.
Notes On What We Cooked
Betarragas Rellenas, or beets layered with chicken salad, may not seem like the most traditional dish to start with, but it’s beautiful, unique, and tasty.
Empanadas de Pino were definitely a popular choice. The filling of ground beef, raisins, olives, and hardboiled egg was hearty and flavorful. The dough was easy to work with and flaky. These freeze well too.
The dobladitas (little folded things) are typically made with leftover empanada dough. They’re a great treat right from the oven slathered with good butter. I’m considering making this as a substitute for crescent rolls at thanksgiving this year.
Carrot frittata, tortilla de zanahoria, was – by far – the crowd favorite. That might be because I raved about it so much. It’s about as easy as it gets and is one of the most versatile dishes in the book. I made it as a side dish for a nice plated dinner, had it with salad for lunch like quiche, and even ate it cold from the fridge as I rushed out to a meeting one morning. It’s that good. Some of us made it our own by adding different sauces to accompany it. My personal favorite, ras el hanout spiced yogurt.
Tallarines con Palta, avocado pesto on pasta, is another game changer. I never thought about making pesto out of avocado, but it is the perfect texture and so much easier to make! The recipe makes much more than I needed, so I used the rest in a few other ways. Including as a substitute of guacamole.
Paila Marina is a seafood soup that is almost addictive. The recipe says it serves 4, but once you taste it, you’ll wish you’d made more.
When I saw the photo for the wine poached pears, Peras con Vino, I could not resist. So simple and not necessarily “Chilean”, but what makes the difference is the choice of wine. Central Chile is also wine country, and Carménère (a bold red wine) is king. And the price per bottle makes it super-friendly for use in cooking and even better for drinking.
And there were so many more dishes we recommend… this book was certainly a group favorite for easy, flavorful weeknight meals (and a few special treats).
the next post will bring us back to regular-style posts as I continue to catch us up to current (I’m 4-5 books ahead of you now!)
Have any questions, concerns, requests… just want to say hi?