Oct 292012

Gran Cocina Latina by Maricel E Presilla Cover

Maricel Presilla’s Gran Cocina Latina (Great Latin Cuisine) is a magnum opus in every sense of the phrase and I love it. It’s a huge work of 901 pages which took Presilla nearly 30 years to research and write. And it shows. It covers the history, lore, culture and recipes of Latin American food & cooking. It’s more than a recipe book: it’s social history and travelogue too. I wanted a book to help me learn about the cuisine of Latin America – this will be my bible.

Presilla is a polymath. Originally from Cuba, she emigrated to the USA. She is a Doctor in medieval history; an award winning chef and owner of two Latin restaurants in New Jersey; she has written a cultural & natural history of cacao and spoke in October 2012 at the Chocolate Unwrapped show in London. Her particular mix of knowledge, skills & experience make her uniquely qualified to write this book.

The book starts with explanations and descriptions of Latin America and the latin kitchen. Presilla clearly explains how in latin cooking the flavours are built up in layers: from adobo and sofrito through to the table condiments. This contrasts with other cuisines which may fuse or blend flavours.

Gran Cocina Latina ingredients explanation and line drawings

She clearly places Latin cooking in its geographical, historical and socio-political context as this has changed and developed through the centuries. She says: “Again and again, I was forced to remember that food is always deeply political…the love of food transcends even the most bitter of realities.”

The middle chapters are divided into 16 food groupings: tropical roots & starchy vegetables; squashes, corn, quinoa, and beans; rice; drinks; little Latin dishes; empanadas; the tamal family; cebiches; La Olla (soups & hearty potages); salads; breads; fish and seafood; poultry; meat; hot pepper pots and dulce Latino (sweets & desserts).
Gran Cocina Latina Chapter at a view
Each chapter starts with a ‘Chapter at a view’ page: a mini-contents for that chapter. This makes choosing recipes really easy without having to thumb endlessly through this enormous book. Then there is a really useful introduction to the particular topic covering its place in Latin cooking & its history, typical ingredients and dishes as they vary around the continent. The introductions are spiced with generous stories and anecdotes which bring the food & cooking to life.

I found the recipes that follow clearly written and easy to cook by. The measurements are in cups and ounces as the book was intended for the US market. I suggest anyone cooking with it does what I’ve done and buy some cup measures and gets used to multiplying ounces by 25g.

I thought the design and lay out of the recipes is well executed with the busy cook in mind. There are Cook’s Notes helping you understand the approach to the recipe; details of what you can do ahead of time; suggestions of what to drink with the dish; bulleted points and boxed out notes help with anything that needs further explanation.

Gran Cocina Latina excellent method explaining line drawings
I also really like the line drawn illustrations which are clear and very informative. The photography has clearly met Presilla’s brief to the photography team who achieved what Presilla calls “…a Vermeer-like understanding of light and composition…” I would have preferred more conventionally lit photography. However, the treatment does not detract from seeing what many of the recipes look like and certainly conveys something of the atmosphere of the cuisine.

I bought this book because I wanted to know more about Latin American cuisine and its DNA as it were. Through chance and luck, I am growing many South American foods here in North Wales that are not usual in Western Europe. We are growing oca, ulluco, mashua, rocoto, yacon, talets, hopniss, achocha and pepino. These potentially could be crops that will thrive here and there is little work done on recipes to use them in our cooking. Presilla’s Gran Cocina Latina is an excellent piece of writing which will help me understand their cultural roots and hopefully contribute to a new chapter for them in the northern hemisphere.

If you have an interest in Latin America and its culture and history, this is an excellent read and essential in my view. If you have a passion for world food & cooking, this book needs to be on your lap to enjoy the journey through place and time.

Gran Cocina Latina is available at Amazon.


 Posted by at 20:52
Oct 022012

The Foodie Penpals parcel Kim sent to me

This is my third Foodie Penpals parcel. This month I was matched with Kim (or Mub) who an ex-pat American from the Netherlands. In Kim’s note she said loved Mexican food. Like me here in North Wales, Kim finds getting all the ingredients she needs challenging sometimes. So she stashes Mexican stuff in her suitcase when she returns from the US. I was lucky that she has shared some of her precious stash with me.

She sent me a very helpful handwritten note with recipes and tips how to use the goodies she sent me.

Kim sent me two types of cornmeal to make tortillas: some white cornmeal and some blue. After some quick Google research, I established the blue cornmeal is from Blue Corn (aka Hopi Maize) and should have a sweeter & nuttier taste than the white. It’s also a more complete protein. I think some comparative trials are in order here.

Also included by Kim were some dried jalapeno peppers “to give things a bit of a kick” and some of Kim’s own mix of taco seasoning. A meal is forming itself in my mind to use these ingredients. The aroma of both is very good indeed.

Kim included a diddy tin of lovely green chillies which she recommends for chicken enchiladas.

Lastly, Kim included a really neat touch of Dutch: some spice mix for making celebration Dutch biscuits called ‘Speculaas’ (I had to look that up too). The seasoning is a mixture of cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, clove, ginger, cardamom & orange peel: some of my most favourite warm flavours & aromas. Kim suggested it maybe fun if I incorporated the spice in some of my bread making adventures. Good call.

Kim said she had to think out of the box on this. Well she succeeded and I have interesting things to play with, so I’m a very happy boy. Thanks so much Kim.

I recommend the scheme if you love food and would like to try new things. If you do, click the badge below to find out more…

 Posted by at 16:57
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