Hello. My name is Kim and I am a cookbook-aholic. I’ve flagged more cookbook recipes than would be humanly possible to make in a single lifetime. Yet my obsession with acquiring new and old cookbooks persists unabated. This month I share my compulsive tendencies via the “21 Days” series, featuring some of my favorite cookbooks from local authors and publishers. Please feel free to join me in finding new cookbooks to feed our passion at any of my favorite Triangle indie book sellers: The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books, Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh or McIntyre’s Books in Pittsboro’s Fearrington Village.
About this time last year I took a culinary tour through Latin America without leaving Chapel Hill city limits. Triangle-based author Sandra Gutierrez had just launched her latest cookbook, “Latin America Street Food: The Best Flavors of Markets, Beaches and Roadside Stands from Mexico to Argentina” and I had secured a seat in the sold out class she led at A Southern Season. It’s a trip I’ve continued through exploring the recipes and colorful, scenic photos found in the cookbook.
During last year’s class, Gutierrez described how the book came to fruition. One day while visiting a Portland, Oregon food truck pod with several other food-focused writers, the group purchased eight dishes to share. Though several regional flavors were represented by the group’s selections, there was one, lone taco. That solitary Latin course among a global food truck feast inspired Gutierrez. She awoke the next morning, had a conversation with her agent and “Latin America Street Food” was born.
The cookbook spans the street food found in twenty countries as a sort of culinary travel log. Twenty percent of the book’s recipes hail from Mexico, which the author describes as the “door to Latin America” from the US. In the book she invites the reader to explore the region and she leads us through each country’s flavors. As a bit of historical background, Gutierrez explained to our class how street food became a very important way of life in Latin America during the gas shortages of the 1970’s. No longer able to afford the gas to make their way home for lunch each day, street vendors sprang up to serve school children and workers. Because the street food vendors didn’t possess a lot of specialized equipment and worked in limited space, the food is simple and easy to make, often created from a unique family recipe. Gutierrez stressed that the ingredients for the recipes in her book can be found in most any grocery store, as well as Latin American markets in the Triangle. I find exploring the aisles of international food markets another pleasant culinary exploration (a side benefit of making the recipes from the cookbook).
It’s hard to pick just a few favorite recipes from the book (there are 150 to choose from). Latin food is a constant juxtaposition of colors, flavors and textures. Each recipe seems so different from the other, I find myself in a cycle where I want to try another dish as soon as I finish the most recent. I let the chapter titles guide my taste buds. “The Raw Bar” chapter features lighter courses with fresh salads and seafood, like a Peruvian Flounder Ceviche with Corn Nuts. The chapter entitled “Tortilla Flats” contains very descriptive instructions for working with masa harina to form tortillas and other edible vessels to hold flavorful ingredients. Fans of things fried will find recipes for Yuca Fries with Classic Chimichurri, Tostones with Guacamole and Black-Eyed Pea Fritters in the book’s “Fried and True” chapter. The dish I was most eager to make this year, when fresh corn was again in season, comes from the “Food on a Stick” section. Elotes Locos is a divine experience: grilled and skewered corn on the cob, dipped in a mixture of crema and mayonnaise, rolled in Cotija cheese crumbles, then sprinkled with Ancho Chile powder – Heaven!
The dining experience isn’t complete without something sweet (at least not in my book). There’s a recipe for a traditional sandwich cookie, Alfajores, that I made for a work potluck last year. Though some were skeptical initially, the sweet creamy Dulce de Leche spread between two soft shortbread-like cookies edged in coconut shreds flew off their serving tray in short time. How about you? Do you own a copy of “Latin American Street Food”? It was included in NY times top 25 cookbooks last year, as well as a top ten cookbooks for giving by the Huffington Post. Maybe it could go your wish list, or move up to the top of that list, so you can start your “Latin American Street Food” tour before Summer vacation season ends.