Step outside the garden variety nachos and tacos


I had a little time to cool my heels at Dover Public Library last week, so I headed for the cookbook section to see what was new. Someone at the library who chooses what books to put on the shelves must like to cook because it’s always a great source and constantly updated.

This time was a real jackpot, as there was a book I had hoped to find, “Simply Symon Suppers” by Cleveland native Michael Symon, and one I’d never heard of but snatched up quickly: “Latinismo” with the cover also promising “home recipes from the 21 countries of Latin America.” The former I wanted to see before buying, and it doesn’t disappoint, as there are numerous good recipes to be found.

The latter was just the kind of thing I’ve been looking for. “Latinismo” is the masculine form of “Latinism,” so that makes sense for the title. Author Sandra A. Gutierrez has several cookbooks published about Central American cuisine. This oversized cookbook runs to nearly 550 pages, with short chapters featuring dishes from throughout the region south of our borders.

I confess I haven’t tried many of the smaller Latino food vendors in our area, but I see the positive reviews online. It just seems like there must be an awful lot more to the food of that region than tacos and chips, and this book opens that world for us.

There are chapters with recipes for corn, tomatoes, beans, chilies, avocados, yuca, vegetables plantains, rice, seafood quinoa, meats and poultry, cacao, coconut, and desserts. Each recipe is credited to a specific region in Central America.

There are plenty of illustrations and well-presented contextual sections that give background and a little history, like the tidbit about sugar, not gold, being the major discovery of European colonists when they reached the Caribbean.

There had been sugar in Europe for centuries before this, with constant wars over controlling sources. Finding a new, major source for cane sugar held distinct, powerful advantages for any country prepared to exploit it. And exploit it they did. European invaders wiped out indigenous civilizations and enslaved millions in the name of commerce. You would not be far off the mark to compare today’s crude oil to 15th century sugar. Everybody wanted it, and everybody wanted to control it, no matter the cost in blood and treasure.

If you’d like to step outside the garden variety nachos and tacos, this is the book to get. Brazilian chicken in shrimp and peanut sauce sounds awfully good, as does spicy yellow aioli from Peru. There are plenty of dishes with which you’re doubtless familiar, but also dishes you may not be, like white beans with achiote marinated pork ribs from Nicaragua or hominy with pork renderings from Ecuador.

I think many of us who like to cook go on adventures to various places through food. When I first started trying to make Asian dishes in the ‘90s, I went all in, and that’s what we had most days of the week for months until we were ready to move on.

Same thing for Indian cuisine, which is truly fascinating and could use up half a lifetime in learning. For a while it was German food or Italian or Greek. The good thing about these culinary fixations is that once you’ve tackled them and gotten the basics under control, they become part of your regular repertoire. From then on out, you can pick a region and narrow down what to cook because you can cook about anything.

This book promises to send me down a rabbit hole for months, and I know I’ll come out the other side with some great experiences and a new vocabulary of ingredients. Both the cookbooks I found at the library last week are now on my buy list. Maybe they should be on yours too.

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