Back in March, I mentioned that I was again working with Maria Baez Kijac, author of the award-winning and impressively comprehensive cookbook, The South American Table. This time, the topic was “ancient grains”–those super grains of Latin America that are so newsworthy these days. It was great to be working with Maria again–and the best part of working with Maria, since she tests all the recipes multiple times, is getting to try all the foods. So I can say with certainty that these recipes work and are mighty good. Of course, they also have the benefits of being gluten free and packed with nutrients from the super grains. Maria also includes tips everywhere as to how to alter recipes to personalize them.
But eventually the fun, and the taste testing, came to an end, the book went to press–and now it’s out. Cooking with Ancient Grains is now available for those interested in how to utilize these “nutrition powerhouses,” as Maria calls them.
One thing I did note of interest (though possibly only to me) is that one my favorite recipes, the mushroom and watercress soup, doesn’t look in the photo like it does in Maria’s kitchen. If you get the book and decide to try this recipe, follow Maria’s instructions, not the photo–because in the photo, the mushrooms are sliced (which probably helps confirm for viewers that it’s mushroom soup), but in Maria’s soup, they are chopped. It always seemed to me as though the mushroom taste was magnified by the greater surface area presented by the chopped mushrooms. That said, it’s probably great no matter what you do with the mushrooms. I also loved the salads, especially the quinoa, black rice, and smoked salmon salad, and all the salad dressings. And the raw tomatillo and avocado dip. In fact, though one always has favorites, I can’t say that I ever tried anything I didn’t like.
Because Maria includes detailed info about how to work with the grains, preparing them and how to use them in your own recipes, this is a useful resource if you’re new to quinoa, kañiwa, amaranth, and chia. And because the recipes are collected from Maria’s extensive travel, they’ll probably be of interest even if you’re already familiar with these grains.
The South American Table
Maria Baez Kijac is an amazing woman. Her experience ranges from cooking shows on PBS to teaching at culinary schools to writing award-wining cookbooks to developing recipes for magazines to hunting down the best dishes to represent the cuisines she loves.
I’ve known Maria for more than seven years now. She is certain that our meeting was fate. When we first met, she had already spent 15 years traveling and collecting recipes from all over South America, testing them and adapting them to North American kitchens, and organizing them for what would become an authoritative and widely acclaimed survey of South American cooking. However, she needed someone who could help with writing, editing, and testing. It didn’t hurt that I’d also traveled in, and loved, her native Ecuador. We worked together for more than a year on the project—a delightful period during which I learned a huge amount about the diverse culture and cuisine of our neighbor to the south—and got to sample a fabulous array of foods from all across the continent—amazingly tasty dishes that ranged from comforting to exotic. Maria’s recipes really are sensational.
The result of Maria’s long and thorough work was The South American Table. Subtitled The Flavor and Soul of Authentic Home Cooking from Patagonia to Rio de Janeiro, with 450 Recipes, the impressive work boasts a foreword by Charlie Trotter and rave reviews on the back cover. It was an instant classic. It was published in 2003, and was named the best Latino cookbook in the world that same year at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Barcelona, Spain.
The thing that brings this up to date is the announcement in October 2008 that the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards have named The South American Table “The Best of the Best”–the best Latino cookbook in the world for the entire 12 years the awards have been given (1996–2008). The wine-colored circle on the lower right hand side of the cover is the ‘Best of the Best” seal, which was added for the most recent printing of the book.
Maria now has a blog, so you can find additional information and new recipes—stuff that might evolve someday into a new book. Maria puts a lot of work into each entry, so new posts only occur every few weeks. The link at right will take you to Maria’s blog.
You can check out (and maybe order) The South American Table on Amazon, or look for it at your local library. Find out what it is already considered a classic.