Tag Archives: The South American Table

Ancient Grains

It has been several years since I worked with Maria Kijac on her highly acclaimed cookbook, The South American Table, but for the last eight months, we have been working together again, this time on a cookbook that focuses on the ancient grains of Latin America: quinoa, kañiwa, amaranth, and chia seeds. These “super grains” (which are really seeds, rather than true grains) offer many benefits, including a full complement of essential amino acids, which no cereal grain offers. Because quinoa is the most easily obtained of these grains, there are more recipes using quinoa, but because chia is the greatest powerhouse of the group, Maria has found plenty of recipes to feature this astonishing grain (which has more antioxidants than blueberries and more Omega 3 fatty acids than salmon). Because of their remarkable health and energy benefits, these grains were considered sacred among the ancient people of Latin America, from the Inca of the Andes Mountains region to the Aztecs of central Mexico.

I can’t share with you any of Maria’s recipes (or the joy of testing them while we worked together), but I can share a quinoa recipe I developed for an outing with friends a couple of years ago. It has a lot of big flavors, plus the high fiber and other nutritional benefits of quinoa.

The dried mushrooms I used were the Gourmet Mushroom Blend from Manitou Trading Co. The blend included morels, porcini, Brazilian caps, ivory portabellas, shiitakes, and oyster mushrooms.

I think you’ll like it.

Mushroom Quiona
5 to 6 ounces dried mushrooms
1/2 lb. slab bacon
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 cups quinoa
enough chicken broth to make up four cups liquid with the mushroom soaking liquid
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the mushrooms overnight in water to cover. (I poured hot water over the mushrooms, let it cool, and then put it in the fridge till the next day.)

Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Chop the mushrooms roughly and set aside.

Cut the bacon into lardons (blocks about 1/2 inch x 1/2 inch x thickness of slab of bacon). Fry in large pot until they begin getting crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Sauté the onions in the fat from the bacon. When onions are translucent, stir in the quinoa. (NOTE: Check the package of quinoa. Some is prewashed. If it isn’t prewashed, the instructions will instruct you to rinse the grain. You definitely want to rinse any unwashed quinoa. If you bought bulk and there are no instructions, taste a bit of the uncooked quinoa. If it tastes soapy, then rinse it thoroughly before cooking. Or, to be really safe, just go ahead and put it in a strainer and rinse it. Quinoa seeds produce a protective coating of saponins, which are bitter and will ruin the taste of the dish if the quinoa is not rinsed well.)

Stir the quinoa into the onion and fat, to coat the grains. Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid and chicken broth, combined to make four cups liquid. Cook for twenty minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Stir in the bacon and chopped mushrooms. Season to taste. Enjoy.

(Note: if slab bacon is not readily available, get the thickest cut bacon you can find, and cut it into 1/2 inch pieces).

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The South American Table…and more

The South American Table

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.

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