A BITE OF LATIN AMERICA by Susie Chatz-Anderson. Published by Human& Rousseau, Cape Town, 2017.
A collection delectable in every aspect, and one that fills a gap in culinary literature as well. There has been little in the way of comprehensive cookbooks covering Latin America on our bookshop shelves for years, and none, as far as I know, written by a local..
Now we have Susie’s delightful gastronimic diary , a very readable account of the year she and husband Mike spent travelling through Mexico and South America, in a quest for the best taste trips. Or rather that’s what she wanted, while he spent the time hunting down the best kite-surfing sites.
They resigned their office jobs, stored their possessions and bought two air tickets, waving goodbye to Susie’s mother who, we are told, feared for her daughter’s life every day!
In choosing Latin America, they embraced cuisines where Maya, Aztec, Inca, Spanish and Portuguese contributions mix and meld, followed by more recent influence from Africa, Caribbean, Asia and Europe.
Mexico was the first destination, and a good choice seeing that their fare is rated as one of the finest peasant cuisines in the world. They found more meat in the north, seafood at the coast, spicy vegetable and chicken in the south. Favourite Mexican meals were breakfasts, which included rice, beans and avocado with their morning eggs. Her chorizo omelette is a dish that’s perfect for a winter brunch, and tortilla-wrapped fish with salsas is an appetising informal lunch suggestion. Gorditas – corn pockets with saucy fillings – make a great alternative to pitas, add some Margaritas and you have an easy way to feed guests.
They headed south to, Guatemala, a country whose cuisine is not well-pubicised. Plantains, rice and beans and salads are featured, while Nicaraguan more pork chops - well laced with rum and finished with cream and green peppercorns - are starred along with a saucy chicken pie that looks worth a try. I also like the Atolillo, described as a chilled rum custard, and it reminds me of melktert filling garnished with boozy sultanas.
More rice with beans, this time cooked in coconut milk, from Costa Rica and a similar version, without the beans, sweetened and spiked, for dessert. From Columbia, chilli salsas, Spanish-style omelettes and green apple and mint lemonade. On to Ecuador, where our adventurous couple savoured prawns ceviche and a potato and peanut stew with tofu and discovered countless varieties of Andean potatoes.
The author’s description of places and people in Peru are fascinating, the cuisine – indigenous dishes of Inca origin touched by Spanish influence, equally so. Her version of Causa Limena illustrates this well – Peruvian potato, avocado, tomato and tuna layered stack – and makes a summery lunch. For wintry days, their vegetable and quinoa soup makes a colourful and nutritious meal. Husband Mike’s favourite dish was Peru’s signature beef stir-fry, Lomo Saltado.
By way of contrast, the sophistication and diversity of Brazil’s fare was absorbed and relished with delight. Recipes include cheese bites,prawn pie,upside-down banana cake (a breakfast special) and Caipirinha, the country’s signature cocktail.
From their final destination, Argentina, Susie brought home recipes for Empanadas (beef and onion pies), a leek, sage and bacon bake, layered vegetable tart, the famous Chimichurri salsa and the Argentinian version of Dulce de Leche, caramel which is used in cakes, puds and cookies such as Alfajores, recipe given. The recipes finish with some good coffees, followed by a detailed index. Susie’s great travel photos add much interest, while the food shots are sumptuous, and beautifully styled.
What’s really appealing is the way the author suggests substitutes for exotic ingredients and alternatives and additions to the original dishes. Just the sort of helpful advice that every cook, beginner and experienced, appreciates. That and a down-to-earth modesty, an attractive trait that is by no means guaranteed in current cookbook-cum-diaries.