Monday, July 29, 2013

Cook the Books 2013 - Gran Cocina Latina brings rice pudding, hibiscus cocktails and smoky soup

July has been mostly freezing in San Francisco. So I chose two warming recipes and something for cocktails from this month's Cook the Books selection, Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Marisel E. Presilla.

This book is seriously impressive, an 800-page tome packed with authentic recipes from throughout Latin America.

And paging through it was a particular joy for me, because it brought alive so many memories and flavors of past experiences in various countries. While living in Mexico, I perfected one of my favorite dishes, Huachinango a la Veracruza (p 626), and I ate the Taquitos de Carnitas "Al Paraíso" in Pátzcuaro (p 394) many times! While traveling in Peru I savored Causa Limeña and Papas a la Huancaína, and even visited the International Potato Center (CIP) detailed on page 201. I watched hearts of palm being harvested in the jungles of Brazil, and then ate them in salads similar to the Hearts of Palm and Mango Salad (551). And mofongo (p 188) was the first typical Puerto Rican dish I had on my first visit. I could go on...

But as much as this book evoked vivid memories for me, I didn't get much time in the kitchen to cook from it. And while some of the recipes I read through closely seemed overly complicated to me, with just three recipes actually used, I feel unable to give it a reliable review overall. In my opinion this seems like a good book for a cook looking to expand their Latin American repertoire, rather than someone looking for a cookbook to start out with.

Here's where it took me:

Hibiscus Syrup (a staple in Mexico, and still one of my favorite agua frescas)

Doesn't get much easier than making a syrup, and this one is very tasty. The end result is not super sweet and has nice layers of flavor from the orange peel and spices, so it is great for cocktails. We made hibiscus lime margaritas, and because of its gorgeous color, floated it in prosecco. Thumbs up for both! With the remaining syrup I plan to try to recreate a tamarind, hibiscus, rose water cooler that I love from a restaurant in Eugene. Perfect summertime sip, if we ever get that around here!

Smoky Pureed Pumpkin & Cacao Soup (this one just captured my imagination, and taste buds)

This produced a rather strange but not entirely displeasing soup. It was way too thin, but I used kabocha squash instead of pumpkinwhich the book did list as an alternativebut I wonder if it just didn't thicken up enough with the squash I used. I also used plain yogurt instead of Mexican crema, and didn't use manchego cheese or other listed garnishes. Maybe these things would have all made this soup amazing. Anyhow, it was a very concentrated flavor. If you don't make the accompanying cacao-chile balls (I didn't), I suggest serving with quesadillas to dip in for bites.

Peruvian Rice Pudding with Brown Sugar and Coconut (excelente!)

Rice pudding is one of my favorite things, but weirdly, I never make it myself. There were two delicious sounding recipes in this book, but I went with the less creamy one since I'm still trying to clear out lingering head cold congestion. This rice pudding is unusual in the fact that it uses no cream or milk at all, just rice cooked in water, and a syrup made with brown sugar, coconut, raisins, pecans and spices. It's easy to make and very very satisfying. I brought this to a cold afternoon potluck, where it was a hit, and would readily make it again.

OK, now I'm ready for some sunshine! It can't come soon enough, since our cookbook for August is Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones: 90 Recipes for Making Your Own Ice Cream and Frozen Treats from Bi-Rite Creamery!


  1. Looks good Aimee! I made the Hibiscus Wine. Is that the same recipe? I'm letting the leftovers ferment a bit to see how "wine-y" it gets.

    1. Thanks Angela! It isn't the same recipe, but I was thinking of making the wine as well with additional hibiscus flowers I have on hand. Let me know how it turns out!