Side Dish for Feb. 2, 2012

Numerous ethnicities flavor BR

Cheramie Sonnier

Have you ever thought about calling someone, then your telephone rang and the person you planned to call was on the other end of the line? Well, something like that occasionally happens to me.

Just the other day, I was looking through a stack of cookbooks to review and pulled out a few on various ethnic cuisines. It is time, I’d decided, for the Food section to showcase the numerous ethnic cuisines now represented in the Baton Rouge area. It wasn’t long after that Chandan Sharma called to suggest we do such stories and volunteered to help us navigate the Indian food scene.

Baton Rouge’s residents include good cooks with roots in such countries as Venezuela, Vietnam, Lebanon, China, Thailand and Guatemala. The latter is the Latin American country whose culinary traditions have most influenced cooking teacher and food writer Sandra A. Gutierrez, who grew up in the United States and Guatemala and today lives in North Carolina.

In her 288-page cookbook, “The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes That Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America & the American South” (University of North Carolina Press, $30, hardcover), she offers about 150 original recipes that combine the foods of both her worlds.

In the book’s introduction, Gutierrez writes that when she first moved to North Carolina as a young bride in the mid-1980s, she had to experiment to re-create Guatemalan dishes, substituting what she could find on Southern grocery shelves for traditional ingredients, such as finely ground cornmeal for masa. “By now, I’ve spent most of my life in the South. … I learned to respect the ingredients and cooking techniques of my new home … As my two worlds melded, so did the food in those worlds. The Latina discovered her Southern belle within.”

She notes that North America’s Latinos “don’t share a single culinary voice because they don’t share one within Latin America either.”

She says the various nationalities of Latin and South America have their own, very food different food histories. She also notes that both Latin and Southern food traditions have been influenced by indigenous, African and European people.

They share some of the same basic ingredients — tomatoes, corn, beans, pork, sugar, potatoes, squash, nuts — and cooking techniques: barbecuing, deep frying, braising and roasting.

Gutierrez opens her book with “The Basics,” recipes that complement everyday meals, from Achiote Oil to Sandra’s Ultimate Guacamole. Next comes a chapter on starters, from Ancho Chile-Cheese Wafers, which are her take on cheese crackers, to Warm Pimiento Cheese Logs. She also includes chapters on salads and cold dishes, main dishes, soups and stews, casseroles, vegetable and side dishes, and desserts.

Among the recipes are Chilled Avocado-Buttermilk Soup With Crab Salad Nacho, Collard Green Tamales With Pimiento Sauce, Pecan Rum Cake With Figs, Garlic-Studded Pork, Beef Short Ribs With Roasted Tomato and Molasses Gravy, Creole Black Bean Soup With Rum, Sweet Potato and Plantain Casserole, and Sweet Tomato Cobbler.

The book is illustrated with numerous full-color photographs of completed dishes. It also features a section on navigating a tienda, or Latin grocery store, and provides a list of sources for ingredients. All in all, Gutierrez provides home cooks with a good introduction to the new Southern-Latino culinary movement.

Here’s a recipe from her book that my family liked.