April 28, 2009

The South American Table

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Writing a cookbook that encompasses the cuisines of an entire continent is no easy task, but one that  The South American Table, Maria Baez Kajic does with ease by focusing on regional similarities in cuisine and culture, like breaking bread together being a cornerstone of family life, and  renowned South American hospitality. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Maria Baez Kijac (and Cynthia Clampitt, who assisted Baez Kijac with this book and is an author in her own right) at the IACP conference I attended earlier this month.  Baez Kijac, now in her seventies, immediately warms your heart with a greeting and a smile.  A native of Ecuador, she grew up in a large family that loved spending time together, especially during mealtimes.  At mealtimes, she says  " The conversation also varied, and I often wonder whether it was the food that enhanced the conversation, or the conversation that enhanced the food."  And the recipes in this book are something to talk about.

South American food is still one of the food world's unsung heroes.  New World ingredients, like the potato, pepper, and corn (not to mention several types of beans) are used everywhere, but some of the best recipes for them remain hidden in their countries of origin!  Baez Kijac demystifies this, (and others points) in the first three chapters of the book–The Geography of South America, The Pre-Colombian Civilizations of South America, and A Brief History of South American Cooking.  As a famous saying goes, "No need to know where I'm going, just need to know where I've been."  Having background insight into South American culture is essential in truly appreciating the continent's cuisine.

Finally, rather than a county-by-country breakdown of delicacies, The South American Table celebrates the varied influences on South American cusine and the essence of what makes it so distinct:  that from coast to coast, South Americans eat and live with music in their hearts "…For us, music and food go hand- in hand…"

 Baez Kijac says that for her, this book was a labor of love, and one she wrote with music in her heart.  And that is seen on every page, as she marries quinoa with tripe, humitas (a sort of corn tamal) with escabeches and cebiches,  dulces with passion fruit.  The reader delights in flavors enjoyed all over the continent. 

Asados, (barbecues) for example, are enjoyed with variations in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay, and so can't be categoried as strictly Argentinean cuisine, and Beaz Kijac's book avoids categorizing.  With its thorough background information plus explanations about foods for special events and holidays, The South American Table is a treasure.

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Above is my image of the Chimmichurri sauce from The South American Table, by Maria Baez Kajic, copyright 2003.  Reprinted with permission (and thanks!) from The Harvard Common Press.

Salsa Chimmichurri

Chimmichurri Sauce

Chimmichurri sauce is synonomous with Argentinean asado–the tangy parsley sauce, made with as many variations as there are cooks, can be more liquid for marinating meats as they grill, or made thicker (by using less vinegar) for dipping bread or seasoning meats, poultry or fish when they are served.  Feel free to adjust seasonings as desired.  You can use olive oil in place of the canola oil and dried parsely in place of fresh, as I did.

3 tablespoons boiling water (I used lemon juice)

1/2 cup red wine vinegar (some people use 1/4 cup red wine with 1/4 red wine vinegar)

4 medium-size cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (less if using American red pepper flakes, which are hotter)

1/4 cup canola oil or extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Place the water, vinegar, garlic, salt, black pepper, oregano, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl, stirring until the salt is dissolved.  Add the oil and the parsley and beat with a fork until well mixed.  Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator.  Shake well before serving.

More photos on my flickr photostream, From Argentina With Love.

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5 Responses to “The South American Table”

  1. IACP is a great way to meet people who are serious about food — not “foodies”, but food professionals. How great that you were able to connect with this author at the conference.

  2. Rebecca, this makes me want to stand outside in the rain and grill a steak. Chimmichurri is a magical condiment. Funny that we’re both talking about sauces today on our blogs. Thanks for the inspiration and education.

  3. What a beautiful looking cookbook.
    The food preference that surprised me the most about Chile was the penchant for kernel corn. Chilenos use it much more often than gringos. On sandwiches, too!
    It’s funny that so many of us discussed condiments on our blogs at the same time. I will bring some aji chileno and merquen spice when I return to the U.S. and send it to you if you are interested.

  4. Everybody needs a good chimmichurri sauce. We always have to search high and low to buy a small, overpriced bottle here. Thanks for showing us how to make it! Tell us when you are in AZ – we will invite you over for some choripan w/chimmichurri sauce!

  5. Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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