I’m a Southerner, born and raised. And I can’t get enough Southern home cooking like fresh pico de gallo and fish tacos. You heard me right. Fresh pico, fish tacos and I’ll toss in an extra jalapeño while I’m at it. Not quite the Southern fried classics you might expect.
Without even realizing it, I’ve been enjoying a new food movement that Cary resident Sandra Gutierrez describes in her debut cookbook The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes that Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America & the American South.
The cookbook has more than 250 pages of mouth-watering recipes that combine the flavors of Latin American and Southern cooking. Think delicacies like Chile-Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter (click here for the recipe!) and Sweet Potato and Plantain Casserole.
Gutierrez, a cooking class instructor and former food writer for the Cary News, moved from the U.S. to Guatemala as a young girl and became attuned to combined food cultures at her American school where hamburgers were served next to milanesas. She first noticed the marriage of Southern and Latino cooking about 15 years ago when she started seeing chipotle and jalapeño chilies surface in meals in the South.
“The movement started in the homes of Latinos who were coming into the South and finding that they couldn’t find their own ingredients here to make the food that they were used to eating. And it happened in Southerners’ homes who started to embrace different Latin ingredients,” Gutierrez said.
Combining Southern and Latin American cuisines came naturally to Gutierrez, who recognized that both food cultures share many of the same ingredients — corn, beans, pork and tomatoes — and cooking techniques — braising, roasting and frying. “I fell in love with pimento cheese. I fell in love with fried green tomatoes and pulled pork. Both of my culinary worlds melded together. It has been the same thing that has happened to many Latinos in the South who are combining traditions and combining flavors.”
One of the most exciting aspects of this food movement is that it started on a grassroots level, in the homes of Southerners and Latinos who were open to trying new ingredients, not in restaurants. “This is not my attempt at changing something or at creating something. I’m simply the first person to document what has been going on here for the past few decades,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez can’t define a favorite among the cookbook’s recipes. She said it would be like asking if she had a favorite child. She did admit that her Chile-Chocolate Brownies are one of her most popular desserts. Two-Corn Summer Salad and Chicken and Mango Braise have surfaced as popular dishes as well.
The cookbook, which was released in September, includes a glossary of Latin terms, a guide to navigating a Latin tienda and countless cook’s tips to ensure even the most novice chef cooks with success.
“It is my hope that both Latin Americans and Southerners will feel very proud of this cuisine. It is not a Latin cuisine and it is not a Southern cuisine. It is a cuisine that celebrates the best of both regional cuisines.”
The cookbook is available at the Cary Barnes and Noble and on Amazon.com. Gutierrez has already signed her second book deal, but the topic is a secret. All she would spill is that it will focus on another new cuisine type. Until the 2013 release of her next cookbook, you can follow Gutierrez at SandrasKitchenStudio.com where she posts recipes, photos and news about her book tour.
The following recipes will whet your appetite for The New Southern-Latino Table’s combination of familiar flavors with a twist of something different.