The Food and Life of Oaxaca
, by New York restaurateur Zarela Martinez, is a fascinating cultural study disguised as a great cookbook. Martinez is part of the new renaissance of Mexican food writers and chefs, including Rick Bayless
and Diana Kennedy
, who reaffirm that culinary awareness goes hand in hand with cultural awareness.
In fact, Martinez, a Mexican, credits her time in Oaxaca as "redefining my whole understanding of Mexico." Oaxaca is one of the most biologically and culturally diverse regions in Mexico, echoed throughout The Food and Life of Oaxaca in both the recipes and the accompanying essays. Martinez adamantly insists that to cook a dish, you must first understand it. She provides not only the how-to of a recipe, but also the why. In the chapter on moles, she provides seven outstanding recipes and explains beautifully why the sauces predominate Oaxacan cuisine. Her section on tamales is simply one of the best available, providing solid instruction and Oaxacan variations of the traditional Mexican party food. Chefs new to Mexican cuisine will find the glossary of ingredients indispensable. And any chef will find Martinez's passion for her subject inspiring.--Mark O. Howerton
From the Inside Flap
Deep in southern Mexico lies a magical placea land of dramatic beauty, proud heritage, and food that some aficionados consider Mexico's best. The state of Oaxaca is a tapestry of many cultures still close to their pre-Hispanic roots. The rugged mountain ranges pocket the ancient languages, traditions, and foodways of the many different peoples who lived here even before the Aztecs, in the great days of the Zapotec Empire. In this very special collection of recipes and memories, author Zarela Martínez shares her love of The Food and Life of Oaxaca. Oaxaca is the most biologically and culturally diverse state of all Mexico. A proud village life still recalls the heroic resistance that the native peoples put up against the Spanish conquerors. The glorious state capital, Oaxaca City, offers a rich fusion of the Spanish and Indian (especially Zapotec) legacies, and sits in a valley where all good things grow abundantly, from wheat and apples to walnuts and cabbages. Other areas produce delicious tropical fruits; from the Pacific coast come fish and shellfish. All parts of Oaxaca grow a profusion of wonderful chile varieties used with bold subtlety throughout the region and special strains of corn that surpass even the usual excellence of Mexican corn. Created from this bounty are dishes that come from the hearts and souls of the Oaxacan people. The regional cuisine is inextricably tied to the days of the religious calendar and the deep communal life of the villages. The Food and Life of Oaxaca captures this interrelationship through traditional recipes from the major church celebrations the most colorful being the Days of the Dead on November 1 and 2 as well as through simple everyday dishes. Zarela shares the authentic tastes of Wedding Stew (a savory, Spanish-influenced braised chicken dish with pickled chiles), Gaspacho (a shredded meat salad, not a soup!), Potato-Cheese Fritters, and many of the state's famous tamales. In a richly detailed chapter, Zarela unlocks the secrets of the renowned regional moles those sublime main-dish sauces that have earned Oaxaca the fond nickname "The Land of the Seven Moles." And what real chocolate-lover could resist the thrill of grinding chocolate from the actual beans? From the full-bodied and extravagant flavors of the major cities' most illustrious dishes to recipes from small villages, market stalls, and street peddlers, The Food and Life of Oaxaca explores the difference and delights of Oaxacan cooking. Even cooks already passionate about Mexican food will discover whole new worlds of flavors and techniques, some dating back to before the Conquest. Complementing the recipes, Laurie Smith's sensitive black and white photographs reveal the dignity and vitality of the Oaxacan people. The Food and Life of Oaxaca captures the vibrant spirit and lasting traditions that are leading more and more travelers to this alluring region of Mexico.