A new life for a classic cookbook

The Book of Latin American Cooking old and new

Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz was one of the leading cookbook authors of her generation and wrote numerous cookery books including The New Complete Book of Mexican Cooking. A culinary anthropologist and food historian, Ortiz served as a principal consultant for the Time Life Foods of the World series, as well as a regular contributor to Gourmet magazine. She died in New York in 2003 at the age of 88. One of her best-loved works, The Book of Latin American Cooking (first published in 1969) has just been reissued by Grub Street. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book – open to Members worldwide).  While Ortiz is no longer with us, her words still resonate as evidenced by this excerpt from her introduction to the book: 

Looking back to the day when I determined to collect Latin American recipes – true gems of cookery – into a book gives me a feeling of great pleasure. I have done what I so deeply wanted to do; to bring these delectable dishes within the reach of cooks everywhere, a practical aim since in our modern world many once exotic ingredients are now supermarket commonplaces. I have spent a long time on my research; I have made many exciting journeys and eaten a great deal of very good food. It has been infinitely worthwhile. I sought out the historical hows and whys of this intriguing cuisine and found academic answers which I recorded in my endless notebooks in a special kind of cook’s shorthand. A fascinating analysis to be sure, of ancient peoples and cities, of the birth of agriculture, of the coming together, in the kitchen, of very different cultures. That was only part of what I sought. I found the rest quite simply in wonderful food, the focal point of family and social life. So the best part of my quest has been coming back to my own kitchen and bringing to life those scribbled words, turning them into dishes with the authentic flavours of Latin American cooking. It isn’t food that is difficult to cook or bristles with complicated techniques. For the most part it is straightforward and easy, though there are some cooking methods that may seem odd at first, like frying a paste of peppers and other ingredients in lard or oil as a preliminary to making a Mexican mole. And I did have to learn about unfamiliar fruits and vegetables and seek them out in my own markets back home, where I found them without much trouble. I remembered flavours, and altered recipes until the taste was right, and had loving friends and family in to share splendid meals with me. It was a joyous experience and I have never been happier than when I received the accolade bestowed on good cooks in Latin America, “tiene buena mano,” “She has a good hand.” It is my hope that readers will want to share my experience, and will cook, enjoy, and adopt these recipes as family favourites.

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