Cookbook review: A cook’s tour through a ‘house of many kitchens’

‘Latinisimo: Home Recipes from the Twenty-One Countries of Latin America’ by Sandra A. Gutierrez (Knopf, $40)
"Latinisimo: Home Recipes from the Twenty-One Countries of Latin America" by Sandra A. Gutierrez (Knopf, $40)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

"Latinisimo: Home Recipes from the Twenty-One Countries of Latin America" by Sandra A. Gutierrez (Knopf, $40)

Sandra Gutierrez likes to compare Latin American food to that of a large house, with the easily recognizable Mexican staples of tacos and enchiladas at its front door. Once inside, there are 20 other “kitchens” (or countries) waiting to be discovered.

This is how she opens her remarkable new opus, “Latinisimo: Home Recipes from the Twenty-One Countries of Latin America” (Knopf, $40). It’s hard to imagine anyone better qualified to guide us over the threshold and through the area’s vast foodways.

Born in the United States, Gutierrez grew up in a family of global travelers and enthusiastic cooks in Guatemala. Eventually she returned to the U.S. and settled with her husband in North Carolina, where she became food editor of the now-defunct Cary News, contributing writer to national publications and a prolific cookbook author. Her work is now part of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s permanent food exhibit.

Her latest — and most daunting — endeavor begins with a brief overall history of the cuisine, followed by elemental recipes (sauces, spice blends, sofritos) that serve as starting points for dishes throughout the book. The rest of the chapters are categorized by ingredient — corn, beans, squash, and so on — each prefaced with an essay about their cultural significance.

Recipes are labeled with their countries of origin and difficulty levels, and reflect the way many Latin Americans cook today. Most lean toward simple, everyday fare rather than complicated special occasion dishes. Pollo en Coco, boneless skinless chicken thighs simmered in a golden coconut milk-based sauce unique to Honduras and Nicaragua, is one such example I’ll happily repeat. Equally delicious was the tangy green salad with orange segments complemented by crunchy cacao nibs (a nod to Uruguay, a major producer).

Whether you’re hankering to try your hand at homemade tortillas or a Peruvian twist on a pot roast, Gutierrez holds the key to more kitchens — each different from the next, all filled with deliciousness.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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