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Book: Gran Cocina Latina - the Food of Latin America

Susan Jung


By Maricel Presilla


The vastness of the subject that Maricel Presilla has taken on - the myriad cuisines of Latin America - is evidenced by the fact that her book weighs 2.4kg and runs to more than 900 pages.

She identifies Latin America as starting at the Rio Grande and spreading east to "the three islands of the Hispanic Caribbean: Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic" then continuing "from Mexico south through Central America - except for the English-speaking Belize" before hopping "across the Panama Canal to South America". That's a lot of ground to cover.

Of course, there's some overlap, both in ingredients and dishes. Where does one country's empanada (savoury pie) end and another's begin? To an outsider, they might seem all the same, but Presilla does her best to sort them out. So we get recipes for Chilean baked beef empanadas, Argentinian beef empanadas, Cuban fried beef empanadas and cheese empanadas from Cuenca, in Ecuador. Then there are empanadas made with fresh corn dough, fresh white corn dough and plantain dough. You like tamales? Take your pick: there are tamales made from fresh corn, nixtamalised corn (the dried corn is mixed with slaked lime to make it more nutritious), cracked corn, hominy and starchy vegetable doughs.

There's so much information in this tome that it can be difficult to know where to start - although we can skip some of the recipes simply because not all of the ingredients are available here. (Does anyone have a good source for fresh masa?) Recipes I have marked for testing include Ecuadorean toasted corn (which I'll have to try with the non-Ecuadorean corn sold in the markets); chicken and vegetable sanchoro (a thick soup); Brazilian feijoada; and grilled corn and cheese arepas.