Martinez’ three pioneering Mexican cookbooks, Food from my Heart (1992), The Food and Life of Oaxaca (1997), and Zarela’s Veracruz (2001), have been praised as significant contributions to the literature of Mexican cuisine. Her third cookbook, Zarela’s Veracruz, was also the companion to a 13-part PBS series, Zarela! La Cucina Veracruzana.
(Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001, 352pp.)
Photo by Laurie Smith www.lauriesmithphoto.com
Veracruz, the lush strip of land bordering the Gulf, is home to the most accessible cooking in all of Mexico. There could be no better guide to this exciting region than the joyfully extroverted Zarela Martínez, chef and owner of New York’s best Mexican restaurant and author of two widely acclaimed cookbooks.
Now, as the tour guide and host of a nationally broadcast public television series filmed on location, she introduces the culture and food of Veracruz to a North American audience for the first time. In this major new cookbook — the companion to the show — Zarela provides a mesmerizing travelogue and absorbing portrait of the region, with more than two hundred irresistible recipes.
The cuisine of Veracruz is exceptionally inviting, even to cooks who may think they don’t like Mexican food. Complex blends of difficult-to-find chiles and other spices are nearly absent. Thanks to Spanish influences, the dishes often seem almost Mediterranean in character, with lively indigenous and Cuban notes.
The recipes are perfect for parties or, in many cases, ordinary suppers: Crab and Avocado Salad • Spicy Shrimp Soup • Garlicky Pan-Fried Fish • Orange-Flavored Chicken • Wild Mushrooms in Vinaigrette • Table-Stainer Pork • Coconut Layer Cake • Peanut Sand Tarts
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THE FOOD AND LIFE OF OAXACA
(Macmillan, 1997, 342pp.)
“Martínez proves herself a cookbook writer of the first rank with this volume.” – Michael Schrader in Nation’s Restaurant News
The Food and Life of Oaxaca is one of the most important works ever published on Mexican cooking. In the words of Zarela Martínez’s colleague Rick Bayless, it is “a book that will enrich the lives of all that are really hungry, all that are seeking more than the latest flavor.”
Martinez’s text and Laurie Smith’s evocative black and white photographs penetrate deep into the identity of a land rich in joys and sorrows. Located in the remote southwest of Mexico, the isolated mountain state of Oaxaca has preserved some of the oldest aspects of pre-Hispanic culture. Martínez dramatically shows how Oaxaca’s tumultuous past has created a multifaceted cuisine as diverse as the mountains, valleys, coasts, rain forests, and deserts of the state itself.
To Mexicans, Oaxaca is synonymous with moles and other intensely flavored main-dish sauces. Martínez devotes an entire chapter to these. She brings you the famous tamales of the region, tells you how to duplicate a true barbacoa (pit-roast) in a home oven, and introduces classic Oaxaca ingredients like avocado leaf and the many local chile varieties.
Food from My Heart is no orthodox cookbook. It is a gifted chef’s own story told through uninhibited memories of her family, descriptions of the northern Mexican ranch life she was born into, absorbing accounts of the many journeys that shaped her knowledge of food, and explorations of Mexican culture and religion — all interwoven with 175-plus beautifully written recipes. From these elements Zarela Martínez has created a complex, very personal introduction to Mexico’s diverse culinary traditions.
Whether you want a guide to Mexican techniques and ingredients, directions to some of Zarela Restaurant’s most famous dishes (savory corn bread, salmon with chipotle mayonnaise, tamales), detailed recipes for basics like handmade tortillas, or vivid word-pictures of people and places, this one-of-a-kind book will draw you into its spell. Nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award in the International Cookbook category, it is one of those works that forever expand the definition of “cookbook.” The notoriously picky critic John Thorne compared the experience of Food from My Heart to “sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee in your hand, listening to a nonstop flow of explication, instruction and memory.”
This is a Mexican cookbook for someone who already has five of them — or someone who’s barely tasted Mexican food. It will send seasoned cooks into the kitchen looking for adventure — and keep readers who never cook riveted to its pages. Some people even report that they’ve taken it with them on the plane and carried it through all their travels in Mexico. Zarela Martínez’s heart is a big place, and everyone who glances into this book will be warmed by it in some special way.
Mexican Family Cooking
by Aida Gabilondo (Fawcett-Columbine 1986)
If you love cooking from Zarela’s books you’ll be glad to know that cookbook writing is a family tradition.
Mexican Family Cooking by her mother, Aida Gabilondo, is a wonderful anthology of approximately 260 recipes ranging from the simplest salsas to the most elegant celebratory dishes.