Spirit of the Earth: Cooking From Latin Americaby Beverly Cox with photographsby Martin Jacobs Stewart Tabori & Chang, 240 pp., $40
The native foodstuffs of the Americas radically changed eating habits the world over. The Americas gave the world corn, tomatoes, squash, beans, potatoes, and chocolate, to name a few. Most of these ingredients are now staples of our everyday diets, and one can't easily imagine life without them. Unfortunately, due in great part to the ignorance displayed by the conquistadors, very little solid evidence remains of how these ingredients were prepared and consumed in ancient American societies.
Spirit of the Earth offers a peek into the recipes of ancient and modern Latin American indigenous societies. This beautiful, oversized cookbook takes the reader on a journey to discover the recipes and cooking techniques of the ancient cultures of Latin America, following in the footsteps of their IACP-award-winning Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking. Cox has done a great amount of research on the recipes, and Jacobs' stunning photography enhances each and every page and brings the recipes to life.
Each recipe is introduced by a tidbit of history, an anecdote, or a cooking tip. The recipes are straightforward, easy to read and to prepare, and, as far as I can tell, very authentic. The book is divided into three chapters: the Maya, the Aztec, and the Inca, each introduced by well-known authorities on the anthropology and ancient history of these people. However, I must say that upon careful reading, I was slightly disappointed with some aspects of the book, namely misspellings and the fact that many of the recipes discussed in the section on the Aztec empire are from the culinary-rich states of Oaxaca, Michoacán, and Veracruz, which are not historically known as the most representative of Aztec culture.
The section that intrigues me the most is the one on Inca cuisine, since this is not something I am very familiar with. As is to be expected, many of the Inca recipes include potatoes of all different kinds, sometimes used in unexpected combinations of ingredients, like the pink trout and potato soup. Quinoa, the Inca staple grain, is also present in gratins, tamales, stews, and breads, and there are several different recipes for Peruvian-style ceviches that I am very interested in trying.