The New Southern-Latino Table Gets Into Those Pimiento Cheese Issues

It's hard to imagine a dreamier -- or perhaps creamier is the better term here -- food pairing than Latin and Southern cuisine. Who wouldn't love a Sunday brunch loaded with empanadas, tamales, fried chicken, corn pudding and both churros and key lime pie for dessert?

In The New Southern-Latino Table, food writer Sandra A. Gutierrez aims to give you the carnitas and BBQ ribs recipes to cook up your own cross-cultural kitchen pairing. In the "Latin" fried chicken recipe, the chicken is soaked in chipotle and cilantro-spiked buttermilk and served with a smoky chipotle ketchup. A collard green-orange salad with buttermilk dressing gets a sprinkling of salted pepitas, and the "Carolina Mexican rice" recipe is a twist Savannah red rice and sopa seca ("dry soup").

A great culinary merger proposition, but one that is tricky to pull off for a diverse American cookbook audience.

Gutierrez grew up in the United States and Guatemala and now lives in Cary, North Carolina, a suburb of Raleigh. If you've been to Cary recently (this writer has family there), it is a bustling suburb that is heavy on the commuting crowd (sound familiar?). The difference is Cary is hardly as diverse, population and food wise, as L.A. Of course, there are arguably few cities that can top this one on the always-new neighbor and hybrid food fronts.

And so we give Gutierrez kudos for trying to introduce Latin cuisine and culture to a broader American audience. It's just that her pitch feels a few decades off in today's already very diverse food world. For instance, she feels compelled to inform us in the Introduction that "outside of the U.S. you will not find 'Latinos' but Mexicans, Argentineans, Guatemalans, and dozens of other nationalities, each with their own nationalistic pride. We come in all different colors and have very different food histories."

Then again, this book was published in North Carolina (albeit by an academic press, somewhat surprisingly) so perhaps L.A. still stands for Latin America to some folks there. Who knows. Maybe the publisher should spend a little cultural diversity lunch hour time with Jonathan Gold.

But hey, we all probably know a few folks for whom that sidebar on the "flatbreads of Latin America" and the recipe for arepitas with goat cheese and green tomato chutney (p.46) might very well revolutionize the way they think of tortillas and corn cakes. There are also plenty of recipes for making "proper" Southern biscuits and black-eyed pea salads here, but the intended audience is still clearly the Southerner who has had little exposure to Latin American cuisine.

We also love that a pimiento cheese recipe is included (of course!). Only here, that pimiento cheese is shaped into a log, rolled in flattened white bread slices and sprinkled with paprika, then sliced and broiled for an appetizer.

The real connection between the South and Latin America -- and their cuisines -- may just lie in that pimiento cheese recipe header: "When I was a kid in Latin America, Saturday afternoons were spent receiving company or dropping by to visit friends," says Gutierrez. "Quick and easy snacks like these came in very hand then, as they do now." In other words, good old-fashioned home cooking and hospitality knows no borders.


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