If you're a fan of the Yucatecan food at Chichén Itzá in the Mercado La Paloma, you can now make your favorite dishes yourself. No kidding.
All the recipes from the restaurant, and many more, are in a just-published cookbook by Chichén Itzá's founder, Gilberto Cetina (read the Weekly's Q & A with the chef here). The book is Sabores Yucatecos: A Culinary Tour of the Yucatán (WPR Books: Comida, $27.95), co-authored by Katharine A. Díaz and Gilberto Cetina Jr., who works with his father at the restaurant.
Five years in the making, Sabores is filled with enticing photographs and so much detail about how to prepare each dish that you can't go wrong. It's the first cookbook in English by a chef from Yucatán — Cetina was born in Colonia Yucatán, a timber town in the municipality of Tizimín. And it's more extensive than anything I came across in a recent tour of the Yucatán peninsula.
The recipes are classic, not chef improvisations, and they are authentic rather than simplified for American households. They take you through such top hits of the Yucatán as sopa de lima (lime soup); cochinita pibil (achiote-seasoned pork cooked in banana leaves); sikil pac, a squash seed dip of Mayan origin; brazo de reina, which is an egg-stuffed tamal; queso relleno, or Edam cheese with pork filling; tortilla dishes such as salbutes and panuchos, and much more, 140 recipes in all.
Yucatecan food has Mayan roots and European influences including Spanish, Dutch and French, as well as input from a prominent Lebanese community. The most common street food in Yucatán is kibis, meat and bulgur patties introduced by the Lebanese, Cetina says. (Kibis are on the menu at Chichén Itzá.)
Although Yucatecan food requires a unique set of ingredients, most can be found here. Exceptions are lima agria, a sour lime, and chaya, a leafy plant used in everything from an agua fresca (cold drink) to the masa mixture for brazo de reina. You're likely to have eaten chaya at Chichén Itzá, because Cetina stocks frozen leaves. And occasionally he has plants to sell.
The book explains how to make other essentials such as a variety of recados (seasoning pastes) that are easy to get in markets in Yucatán but are not available here.
Cetina says he learned to cook from his mother and grandmother and stores the recipes in his head. Díaz, a writer on Latino issues who has known Cetina since he opened Chichén Itzá 11 years ago, got them down in print, working out proportions for home cooks.
The book is available through the publisher, through Amazon and at the restaurant.
Here is Cetina's recipe for Sopa de Lima. Because it calls for turkey stock and shredded roast turkey, it's the perfect Yucatecan dish for the holiday season.
Sopa de lima (lime soup)
From: Gilberto Cetina's Sabores Yucatecos
Note: Recipes for Yucatecan turkey stock and roast turkey are in the book.
Serves: 6 to 8
Prepared turkey stock:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
½ white onion, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon pepper, or to taste
1 gallon turkey stock
Juice of 1 lima agria (sour lime) or lime
6 to 7 corn tortillas, cut into ¼-inch strips and fried crisp
Shredded roast turkey
Slices of lima agria or lime
1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the tomatoes, onion, green and red bell peppers, salt and pepper. Saute until cooked but chunky.
2. Heat the turkey stock to a simmer. Add the sautéed vegetables and lima agria (or lime) juice and simmer for 5 more minutes. Adjust salt and pepper.
3. In individual bowls, place a small handful of tortilla strips and shredded turkey. Ladle the prepared turkey stock into the bowl. Garnish with 1 slice of lima agria (or lime), slightly squeezed and twisted.
Read more from Barbara Hansen at www.eatmx.com, www.tableconversation.com, @food and wine gal and Facebook.