Here’s a cookbook that will transport you to the rich, culinary Southern hemisphere: without a passport. If you’ve ever eaten hearty potato soup in Ecuador, or drunk a pisco sour in Peru, now you can replicate these recipes at home.
The South American Table: The Flavor and Soul of Authentic Home Cooking from Patagonia to Rio de Janeiro, with 450 Recipes by Maria Baez Kijac is a comprehensive guide to all foods south of the border.
Before you dig in with your fork, Kijac provides a thorough overview of South America’s geography and history. You’ll discover the original farmers of our world’s first potato and quinoa crops, and learn about the arrival of Chinese, French, and Spanish explorers in this beautiful land, and its influence on the region’s cuisine and culture.
Importantly, Kijac covers all the recipe bases from beverages and breads to appetizers and meats with a keen eye on authenticity. Many of her dishes include head notes describing the friends who helped her develop the recipe, with sidebars noting cultural significance of certain foods or dishes. It’s like having a tour guide right in your kitchen!
The soup chapter is particularly reflective of such a large geographic region, featuring a wide range of chicken soups that will be new to the typical North American table, like Boiled Chicken with Root Vegetables from the Andes, and South American-inspired potato soups, including my personal favorite: Potato Soup with Avocado and Corn. When I traveled to Ecuador, I was served this soup in a fancy hotel, and it was smooth and creamy. Kijac’s version is rustic and no-fuss, calling for the potatoes to be mashed with a wooden spoon right in the broth, rather than pureed with fancy equipment. I imagine this is the way it is made by busy home cooks—chunky and simple.
There’s also a chapter dedicated entirely to “Grain Dishes,” something very important to the South American diet. “Thousands of years before Columbus landed in the Americas, the Indians cultivated grains, which played a central role in their lives,” writes Kijac.
This wonderful chapter highlights corn dishes, rice, and quinoa. I was pleased to find a simple, pleasing recipe for Mote Pillo Cuencano, or Hominy Cuenca Style. I ate this dish often while visiting Cuenca, and had no idea how to replicate it. Turns out, this easy dish requires very little: paprika, scallions, garlic, hominy and egg.
Other favorites from this book include Potatoes with Spicy Cheese Sauce, a recipe that again captured succinctly the flavors I experienced while traveling in Peru, and the more than two dozen versions of ceviche.
As each dish transported me back to another happy travel memory, I quietly thanked Kijac for this gift. How often do we long for those flavors that made our journey special? Kijac has wrapped them up neatly for us in her delightful cookbook.
I leave you with Kijac’s recipe for Hot Chocolate with Coconut Milk. One sip landed me back in Quito, Ecuador, where mom and pop coffee shops serve tiny cups of a barely sweetened, rich, thick hot chocolate meant for sipping slowly during good conversation with fellow travelers. Here’s to a cupful of culinary memories past—and new ones to come with the many tasty dishes within The South American Table.
Chocolate con Leche de Coco
Hot Chocolate with Coconut Milk from The South American Table
3 cups whole milk
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, cut into small pieces
1 cup well-stirred canned unsweetened coconut milk
¼ cup sugar
In a heavy 4-quart saucepan, combine 2 cups of the milk and the chocolate. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat and beat with an electric mixer or whisk until foamy. Add the remaining 1 cup milk, the coconut milk, and sugar and simmer over medium-low heat, beating all the time, until very hot and foamy. Serve immediately.