Recipes from the Rim: Part III

November 8th, 2007

Isabel's Cantina
Isabel’s Cantina
Bold Latin Flavors from the
New California Kitchen

Isabel Cruz

Clarkson Potter (August 28, 2007);
224 pages; $27.00

In the introduction to her book, Isabel Cruz relates, “As a single mother with two kids to feed and no formal education to fall back on, I relied on what I knew best, the things I had learned in my childhood kitchen. Naively, I opened a restaurant in San Diego…”

Growing up in Los Angeles, the author’s Puerto Rican family loved to cook and party with their Peruvian, Mexican, Cuban, and Asian neighbors. One quickly realizes that Isabel Cruz had quite a lot to “fall back on.” Now a successful chef-owner of five West Coast restaurants, Ms. Cruz presents a series of bright and simple fusion recipes. She makes the most of California’s produce and ever more available fresh Asian and Mediterranean ingredients like ginger, lemongrass, mint, and basil. Balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and soy sauce appear in Latin comfort food that has been lightened with creativity, common sense, and Asian dash.

Fusion Halibut
Salmon with Papaya-Mango-Mint Salsa
Photo: Gregory Bertolini

Ms. Cruz’s restaurants have a wide spectrum of clients—those who go for the Power Breakfast plate of brown rice, steamed vegetables, scrambled egg-whites and get their kick from salsa and those who sink into the Pina Colada Pancakes. There are plenty of low-fat, and even some fat-free, recipes, but then there are Churros... (and yes, they’re fried, but in canola oil, not lard.) A make-me-right-now photo of guilt-free Raspberry-Lime Agua Fresca is balanced by a shot of Strawberry-Mango Cobbler. This is not spa food. Rather, it’s an array of beverages and dishes that, though born in restaurants, may be easily prepared by home cooks.

The food Ms. Cruz offers is both “healthy” and indulgent. She admits that she has tried to subtly slenderize both the recipes and those who love the food of Latin America. Lots of steamed, roasted, and grilled fish, poultry, and lean meat get their zing from quickly prepared sauces of citrus, chili, mint, and cilantro. But she doesn’t preach. Recipes include butter, sugar, white flour, and tequila as well as tofu, quinoa, collards, jicama, and chamomile tea. Rich or spare,the dishes are all appealing and speak for themselves; absolutely nothing in the book is self-concious. And in these days of fusion foolishness, Ms. Cruz’s food and philosophy should be welcomed into many kitchens.

Note: Clarkson Potter sent us this book for review

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