When asked for their source of inspiration, many cooks will reference their mother's dog-eared copy of Julia Child or the grandmother's inherited copy of the "Joy of Cooking." But for Latinos growing up in the United States, the cooking bibles that ruled their family's kitchens and tables have an altogether different flavor.
Many of these cookbooks made the same journey to a new country, so they have a lot of miles on them. They may be oil splattered pages held together with a rubber band under a torn cover, but the recipes have always been bullet proof. They also make great gifts for Mother's Day — whether you need to replace the copy you begged your mother to give you or you are just hoping to pass it on to the next generation so they'll have a connection to your shared past. Here are a few classics worth seeking out.
1. "Puerto Rican Cookery" by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli
This classic cookbook of Caribbean cuisine has been a mainstay on bestseller lists for the better part of four decades and reprinted too many times to count. Aboy de Valdejulli organizes the ingredients by section, then uses these categories to create a kind of shorthand in the recipes, making them easier to follow. You'll not only become a better cook of Puerto Rican food, you'll become a better cook full stop.
2. "Mi Cocina a La Manera de Caracas" by Armando Scannone
An engineer by training, Scannone set out to get his own family's recipes down when he self-published his cookbook in the early 1980s. He agreed to a larger run to bring the printing costs down, though he was warned that it wouldn't sell. Almost 40 years later, "el libro rojo" or red book as its known, is still very much in demand. Scannone went on to found the Academy of Venezuelan Gastronomy to support the cuisine he helped define for so many generations.
3. "Mujer 2000" by Silvia Henríquez de Pou
Though she was an excellent home cook and even started a small business selling desserts to family friends when she was young, Henríquez de Pou was reluctant to appear in the cooking segment of a popular daytime show when she was first approached. She eventually found her groove, and when the show was replaced by a telenovela, she pitched her own series, which ran for 37 years. Many books followed but it's this first edition that takes pride of place in so many kitchens in the Dominican Republic.
4. "Cocina de la Familia" by Marilyn Tausend
Available in both Spanish and English editions, Tausend was far ahead of the curve in understanding that Mexican food defies all borders. The book includes over 200 traditional recipes by both Mexican and Mexican-American home cooks. With each recipe, you get a sense of the men and women behind each one.
5. "La Gran Cocina Latina" by Maricel Presilla
Winner of multiple James Beard Foundation Awards, Presilla not only explores the incredible diversity of Latin American cuisines, but allows us to see the wonderful ways they complement each other. While nostalgia is a primary ingredient when we look back on our family's favorite cookbooks, this contemporary work by one of Latin America's premier culinary historians is a classic in the making.
BONUS: Check out this recipe for Short Ribs in Black Sauce by Maricel Presilla:
4 garlic cloves, mashed to a pulp with a mortar and pestle or finely chopped and mashed
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
1⁄8 teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
6 large short ribs (about 1¼ ounce each)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup grated brown loaf sugar (preferably panela), Muscovado sugar, or packed brown sugar
2 medium carrots (11 ounces), finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion (8 ounces), finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups chicken broth, homemade (page 000) or store-bought
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh or dried rosemary
Rosemary sprigs, for garnish
Seasoning the Ribs: In a small bowl, combine the mashed garlic with the oregano, allspice, salt, and cayenne. Rub this mixture over the ribs and let sit for at least 2 hours.
Searing the Ribs: Heat the oil over medium heat in a 12-inch skillet. Dredge the ribs in the flour, shaking off the excess. Add to the skillet and cook, turning occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the brown sugar and continue cooking until the sugar melts and coats the ribs. Remove the ribs to a platter.
Add the vegetables to the pan and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the red wine and cook for 3 minutes, then add the chicken broth, tomato paste, and rosemary. Return the ribs to the pan, reduce the heat to medium and cook, covered, until the ribs are very tender, about 2 hours. Remove the ribs to a platter and let the sauce simmer, uncovered, 10 more minutes or until it thickens.
Serving: Ladle some of the sauce onto a large serving plate, arrange the ribs over the sauce, and garnish with sprigs of rosemary.