Southwest Tastes

Cooking has taken on a new identity in the last decade as chefs have become more daring--to the gastronomic delight of restaurant eaters. This support, in turn, has transformed the way consumers shop for food and eat at home.

A detailed history of the origins of Southwest cooking and a pictorial step-by-step “Techniques” section on the how-to’s of handling chilis, making tortillas, and rolling enchiladas precede the recipe sections. Both recipe sections--the first entitled “Regional Favorites,” featuring classic, traditional dishes native to the Southwest, and the second, entitled “New Southwest Cooking,” presenting innovative dishes based on historic American prototypes--reflect the food mood of the day and celebrate a regional taste. Peppered through both sections are brief biographies of renowned restaurant chefs and “homecooks” who have gained their own regional notoriety. The book concludes with menus for entertaining, wine selections, mail-order sources, and an excellent glossary.

Recipes range from the basic (Refried Beans) to the complex (Grilled Squab with Black Bean Tortas and Bacon and Pumpkin Seed Sauce). Adjectives used to describe other recipes could also appropriately describe a Hitchcock thriller: bizarre (Jalapeno Pasta with Rattlesnake Sausage); intriguing (Brie and Papaya Quesadillas); lethal (Killer Margarita); artistic (Salmon Painted Desert); imaginative (Neon Tumbleweed with Bizcochitos); daring (Sweat-hot Chili).

Although the preface makes the claim that “you can cook confidently” from the book, this is not a cookbook for the timid cook (or palate). Highlighting innovative chefs, the recipes are nothing short of challenging. It is an ideal book for the adventuresome cook who wants to add--literally--spice to life, with recipes so peculiar-sounding that curiosity alone will propel one to try them. This cookbook is not for the cook seeking convenience; many recipes call for ingredients that are available by mail order only.

Photographs are abundant, but their quality lacks consistency. The underum, but the purchaser of SOUTHWEST TASTES may take comfort in knowing that a portion of the book’s proceeds goes toward purchasing additional programming on public television.

Depending on the book alone, without television guidance, the average cook may find himself at the mercy of a poblano chili, but, regardless, this is exciting food, with bright-colored vegetables and distinctive flavors as its trademarks, and the user of SOUTHWEST TASTES will have a great time experimenting with this fantastic cuisine.