Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book: Foods Of The Americas (2004)

For A Closer Look Click Here

Published by Ten Speed Press (which publishes quite few Native American and New World food books) in 2004, this book is special.  The authors Fernando and Marlene Divina own Divina Restaurant Concepts, a company that specializes in restaurant design and menu planning.  By far their biggest client so far has been the Smithsonian in Washington D.C..  They were tapped to design the menu for the brand new National Museum of the American Indian.  Fernando is a professional chef who has cooked in many restaurants, many his own.  His wife Marlene who is of Chippewa, Cree and Assiniboin ancestry (she is an enrolled member of the Shell Chippewa Tribe of Montana) is a long time children's author and columnist.

A photo from the book for a traditional north Mexican Caldo (stew) .

This book, which is co-authored by the above museum, and was published as a promotion of the institution, encompasses native cooking from all over the Americas, and even (and this is one of the things I love the most about) includes recipes from Native Hawaii.  As far as I know, this is the only book on Native food from the Americas to include Hawaii.  Native Hawaiians even has contributed traditional arts to the collection on permanent display at the museum.  This fusion of Native American and Native Pacific really appeals to me, and it something that I will strive to explore here on this food blog.

Of course, this is a "coffee table book," it has to be of "museum quality," since it represents a National museum publication, but it still provides very hands on instruction on individual recipe preparation and also serves as a history book as well.  The photography by Maren Caruso of the food is eye popping and it also includes several historic photos, all black and white, of natives from all over the Americas preparing food or planting gardens.  Additionally, each section, such as appetizers, fish, beverages, etc. contains an original personal story from various writers of Native ancestry on "real American" food preparation.  The authors of these essays are also quite varied in their ancestry, from Comanche to Chumash, Hopi to Monacan, etc.  I highly recommend the book!

Chayote Salad with Orange (photo NOT in book)


Here is a easy recipe from the salads section of the book.  It is made with Chayote, a member of the gourd family that includes Squash and Pumpkin.  The name derives from the Nahuatl ("Aztec"/"Mexican") language of Mexico, the original is chayotl in "Old Aztec;" chayohtli in the modern Nahuatl.  This is easy to prepare, and, with the addition of the orange and red onion, hints at the Yucatec Mayan ancestry (despite the "Aztec" name) of the dish.  It is also a kind of "mestizo" dish, as the onion and the citrus are not native to the Americas; so it's 50/50 in ancestry, but 100% delicious!

1 orange peeled, seeded and segmented
2 chayotes, including the lone center seed, chopped
1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
1/4 loosely packed mint (you choice of type), minced
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lime
Pinch of good sea or kosher salt
Fine fresh ground black pepper

1.  Combine all ingredients, toss well and serve (or let marinate for 30 minutes).  

Not hard at all!

Chopped variation (photo also NOT in book)
Below is a photo of a chayote salad with a Mediterranean twist, just to show how far this little squash has traveled from it's Native shores.

(photo NOT in book)

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