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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Southern Cooking gets a Latino Twist

I got to know Sandra Gutierrez several years ago when she arrived to give a cooking class at Different Drummer’s Kitchen in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I oversee the cooking school. Warm, outgoing, and passionate about food, she made a fine impression on our students as she showed them how to prepare a tempting menu of Latin American favorites. At the time she mentioned she was working on her first book—a collection of recipes that reflected both her Southern (she has lived in North Carolina for many years) and Latin roots (she was brought up in Guatemala). 

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when a copy of The New Southern-Latino Table arrived at my door. A Southerner myself, I recognized many recipes from my childhood, often with spicy accents, and was tempted by others with definite Latino origins. But, what really intrigued me was the way Sandra had seamlessly combined these two popular cuisines. Chili Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter, Collard Green Tamales, and Chili-Chocolate Brownies are among the scrumptious samplings.

The recipe I couldn’t wait to try was Classic Pimento Cheese. You’d think after all the pimento cheese sandwiches I devoured as a youngster, I’d have a good recipe for this basic, but I didn’t! Sandra’s pimento cheese (though decadently rich) is quick, easy, and wonderfully balanced in flavor. And, she also gives a new twist to this old stand-by. She combines a little pimento cheese with butter, chopped cilantro, and garlic, calls it Pimento Cheese Butter, and suggests slathering it on grilled steaks. Both versions were winners! You’ll find these two recipes here, but there’s much more delectable fare in her book.

The New Southern-Latino Table by Sandra A. Gutierrez
The University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill 2011

Classic Pimento Cheese
1 pound shredded sharp cheddar cheese (see note)
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimientos, drained
1 cup mayonnaise 
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (such as Tabasco)

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, place the cheese, pimientos, mayonnaise, black pepper, and hot sauce. Pulse just until combined. Makes 2 1/2 cups

Note: Many brands of pre-shredded cheese contain cornstarch to keep the cheese strands separate, which changes the texture and flavor of the cheese, so Sandra suggests you grate it yourself.

Pimento Cheese Butter
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup Classic Pimento Cheese (recipe is above)
1/4 cup minced cilantro (leaves and tender stems), packed
1 garlic clove, minced
Kosher salt to taste

In a small bowl, combine the softened butter, pimiento cheese, cilantro, and garlic. Mix with a fork until well blended. (I added a little salt to taste here.) Place the mixture on a sheet of parchment paper and roll it up into the parchment to form a 5-inch-long cylinder; twist the ends of the paper (like a candy wrapper) and chill for 1 hour before slicing. Makes about 1 cup

Note from Betty: This butter was delicious on grilled steaks that I rubbed with ground cumin, kosher salt, and black pepper.

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