LOS ANGELES, Ca. January, 2012 The food at Chichen Itza is not the Mexican everyone knows. Open since 2001, the restaurant has a loyal following who have discovered Yucatecan cuisine based on Mayan, Spanish with Lebanese and Dutch influences. Chef/owner Gilberto Cetina wrote the recipes in Sabores Yucatecos: A Culinary Tour of the Yucatan (WPR Books: Comida, $27.95), based on his mother’s cooking. A reception to launch the book was held at the restaurant recently. Co-authors Katherine Diaz and Gilberto Cetina, Jr., son, were on hand to share experiences.
Born in the Yucatan, Cetina began cooking as a young boy to help his mother who ran a home restaurant for loggers in the timber town of Tizimin. After moving to the United States, he worked in a number of restaurants. Later, he started a catering business serving only Yucatecan dishes before opening his own restaurant.
“I was advised that a Mexican restaurant serving only the regional foods of the Yucatan would never make it,” Cetina wrote on page 8 of Sabores Yucatecos.
“He refused to do that. And, as they say, the rest is history. His restaurant and foods are highly acclaimed by food critics and foodies – and his customers,” said co-author Katherine Diaz.
The two met when the freelance editor covered Chichen Itza for an article. They became friends. “Chef Cetina is very committed to preserving the culinary traditions of the Yucatan. That’s why this first cookbook has focused on traditional dishes. That’s not to say that he can’t be creative and put new spins on traditional dishes. But that was not the purpose of this first cookbook,” said Diaz.
Cochinita pibil is probably the most well known dish of the Yucatan. Gilberto Cetina, Jr has worked in the restaurant since its opening and has gradually moved from the front to learning the secrets of his father’s and grandmother’s cooking. He said, “At the last taco competition in Los Angeles there were several tacos made with cochinita pibil.”
According to Cetina, only 50,000 people from the state of Yucatan live in the US a likely reason the cuisine is so little known.
Cetina explained that many Lebanese migrated to Mexico and their influence on the cuisine is evidenced in Kibis, a popular dish of meat and bulgar wheat patties with mint. Known as kibbeh in Lebanon, the book also has crema de garbanzo that might sound like but, ” is not to be confused with hummus.”
Queso relleno dates back to sea trade with the Dutch. A version of Edam called Gallo Azul is made by the Dutch for the Yucatan and this dish of stuffed baby Edam cheese.
Author Cetina said, “I put everything I know in the book.” Readers will find 190 pages contain 140 recipes, most with colorful photos, written simply and clearly enough for anyone to make.
Fun trivia such as allspice being one of the few New World native spices ( the other two are capsicum peppers such as jalapeno or habanero, and vanilla) is scattered throughout the book. The name refers to the aroma that is a mix of cloves, juniper, nutmeg and pepper.
Recados, spice mixes that can be wet or dry, are important flavoring components to the cuisine and are printed in the first chapter along with salsa recipes with chiles or tomatoes as primary ingredients.
One flaw in the book, otherwise user friendly, is recipes that call for a recado or salsa do not give the corresponding page number. So the reader must look it up in the index. For example Cochinita Pibil, achiote-marinated pork baked in banana leaves calls for Recado rojo and Cebolla para cochiniate pibil, with just “see recipe”. Banana leaves, another recipe element are in Techniques and Glossary.
Some notable recipes: Panuchos, turkey topped corn tortillas stuffed with bean paste; the tortillas alone are bite-worthy; Sopa de Lima, lime soup with shredded turkey; Pavo en relleno Negro, roasted turkey with pork meatballs in recado negro; and Tamal Horneado, an extra large baked tamale crunchy and crispy because of the baking.
See recipes for Akat de Codillos, achiote-marinated pork shanks in banana leaves; Sikil Pac, roasted tomatoes and ground pumpkin seed dip; and Xec, jicama citrus salad.
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