What is it about cookbooks from New Mexico? There’s those delectable southwestern recipes, of course—but we have delectable southwestern recipes in California, too—and a few years ago when I was in Albuquerque for a few days with my brother Jim, (for a bowling tournament – I flew, he drove) we had the opportunity to drive up into the mountains and have a fantastic dinner with a group of other bowlers and their wives or adult children. The house they had rented for a week was fairly new and decidedly southwestern in décor. The cover on a cookbook titled A TASTE OF ENCHANTMENT and the living room featured on the cover reminded me quite a bit of that house we visited in the mountains. But what IS it about New Mexico’s club-and-church cookbooks that beckon me?
The city of Albuquerque, though, reminded me of the Antelope Valley in California, where I now live. It has that same high desert look and feel about it, right down to the cacti and lavender bushes which we saw growing wild on some streets. Albuquerque’s Old Town reminds me somewhat of Los Angeles’ “old town” – Olvera Street, the oldest street in Los Angeles (across the street from our train station), is crowded on both sides and down the middle with every imaginable Mexican souvenir, shoes, purses, clothing, candy, snacks—it’s a tourist haven. I wish we could have spent more time in Albuquerque but we were there for the bowling tournament and everything else we did was extra. I vowed to return—meantime, I will visit Albuquerque vicariously through a cookbook or two!
Albuquerque is the most populous city in New Mexico. It is the county seat of Bernalillo County, and it is situated in the central part of the state, straddling the Rio Grande. The city population was 555,417 as of the July 1st, 2012 population estimate from the United States Census Bureau and ranks as the 32nd-largest city in the U.S. It has a 2012 estimated metropolitan population of 901,700 according to the US Census.
Albuquerque is home to the University of New Mexico (UNM), Presbyterian Health Services, Kirtland Air Force Base, Sandia National Laboratories, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, and Petroglyph National Monument (I would like to visit the latter). The Sandia Mountains run along the eastern side of Albuquerque, and the Rio Grande flows through the city, north to south
Albuquerque was founded in 1706 as the Spanish colonial outpost of Ranchos de Albuquerque. Present-day Albuquerque retains much of its historical Spanish cultural heritage.
Albuquerque was a farming community and strategically located military outpost along the Camino Real. The town was also the sheep-herding center of the West. Spain established a presidio (military garrison) in Albuquerque in 1706. After 1821, Mexico also had a military garrison there. The town of Albuquerque was built in the traditional Spanish village pattern: a central plaza surrounded by government buildings, homes, and a church. This central plaza area has been preserved and is open to the public as a museum, cultural area, and center of commerce. It is referred to as “Old Town Albuquerque” or simply “Old Town.” Historically it was sometimes referred to as “La Placita” (little plaza in Spanish). On the north side of Old Town Plaza is San Felipe de Neri Church. Built in 1793, it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city. (My brother and his bowling buddy, John, and I visited old town and had a wonderful dinner at one of the old southwestern restaurants in Old Town. A band was playing in the Gazebo when we were there. We were unable to visit the church as a wedding was underway inside.
If you have a sense of what Albuquerque looks like, then let me present you with A TASTE OF ENCHANTMENT/Treasured Recipes from the Junior League of Albuquerque. Not surprisingly, it was published by Favorite Recipes Press, which I have mentioned to you several times in the past. One of the first things I do anymore is check to see who published a cookbook, especially if I find it extremely well done. The photographer was Peter Vitale. My copy is a 2001 first printing that is in like-new condition.
In the Introduction, the Junior League of Albuquerque tells us, “New Mexico. The Land of Enchantment. For centuries, New Mexico has captivated the hearts of residents and visitors alike. We have a society that is muy simpatico, a gentle blending of Native American, Hispano, Anglo and other cultures that provide a lifestyle unlike any other.
Experiencing New Mexico,” they continue, “is a feast for the senses. Landscapes of majestic mountains, expansive sand dunes, and open space as far as the eye can see produce a quality of light that results in turquoise skies by day and opalescent sunsets of vivid reds, pinks, purples, and orange.”
Their tastes and attitudes, they tell us, are varied and plentiful; they can be formal with a southwestern flair or casual, yet sophisticated. They are unique n the manner in which they entertain and in the way each cook infuses into her dishes her own personal taste of enchantment.
“Our cultures, topography, attitudes and cuisine,” write the Junior Leaguers, “are ingredients for a delicious recipe for living…As we gather at our tables, each of these influences is present; none overpowers the other…”
“Within these pages” they proudly offer, “you will find treasured recipes for both cooking and living. We offer our highly esteemed traditional fare alongside new and inventive dishes that reflect modern-day southwestern lifestyles. Our favorite restaurants have graciously provided their perennial pleasures to enhance your enchanted journey into New Mexico’s cuisine and culture.”
Following the Introduction is a page titled “Is it Chile or Chili?” Either one is actually correct (I’ve always been curious.) Instructions follow for roasting the exterior of your chilies and then putting them into a plastic bag for about 15 minutes – the skins will peel right off after you do this—for, you will discover, chiles are an intricate part of all Mexican and southwestern cuisines.
Then there are the recipes—along with some of Peter Vitale’s exquisite photographs. (I confess, I didn’t know who Peter Vitale is so I began Googling his name and got a crash course in Peter Vitale’s photography—I only wished there had been more of his photographs in A Taste of Enchantment!, which he generously donated to the Junior Leaguers
Each chapter is prefaced with short essays about New Mexico. Under the chapter for Adobe Aperitivo, (Appetizers), you will find a short essay about the Art of Albuquerque and how it can be seen everywhere you turn throughout this enchanting city. Recipes under Appetizers range from Asparagus (which grows wild in some places in and around New Mexico) and Prosciutto Bundles and Aztec Artichoke Squares to Spiced Carrots With Dill (which I will have to make) to Southwestern Stuffed Mushrooms which includes a couple of tablespoons of BUENO frozen green chile….I simply had to Google BUENO and discovered BUENO Foods is a southwestern family enterprise that has been in business for over 60 years. Californians may be able to find their products at Albertson’s supermarkets but if you Google BUENO Foods, you will find them listed in over ten states. (I was pleased to find a BUENO FOODS mail order at the back of the book as well as a website address). Sorry, I digressed. Also under appetizers find recipes for Mushroom-Stuffed French Bread and Tailgater Brie, Kalamata Tapenade, and Hot Rueben Spread—this and much more.
Very Verde, a chapter of Salads, also contains a short essay on the Mystery of the Anasazi. Anasazi is Navajo for “The Ancient Ones”. The Anasazi formed communities in the southwest around 400 A.D. and despite their extensive thriving communities, around n 1300 A.D. the Anasazi sites were mysteriously abandoned, leaving few clues to their departure. In the Salad chapter, I was charmed to find Kumquat Winter Salad (we had a dwarf kumquat tree when I lived in Arleta), and Margarita Coleslaw that I look forward to trying! There is also a Roasted Pecan Slaw and a Napa Slaw with Snow Peas, Jicama Salad with Oranges and Marinated Asparagus, to name a few. I look forward to trying many of these recipes; Southwestern Cobb Salad provides an interesting twist on traditional Cobb Salad and a Cilantro Chicken Salad with Sesame Dressing that begs to be tried. Ditto Wild Rice Chicken Salad.
Other chapters are Fireside Fiestas (Soups and Stews), Sandia Sunrises (Breads and Brunch), Simpatico Sides (Vegetables and Side Dishes), Comidas by Candlelight (Entrees) and Enchanted Endings (Desserts). Not to be overlooked is MI CASA ES SU CASA (translates to my house/castle is your house/castle) which contains recipes sure to become favorites—Chili con Queso from Jane Butel (whom I have written about before), Gringo Red Chile Sauce, Red Chile Sauce (for the not-so-faint-hearted), Spicy Green Chile Sauce, Salsa Supreme, Stuffed Green Chiles, Tortilla Soup and many more.
A TASTE OF ENCHANTMENT stays true, throughout, to its southwestern roots—something I appreciate enormously. Not all regional cookbooks do.
It is available at Amazon.com, new, for $25.00 or pre-owned starting at 48c. I found it also listed on Alibris.com also new for $25.00 or pre-owned starting at 99c. (Alibris has quite a few pre-owned copies). **
Next, I’d like to introduce you to SIMPLY SIMPATICO, also from the Junior League of Albuquerque, but this one was compiled in 1981 and has gone through numerous printings—all the way up to ninth printing in July, 1999 and it was apparently shortly after the ninth printing that the Junior Leaguers decided to compile a new cookbook which resulted in THE LAND OF ENCHANTMENT in 2001.
SIMPLY SIMPATICO is spiral bound with a gorgeous turquoise and red cover. It was also a Tabasco Hall of Fame award winner. This no-nonsense thick cookbook is packed with recipes that will delight everyone who loves southwestern cuisine and/or collects cookbooks. This is sure to become a favorite for everyone enamored of southwestern cuisine.
Simply Simpatico is dedicated to New Mexico’s heritage and to the congenial style of living that has emerged from its unique cultural matrix. It focuses on the cornucopia of foods which so vividly reflect the lifestyles and culinary traits of modern-day New Mexicans – foods that have roots in New Mexico’s past, but which are a contemporary expression of today’s gracious, casual simpatico living.
One of the features I most appreciate about SIMPLY SIMPATICO are the numerous Mexican/Southwestern recipes that are presented with straight forward directions—recipes for tacos, enchiladas, chile Rellenos, tamales, burritos and arroz con pollo—just to name a few—are presented under Comida Simpatica—Native dishes—right in the front of the cookbook, where they will be easily found whenever the mood hits you. In my household –as well as that of my youngest son—a southwestern dinner is generally presented at least once a week. We both keep flour tortillas on hand in the frig for the grandkids who live closest to me to make their own cheese quesadillas when they get home from school and both households are fairly well stocked with other ingredients to make a good tasting snack. My daughter in law and I don’t follow the same recipe for making taco meat but either recipe works well for taco salads. Simply Simpatico translates, in case you are curious, to “simply handsome”, a term, that embraces, say the Junior Leagues of Albuquerque, their cultures and their lifestyles.
I’m looking forward to trying many of the recipes featured in SIMPLY SIMPATICO.
All the recipes sound delish; you may want to try all of them—for openers, do a southwestern dinner for your next dinner party. I also like the Glossary of food terms which will please a southwestern cuisine novice. It is followed by a couple pages on chiles and burritos, offered as part of the introduction, before you dive into Comida Simpatica—a generous presentation of everyday southwestern favorites which even includes Mexican Chocolate Sauce and Mexican Wedding Cookies. There isn’t much that I’m not familiar with, which makes me smile, thinking how—back in 1965—when a coworker became a friend, I didn’t even know what a TACO tasted like. My coworker set out to change all that.
Recipes found under Appetizers include Guacamole Dip, Harlequin Dip (which I’ve never heard of before), Frijole Dip (j is silent), Green Chile Dip—and many others. There are many different recipes for spreads, such as Almond Cheese Spread or Beef-and-Cheese Spread, Cheese in a Bread Bowl, Tuna And Pistachio Pate or Salmon Party Ball, Taquitas (rolled taco appetizers)—and many others. The most difficult part of planning a southwestern party theme might be trying to limit yourself to just a few of the many appetizer recipes; you might want to consider making one of these appetizers each week for your family so you can plan ahead for a future party.
Some years ago, Bob & I held at least a few large parties a year…after decades of indecision regarding party food, I began serving just appetizers. You can’t go wrong –guests can help themselves and are able to walk around talking to other guests while nibbling on some appetizers—if they find something they don’t like, they can go back and get something else. (and if someone asks what can they bring, you can say “a favorite appetizer” or “a bottle of your favorite wine”.) One of the best Christmas parties we ever hosted was with a southwestern theme; four of our guests were from Mexico City, here visiting friends—they took over making a huge amount of guacamole—and then taught some of our other guests how to dance the salsa, which was popular that year. I had hardwood floors and a big living room. It was one of our best and most popular holiday parties.
There is a chapter in SIMPLY SIMPATICO called BEVERAGES which offers some sangria recipes, Champagne Sipper which makes 25 servings, Rum Punch, which serves 30, or Ripsnortin Punch which makes 40-50 servings. There IS a recipe for making margaritas but the recipe given only makes 4 servings – you might want to double or triple the ingredients if it’s for a party. Or—choose from one of the many other recipes.
Other chapters include Soups and Sandwiches. Breads, Vegetables, Salads, Meats, Poultry, Cakes, Pies & Cookies…one of my favorites is “Accompaniments” with its assortment of sauce recipes (How about Mandarin Orange-Grape Sauce for poultry? Or perhaps a simple Orange Basting Sauce? There is a recipe for Mild Homemade Taco Sauce you will want to mix when you have some spare time & keep it on hand and one I can’t wait to make – New Mexican Seasoning Mix, or how about Sangria Jelly or Jalapeno Jelly? These are just a few of the recipes found in Accompaniments and just a sampling of the many different recipes to be found in SIMPLY SIMPATICO.
You’ll be pleased to know that Amazon.com has many copies of SIMPLY SIMPATICO available new it can be yours for $5.50 and pre-owned starting at 33c. Alibris.com cannot compete with the Amazon.com prices this cookbook; when I checked, there was only one copy available and it was priced at $9.99. ***
The third cookbook in this grouping isn’t from Albuquerque – but it’s still New Mexico and this time the focus is on Santa Fe. The title is THE CUISINE OF SANTA FE, LA CASA SENA. Published n 1994 by Ten Speed Press—La Casa Sena isn’t a junior league cookbook, either! Co-authors Gordon Heiss and John Harrisson have compiled this unique cookbook. Heiss, who grew up in his father’s hotels in St. Louis Missouri and has a lifelong commitment to the restaurant and hotel business. Harrisson grew u p in England, where he helped establish the Sigmund Freud Museum. After moving to the United States, Harrisson has worked with many chefs in the world of cooking.
I wondered what “Sena” meant, knowing that Casa means home, or castle. I was bemused with myself when I did some Googling, to learn that “Sena” was the name of one of the oldest and most notable families in Santa Fe. Built in 1868, Sena Plaza is one of the oldest surviving houses in Santa Fe. It is located just one block from the city’s plaza and just across the street from the Cathedral Basilica of St Francis Assissi. La Casa Sena, which means “The Sena House” occupies an old hacienda style adobe. The Sena family was one of the oldest and most notable in Santa Fe.
What makes La Casa Sena particularly unique is that a premier collection of Southwestern and Native American art adorns the walls, but not to be overlooked are the meals served for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. La Casa Sena, the cookbook, offers over 150 recipes served at the restaurant. And, in addition to recipes, there is a list of the artwork adorning the restaurant’s walls, along with a chapter explaining the history of Santa Fe, but especially the history of La Casa Sena.
Unique recipes begin (Breakfast or Brunch) with Blue Corn Crepes, Blue Corn and Cheese Blintzes, Roast Beef Burritos—or if you prefer, a Vegetable Burrito, Catalina Enchiladas or Turkey Enchiladas. Bread recipes include Whole Wheat Tortillas (yes, from scratch!) to Blue Corn Muffins and Galletas (Galletas, we learn, is the name for a small Southwestern loaf of bread and at La Casa Sena, it is used as an edible bowl for Black Bean Soup. I, for one, want to try making the Pumpernickel Rye Bread – I come from a European background that had us all growing up with rye bread. But don’t overlook a recipe for making your own Sourdough Starter – and then you can use it making Sourdough Rye Bread (which I have never before seen on a menu!)
Under Appetizers you will find a recipe for Red Onion Salsa, Cantina Nachos, Corn Tamales and Black Bean Tamales—and surely distinctive, Shrimp and Smoked Cheddar Flautas. But there are other appetizers to salivate over.
In SOUPS & STEWS, I found a recipe for Vegetarian Black Bean Soup (I immediately thought of a girlfriend of mine who was a vegetarian who loved black beans). Also for vegetarians is Black Bean Soup en galleta which simply means with tomato salsa. Santa Fe Vegetable Soup is also tempting for vegetarians although it contains chicken stock. If you prefer, you could use vegetarian bouillon instead but I think I would prefer this with homemade chicken stock. Yum!
Other soup recipes include Roasted Corn and Chipotle Soup, Tomato Garlic Soup, Yellow Split Pea Soup and—my favorite—Sopa de Albondigas (which means meatballs) but it can be made, say the authors, with chicken or beef, with meatballs or dumplings—a most versatile recipe.
Other chapters feature Salads & Dressings, Fish & Seafood, Poultry & Fowl, Meat & game—and my favorite! An entire chapter devoted to sauces, basics & marinades. Included are recipes for Red Chile Sauce, Green Chile Sauce—even Croutons—as well as marinades for salmon, other fish, shrimp, chicken breasts, pork and beef.
Desserts offered include Chocolate Truffles, Mexican Brownies, Lemon Custard Tart—and many other recipes.
What I have left for last is a special mention of all the art work adorning the walls at La Casa Sena – the cookbook is decorated throughout with some of the special American Native art work. Impressive? Very!
La Casa Sena, which explores the cuisine AND the art of New Mexico, is available on Amazon.com for $20.00. I found a number of copies starting at one cent. Of course, shipping when you make purchases from private vendors, is $3.99 – still, not a bad price for a hardbound cookbook with a dust jacket – that is literally packed with historical information about this southwestern region. **
New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment—with a cuisine that is sumptuous, sights to see and things to do—from taking in the balloon festival to doing walking tours in the Petroglyph National Monument. I wish I knew more about it and will rectify this by visiting Triple A to see what they can share with me. Meantime, I can read these cookbooks and try some of the recipes. You will want all three of these southwestern cookbooks to add to your collection.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith