Ecuadorian American chef Jose Garces. (Photo/Courtesy Jason Varney)

Cookbooks we love: Jose Garces’ “The Latin Road Home”

Jose Garces is one of the most prominent Latino chefs in the United States and in his new cookbook “The Latin Road Home: Savoring the Foods of Ecuador, Spain, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru,” new readers and long-time followers of the Ecuadorian chef will be able to fully understand and appreciate the gastronomic influences that have inspired Garces’ culinary style.

"The Latin Road Home: Savoring the Foods of Ecuador, Spain, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru"

“The Latin Road Home: Savoring the Foods of Ecuador, Spain, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru”

At 40 years old, Garces – who won the James Beard Foundation award for “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” in 2009 – has more than ten restaurants (serving Basque-style tapas, Mexican street fare and refined Peruvian food) to his name across the nation. And in his follow-up book to 2009’s “Latin Evolution,” Garces writes about the Latin foods and places that have inspired his career as a chef, as well as the family and friends who have encouraged his culinary journey. That is what he calls “The Latin Road Home.”

“The Latin Road Home” is divided into sections, each devoted to five distinct cultures: Ecuador (his parents emigrated from the capital city of Quito), Spain (where he spent time after culinary school), Cuba (both his wife and beloved mentor, Douglas Rodriguez, are Cuban), Mexico (growing up, he would go grocery shopping with his father in Chicago’s Mexican mercados) and Peru (“my real exploration of this cuisine is just getting started”). Just as a travel writer would, Garces introduces each section with maps, history, topical information and a concise summary of its classic cuisine. Essential recipes characteristic of each culture (think Ecuadorian-style fried pork, elegant Peruvian ceviche, Spanish almond gazpacho, Mexican antojitos like quesadillas de huazontle and savory Cuban sandwiches) are then shared, each accompanied by Garces’ personal anecdotes and treasured memories. And while no “essential” Latin cookbook would be complete without recipes for basics like white rice and caramelized onions, Garces includes his chef know-how with great tips, tricks and family menus to follow when cooking his favorite dishes.

“This book is a deeply personal project for me: It allows me to trace the cultures and cuisines that have shaped me, both personally and professionally,” says the Food Network Iron Chef season 2 winner.  “Throughout my career, I have built on what I know and used it to explore new and different places, and this book traces that journey – and with it, my life to this point.”

And it’s a delicious journey, written in hopes that readers will create family memories centered around food, just as Garces has over the years. In celebration of family, friends and plenty of delicious meals, here’s his sophisticated take on crema de quinoa de zuleta – Ecuadorian quinoa chowder with sweet corn – which was a favorite of Garces as a child and remains so to this day.

Crema de quinoa de zuleta

Crema de quinoa de zuleta (Photo/Courtesy Lake Isle Press)

Crema de Quinoa de Zuleta (Quinoa Chowder with Sweet Corn)

From “The Latin Road Home: Savoring the Foods of Ecuador, Spain, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru” (Lake Isle Press)

Author’s note: Fresh corn is always the best choice, but may not be in season when you find yourself most in need of this kind of creamy, comforting sustenance—so frozen corn is fine in a pinch. Serves 4

2 cups vegetable oil, for frying

1 small russet potato, peeled and cut into matchsticks

Kosher salt

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 Spanish onion, finely chopped

2 Tbsp minced garlic (4 to 6 cloves)

1 1/2 cups quinoa (any color)

Kernels cut from 2 ears fresh white sweet corn or 1 cup thawed and drained frozen white corn kernels

5 cups vegetable stock

1 cup heavy cream

2 Tbsp minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 Tbsp minced fresh chives or cut into 1 1/2-inch strips

1/4 lb smoked bacon, cut into strips, cooked until crisp, and drained

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Heat the vegetable oil to 375°F in a Dutch oven over medium heat, using a candy or deep-fry thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Fry the potatoes in batches, turning in the oil until golden brown and very crispy on all sides, 1 to 2 minutes per batch. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the fried potatoes to the baking sheet to drain and cool. Season to taste with salt.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the achiote paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the quinoa and corn and cook, stirring often, until the grain is lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and cream and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer the chowder uncovered until the quinoa is very tender and the liquid is reduced by one-quarter, about 45 minutes.

To serve, fold in the parsley, chives, bacon, and fried potatoes. Season to taste with salt. Garnish with avocado.

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