Beyond Gumbo:

Creole Fusion Food From the Atlantic Rim

by Jessica B. Harris (Simon & Schuster, $27).


"Most Americans who see the word 'Creole' immediately take a mental journey to . . . New Orleans," writes Jessica B. Harris in the introduction to this informative, sometimes authoritative and sometimes anecdotal collection. But the word Creole and the world of its cuisine are far more encompassing, multicultural and multidimensional, according to culinary historian Harris, who has written extensively on the foods of the African diaspora. The fusion comes from far-flung sources: the cooking techniques of central Africa and the staples of the Americas, the culinary traditions of Europe and Asia. And the results, as translated in the pot and on the plate, are rich and spicy fish and seafood, grains and hot sauces -- just to name a few. It's codfish fritters from Jamaica, shaved chayote salad from Guadeloupe, dirty rice from New Orleans or vinegared green bananas from Puerto Rico.


Harris's introduction is a brief and lively history of the cuisine, followed by a glossary of ingredients and a short list of mail-order sources. The remaining chapters follow the traditional cookbook structure: appetizers, soups and salads, condiments and sauces, vegetables, main dishes, starches, desserts, beverages. But within each chapter Harris mixes recipes (topped with interesting historical particulars on the sources) with mini-profiles of Creole cooks, first-person recollections and travelogue.


A book that is strong on history and covers a lot of ground, geographically speaking, can be a fun read but often winds up on the bookshelf and not in use on the kitchen counter. Many of these recipes are accessible for their flavors and for their lists of ingredients (dirty rice from New Orleans, pineapple and cabbage salad from Cuba), though there are exceptions. You don't have to fly to Peru to get the ingredients for Aji de Gallina (Quecha-style chicken stew), but you may have to do a bit of local traveling to track down aji amarillo chiles. The recipes are straightforward and generally easy to execute.


History buffs, curious cooks, those in search of their ancestors' traditions and those looking for casual, refreshing tastes and menus for friends and family.

-- Jeanne McManus