BOOK AND AUTHOR: "Foods of the Americas: Native Recipes and Traditions," by Fernando and Marlene Divina (Ten Speed Press, $39.95). Few American cooks know much about the food traditions of what the book calls "the Western Hemisphere's first inhabitants." Fewer still have experienced the fine cooking that can emerge from those native cultures. This beautiful book, whose release is timed to the opening of the new National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall, aims to change that. The recipes go far beyond the fry bread, tacos and other snack or fast foods sold at powwows. But they're not authentic tribal specialties, either. Instead, chef Fernando and his wife Marlene, a restaurant and menu adviser whose heritage includes the Chippewa, Cree and Assiniboine tribes, have assembled dishes that celebrate the basic ingredients, flavors and cooking techniques of native cultures from North, Central and South America.
FORMAT: The recipes have been grouped into easy-to- navigate categories that are both familiar and representative of Native American culinary traditions (For example, there's a chapter on Meats & Wild Game instead of just plain Meats; or Foods from Rivers, Lakes & Oceans instead of Fish.) Each chapter is accompanied by an illustrated food memoir, essay or explanation by a Native American writer. And each recipe is preceded by commentary related to the origins of the dish, and guidelines on how to cook or serve it. The result is an intriguing introduction to the role food plays in this world, with recipes that range from basic tamales, Ecuadorian- and Peruvian-style seviches to quinoa salad and maple- and ginger-marinated buffalo jerky.
WHO WOULD USE THIS BOOK: It's common practice in cookbooks these days to include glossaries and source lists. Extensive bibliographies are another story; the one in this book is a clear indication that it's intended for people interested in native cultures as much as it is for cooks. The recipes aren't hard to follow; but several of them aren't quickies, either. It takes time to braise a rabbit, prepare a mole, cure a salmon or turn fruits into fruit leather. But nobody's suggesting you grind your own corn.
-- Judith Weinraub