Jane Butel’s Simply Southwestern: Authentic Recipes For Enduring Traditions, by Jane Butel
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Turner Publishing Company in exchange for an honest review.]
If you like Southwestern cuisine even a little, you will likely find something to enjoy in this delightful book. Whether you will find new recipes, new foods (the author is particularly keen on promoting blue corn in a large variety of dishes), or merely a new twist on a familiar recipe like refried beans or arroz con pollo or tacos or any other number of the dishes found here, you will likely find something worthwhile and enjoyable. On top of the recipes, some of which are simple, some of which are authentically Southwestern, and some of which have a more complicated history or more hipster ingredients that are not necessarily authentic (like kale) but are certainly interesting and occasionally even tasty, one gets a variety of worthwhile and enjoyable stories. This author is immensely fond of discussing, for example, her famous celebrity friends and relatives and even more fond of commenting on her time at the Pecos River Cafe in New York City, which she mentions in what seems like nearly every single recipe about how popular a given recipe was while the restaurant was open or even how often it was requested after the restaurant was closed or that a particular recipe was something she cooked while at that restaurant but then told to listeners on some public radio station in Denver later on and so on and so forth.
This is a book that sticks pretty simply to solid recipes, at least in the online version of the book that I read off of Edelweiss. There are a lot of stories about where the recipes come from, some of them giving dubious information like the claim that France ruled over Mexico for a couple of generations in the 1800’s, when it was more like a few years between their invasion in 1862 (itself temporarily stopped by the victory of the Mexicans at the Battle of Puebla on Cinco de Mayo ), and others giving personal reflections on the author’s fondness of eating with good company made up of cultural and political elites both in the United States and in Mexico. The recipes themselves are divided into appetizers, soups and sauces, bread (much of it based on blue corn meal, which the author claims is a food that provides 100% of nutrients), main dishes (beef, chicken, pork, as well as seafood and vegetarian options), salads, vegetable dishes, drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and desserts. Most people should find something in these recipes to enjoy and at least a few that would be worth trying out, even if one happens to be allergic to pork (fortunately for me because I don’t eat it for religious reasons anyway) and mangoes, both of which can be found in many of these recipes. And whenever you can find enjoyable and worthwhile dishes in a cookbook, that is a good cookbook even apart from the warmth and personality that come along with it .
So, what does one get from a cookbook like this? One gets a creative interpretation of Southwestern cooking, centered on New Mexico but extending as far as Kansas, Texas, and Mexico that combines ancient food traditions like blue corn and that also involves new foods like kale. One gets recipes that range from the simple and quick to fix to the complicated and time-consuming, most of which include some sort of story about the dish and about how the author came across that dish in the course of her own cooking. At its heart, this is a celebrity cookbook where there is as much attention on the fact that the author is a celebrity in the food world and someone who happens to know stars and be related by marriage to a former Mexican president, as a way of establishing her bona fides. Depending on how much you appreciate the personal stories and how much you think the author’s creative interpretations of familiar dishes are worth trying out or at least appreciating. If you enjoy personal stories and warm and homestyle cooking and have some willingness to experiment in the kitchen, this will likely be an enjoyable book to add to one’s cookbook library.
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