by Sybil PrattFebruary 2000
South of the border
When someone says Mexican cooking, most of us think Tex-Mex and though that's not necessarily a put-down, it can, all too often, conjure up globs of guacamole, nests of gooey nachos, and tasteless tortillas. All that's a far cry fromthe depth and subtlety of the real Cocina Mexicana, the Mexican kitchen, with its regional differences and intricate variations.
To chef, caterer, cooking teacher, and former restaurateur Susana Trilling, the heart of Mexican cooking is in the beautiful state of Oaxaca (pronounced Wahaka) in south central Mexico where she has lived and cooked for 11 years. Seasons of My Heart, her new cookbook and companion to the 13-part PBS series, is subtitled A Culinary Journey Through Oaxaca, Mexico, but Susana's enticing, exuberant exploration of the state's seven distinct districts makes it more of a culinary serenade, singing the praises of Oaxaca's rich gastronomic legacy. She devotes a separate chapter to each region, from the highlands of the Sierra to the tropical lowlands and the Pacific Coast, celebrating the local produce and unique character of each one. There's a special chapter on mole, an intensely rich, complex sauce that can have well over 25 ingredients and is, in its six variations, the crowning glory of Oaxacan cuisine. Included, too, are some of Susana's own savory experimentations and a chapter on essential ingredients, which is indeed essential for those of us who don't live near a Mexican market, and she's added hints throughout for North-American home cooks.
The sum is a treasure trove of recipes deeply rooted in tradition, gathered from the wonderfully accomplished cooks who have shared their family recipes with Susana, seasoned with Susana's lively, warm descriptions of the county she's grown to be a part of and the people who have welcomed her. If you want to get to the heart of the matter, and the matter is Mexican cooking, Seasons of the Heart is the way to go.
Sybil Pratt is an avid cook.