The book: its 560 gorgeous pages cover everything Yucatecan from achiote to zapote. A 10-year-long labor of love, YUCATÁN is the finest cookbook, love story, history book, and--did I say love story?--of a glorious regional cuisine and its place of origin that I have seen in the last five years. Look over there on the left-hand sidebar of this page. See where the books are listed? Just click on the YUCATÁN cover and buy it, you know you want it. Photos by Mexico Cooks! unless otherwise noted.
Maybe you've read about David Sterling's YUCATÁN somewhere else, either in a print source (the New York Times) or on the Internet (Serious Eats). Maybe you've looked longingly at its page on Amazon.com. Maybe a friend of yours, a Mexican food buff, already has one. If you have seen the book, you are already craving sopa de lima (not lime soup--it's rich, deeply chicken-y chicken broth flavored with juice of the lima, a citrus fruit much different from the lime and particular to Mexico), or papadzules (tortillas stuffed with boiled eggs, rolled, and served in a tomato/squash seed sauce), or helado de crema morisca (Moorish style ice cream). Maybe you don't have a copy yet--but Mexico Cooks! does, and Mexico Cooks! is in love with it. Sterling has created a masterwork, a monumental volume that by its simple heft lets you know it's the boss--even before you open the cover. And then--ahhhh. Fabulous.
Chef David Sterling, an Oklahoma native, has deep roots in both French cuisine and Tex-Mex cooking. A culinary school trained chef, for the last eleven years he has studied, taught, and cooked in Mérida, Yucatán, México. He first traveled in Mexico more than 40 years ago, and today is arguably the single foreigner in the world who is most knowledgeable about Yucatán regional cuisine. Photo courtesy David Sterling.
The book, titled simply YUCATÁN, is as simple throughout as its title. Simple, yes, but it's not an easy book: to start with, it weighs a ton and isn't easy to read in bed (but maybe that's just me, reading cookbooks in bed). You may need substitutes for some of the regional ingredients (but chef Sterling tells you clearly what to use). Some recipes are complex (but so, so worth the trouble!). You'll be thrilled to know that YUCATÁN is incredibly well organized, with a terrific index to both recipes and ingredients. The bibliography is extensive and meticulous. Sources for ingredients include not only the street addresses of stores, but also Internet links for ease of online shopping. Kitchen techniques are clearly explained and include ample illustrations. And last but certainly not least, the book is accurate, beautiful, and a loving compendium of David Sterling's passionate relationship with his adopted people, his state, and their cuisine. The generous soul of Yucatán breathes in Sterling and dwells in his glorious book.
Click on this map of Mexico to enlarge it for a better view. At the far right of the map, the state colored yellow is Yucatán. It's easy to see that the state's location, at the tip-end of Mexico's cornucopia shape, is far from the central states. For example, the distance by road between centrally located Morelia, Michoacán and Mérida, Yucatán, is almost exactly 1000 miles. As in all regions of Mexico, seasonally available foods--many very different from those found in most of the country--shape and affect the regional cuisine.
Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius, sometimes known in English as tree spinach), originated and continues to be cultivated in Yucatán. More nutritious than spinach, chaya is used in a number of preparations, ranging from various types of tamales to a refreshing agua fresca (fresh juice drink).
Let's talk for a minute about the sweetly floral, barely acidic citrus used to make sopa de lima: the lima. What the lima is not is pictured above: the limón criollo--the native Mexican lime. If you absolutely cannot find limas in Mexican markets where you live, you can substitute limón criollo in your sopa de lima. It will be good, but not superb.
This, on the other hand, is the lima (Citrus limetta). The first notable difference is the color: it's nearly yellow. Second, the shape and size are more like a tangerine. Third, click on the photo to enlarge it. Look closely at the lima at the top center of the picture; you will notice what appears to be a nipple at the blossom end of the fruit. That nipple is the giveaway; Mexico Cooks! does not know another citrus other than the lima that has this design feature. If you live almost anywhere in central and southern Mexico, limas are seasonally available in many markets. In addition to being the classic ingredient for this soup, the lima is also eaten out of hand or prepared as an agua fresca.
Sopa de lima (classic Yucatecan chicken soup with Citrus limetta zest and juice), as prepared at David Sterling's internationally acclaimed cooking school, Los Dos, in Mérida, Yucatán. Photo courtesy Los Dos Cooking School.
Let's try this simple--and simply marvelous--soup at home. The links below are live and will take you to two other recipes that are included in this preparation.
Los Dos Cooking School's Recipe for Sopa de Lima
- 10 cups (2.5 liters) chicken consommé (preferably homemade or if absolutely necessary, substitute canned)
- 1/2 cup (120ml) lima juice
- One recipe Tsi'ik (with chicken; substitute lima or lime juice for the sour orange juice)
- One recipe Totopos
- Slices of lima
STEP 1 CHILL THE CONSOMMÉ. Allow it to rest in the refrigerator overnight. If any fat rises to the top, skim off, or pass through cheesecloth to remove. If any remaining particulate matter settles to the bottom, carefully pour the clear portion at the top into another pot and discard the residue.
STEP 2 ADD LIMA JUICE to the consommé and refrigerate 1 hour. Meanwhile, chill soup bowls. Just before serving, fill individual flan cups or other small molds with the tsi'ik. Invert into the center of a chilled bowl. Add soup to about 3/4 of the way to the top of the mound of salad; top salad with fried tortilla strips and slices of lima.
If I have failed to convince you that you and your kitchen need this book, the bowl of wildly delicious soup in front of you, the first spoonful of its deep flavors, and your craving for more when you've finished will convince you. Mark my words, the culinary masterpiece that is YUCATÁN will win major cookbook prizes during the course of the year. Be sure you have your copy.
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