Monday, September 24, 2007

Isabel’s Cantina

One beneficial aspect of immigration is the introduction of new cuisines, ingredients and cooking styles. Innovative and creative chefs can create fusion dishes, combining the ingredients and cuisines of different cultures. If done well, this can lead to excellent and delicious dishes. Isabel Cruz is one such visionary and her new cookbook presents a fascinating fusion.

Isabel’s Cantina: Bold Latin Flavors From The New California Kitchen ($27.00) by Isabel Cruz is published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House. Isabel’s Cantina is a new hardcover cookbook with 224 pages.

Isabel Cruz owns and operates five restaurants in California and Oregon, including Isabel’s Cantina, Coffee Cup, Seaside Cantina, Dragonfly and Isabel. Isabel grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Los Angeles, in a neighborhood with various other immigrants. She grew up with Latin foods but with an Asian influence. Thus, her cookbook reflects that fusion. In essence, her recipes are a combination of Puerto Rican, Cuban, Mexican, Japanese and Thai cooking. This fusion is very intriguing.

An additional side benefit of this fusion is that the recipes have less fat than just Latin cooking. Isabel Cruz intentionally has tried to make her recipes healthy, but without sacrificing good taste.

The cookbook is broken down into nine chapters including Starters; Salads; Soups; Main Courses; Rice, Beans and Other Sides; Salsas, Sauces, and Marinades; Desserts; Drinks; and Breakfasts. It contains over 110 recipes. Generally these recipes are easy to prepare, though a few of the recipes are of medium complexity. Most of the ingredients should be readily available in large grocery stores. The book does provide a Sources section listing where some of the less common ingredients can be found.

There are a number of recipes that I would definitely like to try. These include such dishes as Spanish Chicken and Potato Soup, Sea Bass Steamed in Banana Leaves, Cumin Panko Chicken and Char-Grilled Rack of Lamb with Cinnamon and Cumin. The chapter of Salsas, Sauces, and Marinades seems particularly interesting and versatile. Her Soy Joy sauce sounds delicious, a mix of sweet and hot, and could be used in many different dishes. The Dessert chapter also is compelling. I love coconut so the Coconut Flan is very appealing. The Croissant Bread Pudding with Mexican Chocolate and Almonds also is appealing, especially looking at its photo. The Pina Colada Pancakes and Coconut French Toast sound delicious.

The recipes, from appetizers to desserts, should appeal to a wide audience. About a third of the recipes have a brief “Isabel’s tip” which provides extra information on ingredients or cooking hints. There are also a fair share of color photos of the dishes. I feel that Isabel has fused the various cuisines quite well into her recipes.

I recommend Isabel’s Cantina. It is easy to use, has plenty of intriguing recipes and is visually appealing.

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