Simple Food, Big Flavor: Unforgettable Mexican-Inspired Recipes from My Kitchen to Yoursby Aaron Sanchez
You’ve seen him on the Food Network’s Chopped, Chefs vs. City, and Heat Seekers. You’ve savored his lovingly prepared dishes at Centrico in New York City. Now, with Simple Food, Big Flavor, award-winning restaurateur Aarón Sánchez brings the amazing tastes and aromas found in his kitchen to yours.
Aarón Sánchez’s passion for food has placed him among the country’s leading contemporary Latin chefs. He has earned a premiere spot in the world of culinaria, introducing an enthusiastic national audience to his technique and creativity with modern interpretations of classic Latin cuisine. In Simple Food, Big Flavor, rather than over-whelming readers with complex, intimidating dishes, he starts small, showing how one simple but fabulous “base” recipe can become many fantastic dishes. Take Garlic-Chipotle Love, a blend of roasted garlic, canned chipotles in adobo, cilantro, and lime zest that keeps in the fridge for weeks or in the freezer for months. Once you make it, you’re just a few steps away from delicious dishes like Chipotle-Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Bean and Butternut Squash Picadillo, and Mussels with Beer and Garlic-Chipotle Love.
And that’s just the beginning. Sánchez features fifteen of these flavor base recipes, including Roasted Tomato Salsa, Cilantro-Cotija Pesto, and homemade Dulce de Leche. He even shares his plan of attack for making the perfect mole and how to team it up with roasted Cornish game hens, turkey enchiladas, and the ultimate crowd pleaser, braised beef short ribs. He then provides detailed yet easy tips for applying each sauce to everyday meals, whether you spread it on hamburgers, turn it into a marinade for easy grilled chicken, or stir in a little oil and lime for salad dressing with a kick.
With his warm and engaging style, Sánchez equips home cooks with the skills and knowledge they need to come up with their own simple, flavorful meals every night of the week. Your kitchen will be en fuego! As Sánchez says, your food will go from inspiring smiles and polite nods to igniting ridiculous grins and bear hugs. Enjoy!
“Aarón welcomes you into his kitchen and shares his rich Mexican traditions and dishes with home cooks around the world. Informative, inspiring, and user-friendly. The flavor foundations in each chapter that allow you to create hundreds of recipes are pure culinary gold.” —John Besh, author of My Family Table, host of John Besh's New Orleans, and chef-owner of Besh Restaurant Group
“Aarón Sánchez’s flair for living lives in his food. The recipes in Simple Food, Big Flavor are filled with passion, humility, unbridled love, and respect for his culture and family.” —Roger Mooking, coauthor of Everyday Exotic: The Recipes and cohost of Heat Seekers
“Aarón brings his effortless, sexy style into your kitchen with these quick, easy and mindblowingly delicious recipes. His how-to tips come in real handy, too, making this book an absolute must-have for your culinary library. My only complaint was my uncontrollable craving for a frozen margarita while I tried the recipes...I may have to head over to Centrico for one of those!” —Daisy Martinez, author of Daisy: Morning, Noon, and Night
"Sánchez presents 15 'magical' culturally inspired Mexican sauces, pastes, toppings and salsas. To each, the author adds an explanation of how they are best incorporated into dishes, alongside suggestions for alternate uses that leave home chefs a lot of room to mix, match and substantially shake up the dinner table...For Sánchez fans and those unafraid to fire up their taste buds like a pro." —Kirkus Reviews
“An inspiring and concise take on Mexican cuisine.” —Publisher's Weekly
"Though there are only 15 sauce/puree/paste recipes, the ideas for using them and the tips he offers in his witty voice are what make the book especially valuable...you'll be on your way to what Sanchez calls a 'whoa' moment." —Chicago Tribune
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Read an Excerpt
Some people’s memories have a sound track, an Usher jam calling to mind a rowdy birthday or a Bon Jovi song bringing back an awesome first date—instead, my memories smell like carnitas frying in a pot and garlic roasting on a comal. That’s what happens when your mom is Zarela Martinez, one of the best Mexican cooks there is.
I never forgot how powerful the flavors in the Mexican culinary arsenal are, the way just a few chipotles and a couple of garlic cloves could become something so good it could make you curse. And later in my life, the way a simple sauce could rocket my mind back to my mom’s kitchen. When she’d cook for me and my friends in New York, setting a bright green pumpkin seed sauce or sopes crowned with some mouth-searing salsa in front of us, they’d ask, their eyes wide with excitement, “AarÓn, what’s that?” That? I’d think. That’s love right there.
When I was a kid, I’d ask her to make sopa seca, a sort of Mexican-style pasta. She’d fry alphabets so they’d get all nutty, and simmer them with pureed roasted tomatoes and onions, cilantro, and a little chile. But she cooked more than just Mexican food. I remember these chicken wings with pineapple, soy, ginger, and scallions. Talk about delicious! I still can’t make them quite like she does.
Whenever we visited El Paso, the border town where I was born, I was reminded how she got so damn good at cooking. I’d get giddy before those trips, because it meant I’d get to have my grandma’s beans, which are pretty much the greatest food on earth—well, aside from whatever else she made. When I got a little older, it dawned on me why it was all so delicious: she was never in a rush. Her beans would sit on the stove for what seemed like forever, getting tastier by the hour. Even after I’d learned to cook more complicated food, I never forgot how with patience and a little know-how, even the simplest dishes could be spectacular.
As a kid, I’d gaze into her pot as she stirred a deep brown mole or stare at poblanos blackening over the blue flame on the stovetop. When I got a little older, I started to chip in. At first, I was relegated to chopping vegetables. Maybe I got to put together an hors d’oeuvre. But I quickly graduated to toasting chiles, a simple but vital task. I caught on quickly—when you’re from a family of cooks, like a family of athletes, you realize that there are some things you can just do, without necessarily being taught.
When I decided to work in kitchens, I wasn’t after glory or fame. This was before the Age of the Celebrity Chef. All I knew was that I wanted to create the kind of joy that the women in my life created. But I knew I had to carve out my own path. So when I was still a teenager, I took off to New Orleans (where I swear I didn’t see one Mexican) and started working for Paul Prudhomme, the chef who put the city on the national gastronomic map. I was thrilled by the food there, the delicious gumbo of Cajun, French, Italian, Creole, Native American, and Spanish influences that was as complex and satisfying as the best moles.
Paul became my mentor. He taught me how to season food properly. He taught me to think, really think, about what goes on in your mouth when you taste food. He taught me the difference between blackening and burning. What is it? About three seconds.
I went on to cook at Patria in New York for Douglas Rodriguez, another mentor who opened my eyes to ingredients and techniques that I’d never seen before. That’s where I met and fell in love with aji amarillo, the delicious chile from Peru, and learned to make sofrito, the incredibly flavorful slow-cooked vegetables that make Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican food so damn good.
The kitchen crew at Patria also taught me some life lessons. One night, I was doing my thing on the grill station. I was rocking it. Three hundred meals and zero complaints. I was pretty proud. I looked over at the sous-chef, Georgi, a guy I really respected, and said, “Hey, how come every time I mess up, you guys chew my butt like chum, but tonight I didn’t even get one compliment?” He glared at me. “This isn’t a popularity contest. When nobody says anything, that is a compliment.”
By the time I finally ran my own kitchen, I had so much to draw from, so many different chefs and eating experiences that had shaped my culinary style. The result was cooking that broke down borders, that brought together ingredients and techniques that made so much sense but had been kept apart out of habit.
For this book, I decided to take all my incredible flavor memories and distill them into fifteen recipes, to cram all that flavor into magical sauces, purees, and pastes that you can keep in the fridge or freezer and pull out whenever you want to turn a simple collection of ingredients into a seriously tasty dinner. We’re talking an easy but amazing spice rub, a practically effortless cilantro–pumpkin seed pesto, an easy homemade dulce de leche, and much more. Each chapter begins with one of these, and what follows is a bunch of great recipes that apply it. Take my Garlic-Chipotle Love, for example, a puree of four easy-to-find ingredients that’ll become your secret weapon in the battle for good food. I zoom in on certain techniques and ingredients to make sure you’re successful, then I tell you how to store it and show you how once you’ve made it, you’re minutes away from mussels steamed with chipotle and beer; smoky, garlicky mashed potatoes; and hearty bean and butternut squash picadillo. I even show you all the ways it’ll become a part of your everyday eating, whether you spread a little on your next burger or use it to spike your next salad dressing. I’m sure you’ll come up with your own ideas as well. Then you’ll have a “whoa” moment—those fifteen recipes are your ticket to nearly one hundred dishes.
Once you’ve got an arsenal like this, your food will go from inspiring smiles and polite nods to igniting ridiculous grins and bear hugs.
© 2011 PlÁcido
Meet the Author
Aarón Sánchez is chef/partner of Johnny Sánchez, with locations in Baltimore and New Orleans. He is the co-star of Food Network’s hit series, Chopped, and the host of Cooking Channel’s Emmy-nominated Taco Trip. He is also the host of two Spanish-language TV series on FOX Life: 3 Minutos con Aarón and MOTOCHEFS. The son of celebrated Mexican cooking authority Zarela Martinez, Aarón’s passion, commitment and skills have placed him among the country’s leading contemporary Latin chefs. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, singer/songwriter Ife Sanchez Mora, and two children.
JJ Goode has written about food and travel for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal,Gourmet, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Men’s Vogue, Details, and Every Day with Rachael Ray. He has co-authored several cookbooks, including Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand with Andy Ricker, A Girl and Her Pig with April Bloomfield, Truly Mexican and Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales with Roberto Santibanez, and Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking with Masaharu Morimoto. He and his wife live in Brooklyn.
Michael Harlan Turkell is a once-aspiring chef and now freelance photographer. Based in Brooklyn, he is the former photo editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan, and documents the working lives of chefs with his award-winning “Back of the House” project. Michael’s work has garnered industry awards and has been published in an array of magazines and books. He also hosts a show on HeritageRadioNetwork.com called “The Food Seen,” which touches on the intersections of food and art.
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If you like Mexican food, you will fall in love with Chef Aaron Sanchez, his recipes, his style, his sense of humour. Highly recommend.