Zarela's Veracruz: Cooking and Culture in Mexico's Tropical Melting Pot


With two celebrated restaurants and two highly acclaimed cookbooks to her name, Zarela Martínez is considered one of America’s foremost authorities on Mexican cooking. In this book, the companion to her thirteen-part public television series, Zarela takes us on a tour of the Mexican state of Veracruz, a lush, skinny strip of land bordering the Gulf and home to some of Mexico’s most accessible and inviting dishes. It was here that the Spanish first landed in the sixteenth century, and sustained Spanish influences ...

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With two celebrated restaurants and two highly acclaimed cookbooks to her name, Zarela Martínez is considered one of America’s foremost authorities on Mexican cooking. In this book, the companion to her thirteen-part public television series, Zarela takes us on a tour of the Mexican state of Veracruz, a lush, skinny strip of land bordering the Gulf and home to some of Mexico’s most accessible and inviting dishes. It was here that the Spanish first landed in the sixteenth century, and sustained Spanish influences give the food an easygoing Mediterranean character that is appealing even to people who don’t normally like “Mexican” food. Olive oil, olives, capers, raisins, and almonds are common in simply prepared dinners, while complex blends of difficult-to-find chiles and other spices are largely absent. The state’s 450-mile-long coastline is broken up everywhere by waterways teeming with shellfish. As a result, there is a wealth of little dishes that involve nothing more than some seafood, olive oil, and garlic with a handful of seasonings: wonderful soup-stews, fresh fillets stuffed with seafood mélanges, appetizers such as Shrimp Salad in Avocado Halves and Garlickly Stir-Fried Shrimp, and the state’s most famous dish, red snapper a la veracruzana. At the same time, Veracruz's strong Caribbean orientation and powerful Afro-Cuban legacy offer plenty of choices for cooks who want kitchen adventure. The Veracruzan table also features innumerable variations on tortillas that make wonderful little meals.
In all, Zarela provides more than 150 dishes that are perfect for parties or even ordinary suppers: Crab and Avocado Salad, Orange-Flavored Chicken, Wild Mushrooms in Vinaigrette, and Coconut Layer Cake.
Much more than a cookbook, ZARELA'S VERACRUZ is also a mesmerizing travelogue and an absorbing portrait of Mexico’s most exuberant state.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
With a diverse and fascinating history, the state of Veracruz has had a controversial role in the shaping of Mexico. In Zarela’s Veracruz, Zarela Martínez -- an authority on Mexican cooking -- focuses her attention on this melting pot and offers a highly complex and intelligent look at Veracruz in this combination travelogue and cookbook featuring more than 150 recipes.
From the Publisher
"When it comes to real Mexican food, Zarela is one of our great teachers, and this book is a lot like Zarela herself: smart, lively, colorful and full of truth. Also, reading it makes me very, very hungry!"—Linda Ellerbee

"Praise be indeed to Zarela Martinez, impassioned evangelist for Mexican food."

The Wall Street Journal

Publishers Weekly
This year PBS is pushing a variety of regional cookbooks, companion volumes to their cooking shows. Martinez (The Food and Life of Oaxaca), PBS's star this fall, ably represents the fascinating and spicy world of Veracruz, the narrow state along Mexico's Gulf Coast. In her fact-filled introduction, Mart!nez covers the region's cultural and culinary history, explaining, for instance, that the cuisine's African influence began in the cruel time of Cort?s, when African slaves were brought over to harvest sugar cane. Several of the most interesting traditional recipes involve fruit wines and liqueurs: Pollo en Mora mixes shredded chicken in blackberry liqueur sauce with green olives and almonds; Carne en Salsa de Licores combines pork, garlic and scallions with orange and blackberry liqueurs. Seafood is plentiful and used variously. Red Snapper Veracruz Style is baked with bay leaves and thyme. Appetizers include Hashed Seafood Melange, with pickled jalape?os, and Hashed Crab with Capers augmented by jalape?os and plum tomatoes. Desserts and drinks are offbeat and fun: Beso del Duque (the Duke's Kiss) is a cake made of crushed Animal Crackers, eggs, almonds, raisins and sesame seeds and topped with a cinnamon and sugar syrup. Toritos de Cacahuate (Milk Punch with Peanuts) sounds harmless enough until you reach the end of the ingredient list: milk, peanut butter, vanilla extract and one cup of cane liquor or 96 proof grain alcohol. Full-color photos. (Sept. 18) Forecast: With publicity from her TV show and a 15-city tour, the effervescent Zarela is sure to draw attention and sales. parenting Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618007134
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 9/1/2001
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 7.94 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Zarela Martinez was born in Sonora, Mexico, and educated in El Paso, Texas, and Guadalajara, and s considered on of America's foremost authorities on Mexican cooking. Bilingual and bicultural, she is the chef-owner of Zarela, a wildly popular restaurant in Manhattan. She is also the author of The Food and Life of Oaxaca and Food from My Heart.
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Read an Excerpt

Camarones al Ajillo (Garlicky Stir-Fried Shrimp)

Makes 4 servings

This is a ubiquitous dish in Veracruz and Cuba, as well as Spain (where it is called gambas al ajillo). I have eaten and loved many versions, but I think my all-time favorite is the one served at Las Brisas del Mar in Boca del Río. Most cooks just throw the garlic and chile into a pan to fry, then add the shrimp. This produces a good dish but doesn’t equal the distinct tavors that Tomasita Meléndez achieves by marinating and stir-frying the shrimp before combining them with the separately cooked garlic and chile. I also love the richness of the spoonful of luxurious garlic-butter paste that Tomasita adds. Another interesting touch is the use of small dried chiles (árbol or dried serrano) instead of the commoner large guajillos. The heat and chile tavor seem to diffuse better with the small chiles. You can vary the amount to taste, but since they are used whole, they shouldn’t make the dish too incendiary.
In Veracruz, people eat the shrimp with corn tortillas. Cubans sop up the oil with bread.

1 large head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled 1 teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste Juice of 2 limes Freshly ground black pepper 1 pound shrimp (any size; I generally use small), peeled and deveined 3 tablespoons olive oil 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 20 árbol or dried serrano chiles (see page 45) 1 tablespoon Garlic Butter Enrichment (below; optional) Lime wedges for garnish

With a heavy pestle, crush 2 of the garlic cloves to a paste with the salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the lime juice and a good grinding of black pepper. Add the shrimp and toss well to combine. Let stand for 5 minutes; drain and set aside.
Using a mortar and pestle or the tat of a heavy knife blade, crush the remaining garlic cloves just enough to bruise the surface while leaving the cloves nearly intact. Add 1 tablespoon each of the olive and vegetable oil to a small skillet and heat over medium heat until rippling. Add the bruised garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes, or until golden. Add the chiles and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute, being careful not to scorch the chiles. Set the pan aside.
In a medium skillet, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons olive and vegetable oil over medium-high heat until rippling. Stir in the garlic butter, if using. Add the drained shrimp and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes, or until they change color. Add the garlic-chile mixture and cook, stirring constantly, just to heat through, about 1 more minute. Serve at once with lime wedges.

Ajo Preparado Garlic Butter Enrichment Many cooks in the port city and throughout Sotavento—the prime fish and seafood areas of Veracruz state—swear by a sauce enrichment consisting of pureed garlic cooked in butter. Sometimes onion is added as well. People make up the mixture, or buy a prepackaged version that I’ve seen at street markets, and add it to all sorts of prepared seafood dishes to give an extra dimension.
I suggest using a tablespoon for a dish to feed 4.

1/2 cup garlic cloves (from 2 large heads of garlic) 1/2 cup cold water 2 tablespoons butter

Puree the garlic with the water in a blender or food processor. In a small saucepan, gently melt the butter over medium heat, not letting it bubble. Add the garlic puree and cook without stirring for about 5 minutes, or until the water has evaporated and the mixture is bubbling up in ploppy craters.
Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then transfer it to a small container. It will keep, tightly sealed, for up to a month in the refrigerator.

Copyright © 2001 Zarela Martinez. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Table of Contents

Preface xiii Where It All Began, and How 1 Places and People: A Tour of Veracruz 5 Lively but Accessible: The Cooking of Veracruz 39 Equipment 40 Ingredients 41 If You Really Want to Cook Like Me 71

Appetizers and Little Dishes 76 The Veracruzan Corn Kitchen 111 Soups and Soup-Stews 141 Fish and Seafood 166 Poultry and Eggs 196 Pork and Beef 235 Vegetables and Side Dishes 264 Sauces and Sauce Enrichments 298 Sweet Breads and Desserts 332 Beverages 358

Mail-Order Sources 365 Shopping Sources 367 Index 369

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  • Posted December 17, 2011

    Excellent book

    I have purchased all three of Zarela's books. They are all great and very enternaining reading. In her introductions to the book and her recipies, she gives a very detailed description of the different local regions and customs. On "Zarelas Veracruz", she gives you the grand tour of Mexico's state of Veracruz. The ingredients are readily available at local markets. And the recipies are truly authentic as prepared in the local regions.

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