Room at the Table – Diverse New Mexico Cookbooks

It’s perhaps no coincidence that Thanksgiving arrives just as the last brown leaves of autumn fall to earth, shrivel and dry, then grow soggy with the wet of winter snow. After the golden light of fall, it can be hard not to harbor a slight resentment, a not-so-grateful-for attitude toward the fading colors that harken winter. Still, we inevitably make room at the table for the invisible life that ultimately blooms from winter’s decay. For Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful for it all—the death that brings life, this earth of ours, our warm homes, our full tables. What we have, no matter the season, is a thriving, diverse culture, rich with history, tradition, and earth, and the life these continually yield.

Autumn, Thanksgiving time, is a time to hunker down with a book and get creative in the kitchen, for cold weather inspires the warmth of the hearth. This Thanksgiving, we’re leaving room at our table to honor the bounty we have in our New Mexico lives—our local treasures and visionaries, our desert earth and its ancient story, our children and their futures. We hope you’ll find inspiration (Christmas gifts, creative Thanksgiving dishes, fun ideas for cooking with kids) in four cookbooks sprung locally—from chefs, artists, landmarks and children—that remind us there’s always room for gratitude, growth and creativity right here at home, at our own tables, in every season. In Roxanne Swentzell’s words, we have one another, but we also have “the knowledge that having one another is everything.”

Three of these four books represent the customary cultures of New Mexico—Native American in The Pueblo Food Experience by Roxanne Swentzell; Spanish in Rancho de Chimayo Cookbook by Cheryl Jamison; and Anglo and beyond in Cooking With Kids by Lynn Walters. The fourth book, Jambo Café Cookbook by Ahmed Obo, captures the culinary tradition that this beloved Swahili chef has brought to Santa Fe… for indeed, there’s always room here at our table for the bright fecundity that thrives on diversity.

thepueblofoodexperiencecover_roxanneswentzellThe Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook: Whole Food of Our Ancestors
by Roxanne Swentzell

“Putting the environment and us together created a profound thing,” Roxanne Swentzell writes in Pueblo Food Experience. “Some unexpected ‘fit’ started a domino effect of health, not just in our physical bodies but also in our spiritual lives and lifestyle.

Over the years as a permaculturist, renowned artist Roxanne Swentzell became interested in fitting the yield of this local earth, consumed by her ancestors for centuries, with her own health and DNA as a modern Native American. Her cookbook, along with her own renewed energy and health, is a result of Roxanne’s experiences living as her Native ancestors did—by the grace of this local earth’s bounty. According to her research, it takes 20 generations for a human body to adjust to its new edible environment, and with that in mind, the author set about eating as her people have for centuries, with staggering results. Volunteers in the Pueblo Food Experience—who totally and radically changed their eating habits to reflect those of their Native ancestors—reported noticeable changes in energy and health.

The cookbook shares Roxanne’s own Pueblo Food Experience with readers, no matter their cultural background, and offers recipes made of ingredients derived straight from our desert earth’s yield—the food Puebloans have eaten from time indefinite. From blue corn to piñon to jackrabbit and even prickly pear juice, the recipes are a true taste of what the most local of this land’s native people have honored and consumed. Included among the recipes are essays on the spirit of food, the history of this land and its people (the truly local and the newer arrivals alike), community, hunting, health, and honoring our antepasados, or ancestors, by honoring our own bodies. The book is Roxanne’s homage to the earth, to the Native ingredients familiar to her very blood, and to the health of our bodies and land, which are inextricably entwined.

jambocookbook_cover_426pxThe Jambo Café Cookbook: Recipes and Remembrances from My Journey from Africa to America
by Chef Ahmed Obo

While Roxanne takes us on a journey into this local earth—as local as we can possibly get in a literal sense—beloved Santa Fe Chef Ahmed Obo brings his own native dishes to our New Mexico table.

“What my grandfather wanted to communicate when he told me stories about his adventures was that our lives have always been tied up with the sea,” Ahmed writes. “My family is Bajun.” And his native Swahili cuisine—as well as his organization that brings health and wellness to children and families in his hometown of Lamu, Kenya—is a gift the warm-natured chef shares with Santa Fe and the world.

Ahmed’s cookbook “is the story of my rather incredible journey, told through the meals I grew up with and the recipes I now prepare,” he writes. Still, the real heart of the book is rooted in “some secret wellspring I had no idea was there,” for Ahmed’s gifts in the kitchen are “deeply woven into” who he is and the earth and culture he comes from.

The book includes recipes from the beloved Jambo Café menu, with appetizers like Curried Black Beans-Sweet Potato with Coconut Cream, entrée favorites like Slow Roasted Harissa leg of lamb, and even delicious drinks like Cardamom Tamarind Juice. Hard-to-come-by specialty ingredients like African Bird’s Eye Chiles can be purchased—along with the book! — at Jambo Imports. Those familiar with the Jambo Café experience know that Ahmed always has room at his tables for us; this Thanksgiving, there’s room at ours for the dishes he’s generously shared with everyone who’s sat at his tables.

walters_cookin_cvr_fa16.inddThe Cooking with Kids Cookbook
by Lynn Walters

Hearths, kivas and woodstoves aside, the most beautiful source of light in the chill of winter is a child. There ought always to be space, at any table, for the sweet innocence, spontaneity and creativity of children. And Santa Fe nonprofit Cooking With Kids, which educates and empowers school children to make healthy eating choices, knows this best. CWK Founder Lynn Walters, along with Jane Stacey and Gabrielle Gonzales, compiled a book—with a foreword by notable authors Cheryl Alters Jamison and Deborah Madison!—“for success in your family kitchen” through hands-on learning and kid-involved creations.  

Among recipes from around the world, the book sprinkles in tried-and-true suggestions for what kids can do to help adults prepare and cook—even knives can be used successfully and safely with proper guidance. Ultimately, the cookbook, which has just about every kind recipe imaginable, from Chinese American Fried Rice to Mediterranean Flatbread to Rainforest Macaroons, includes “everyone in a comfortable way.” Which is exactly what we mean when we say there’s room at our table.

rancho-de-chimayo-cover_sharon-stewartThe Rancho de Chimayo Cookbook: The Traditional Cooking of New Mexico 50th Anniversary Edition
by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison

But of course, if we’re going to include everyone, we can’t forget to make space in honor of Northern New Mexico’s Spanish heritage—and we didn’t forget, for, “Nobody forgets Rancho de Chimayo.” So begins The Rancho de Chimayo Cookbook, an homage to one of Northern New Mexico’s iconic restaurants, which lives, breathes and honors Spanish American tradition, “full of authentic New Mexico flavor—never bland, never dainty, never nouvelle.” And that flavor is precisely what’s stirred into the pages of Chimayo, written and compiled by authors Cheryl Alters Jamison and the late Bill Jamison.

The book tells the stories of Rancho founders Arturo and Florence Jaramillo and their landmark creation, as well as the history of Spanish heritage in New Mexico, the town of Chimáyo itself, and the cooking that sprung from such rich tradition and culture planted in high-desert earth. The book contains beautiful photography, and though it’s been dubbed a cookbook, it could easily mingle with the books on your coffee table. Recipes span traditional Chimayo chile sauces to main courses like chicken enchiladas to breakfast dishes to drinks and desserts. In this book, the famed restaurant, Rancho de Chimayo, shares its secrets so home cooks can bring local delicacies like sopapillas — or sopapilla cream puffs or even little “sopa pillows”— to their own tables.

Get a taste of each of these four cookbooks in the November 2016 Still Hungry recipes section.

by Mia Rose Poris

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