Sandra Gutierrez and I met a few years ago at a food writing conference, and her smile stayed with me even after I'd crawled into bed, shut the light, and closed my eyes that first night. Hers is a big, warm, sincere smile, the kind that lingers and makes the world a sweeter place.
Sandra's first cookbook, The New Southern-Latino Table, fuses her Latin American roots with her Southern sensibilities, and the results are steeped deeply, and equally, in both traditions. Biscuits meet chiles, grits meet loroco (an "edible vine flower" common in Central America), and peach cobbler meets mango and tequila.
You'll find a solid introduction to ingredients with which you may be unfamiliar -- from chayote (a squash) to chiltepan (a fiery pepper) to yuca (a popular tuber). I'm game to try them all. That said, Sandra also seems quite fond of the Southern staple pimiento cheese, and I'm afraid I need to draw the line somewhere. Lo siento.
Happily, however, the two recipes I've made so far were wonderful. Sandra's Chile-Cheese Biscuits with avocado butter were rich, flaky affairs. I served them with a potful of her Nuevo Red Beans and Rice, thick with andouille sausage and meaty pork ribs. My Texas-bred husband -- a man who knows a thing or two about biscuits -- and my children, who enthusiastically welcomed all the bold flavors -- gave firm seals of approval to both.
The biscuits call for queso seco and the stew called for achiote oil, a mixture of achiote seeds steeped in olive oil. My local supermarket had neither the cheese nor the seeds, but the young clerk whispered that his Puerto Rican father shopped at a small Mexican market that -- it turned out -- was just a few blocks from my house. I'd driven by it a thousand times without noticing it.
Later that evening, I had everything I needed.
Thanks to him -- and thanks, too, to Sandra, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala, and North Carolina.
It takes a village, and sometimes the whole world really is right outside your doorstep.
For the past several weeks, Sandra's friends and colleagues have been helping her spread the word about her book. More recipes from The New Southern-Latino Table are aggregated on Sandra's blog and on the website of her publisher, The University of North Carolina Press.
Recipe for Chile-Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter
from The New Southern Latino Table by Sandra Gutierrez
[[csr notes: This recipe yielded 17 biscuits for me, rather than the 12 indicated in the recipe. They freeze beautifully. If you have trouble finding the queso seco, take the time to look for a Latin or Mexican market in your neighborhood. You'll love knowing where it is. Also, if you don't have self-rising flour, simply add 1 tablespoon of baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt to 2 cups of all-purpose flour and proceed as directed.]]
Excerpted with permission of the University of North Carolina Press (2011).
For the biscuits:
2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup grated queso seco (use Parmesan cheese in a bind)
1 teaspoon ancho (or pasilla) chile powder
1/4 cup chilled lard, bacon fat, or shortening
1 poblano chile, roasted, peeled, seeded, deveined, and finely chopped
1 to 1-1/4 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
For the avocado butter:
2 Hass avocados
2 teaspoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Pinch dried Mexican oregano (optional)
Preheat the oven to 475°F. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cheese, and chile powder. Using a pastry blender (or two knives), cut the lard into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse sand. Stir in the chiles.
Gradually add the buttermilk, mixing the dough with a wooden spoon or your hands just until it holds together (you may not need all of the buttermilk). Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it gently a couple of times.
Pat it into an 8-inch circle (about 1/2 inch thick). Using a well-floured 2 1/8-inch biscuit cutter, cut out 12 biscuits (you'll need to gather up the dough and pat it down again lightly after the first biscuits are cut to get all 12).
Place the biscuits, with sides touching, in a 10-inch springform or cake pan. With your knuckle, make a small indentation in the center of each biscuit; brush the tops of the biscuits with the cream. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.
To make the avocado butter, halve and pit the avocados; scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a medium bowl and mash into a smooth paste. Add the lime juice, salt, pepper, and oregano (if using) and stir until combined. Serve the hot biscuits with avocado butter.