Last Monday, I had the pleasure of serving a Pisco cocktail and Peruvian dessert at Omnivore Books where Maricel Presilla took the audience on an intimate and personal journey through Latin America and spoke about her new book, Gran Cocina Latina. In the process, she asked the audience “what is Latin America?” and gave us a sense of what it was like to travel to different countries over a period of three decades, cooking with the locals, learning about tradition, and compiling recipes to share with the world.
But many of her stories also took place in the United States, which she sees as a reconstituted Latin America shaped by its immigrants. When she was invited to be chef for a dinner at the White House, what did she serve President Obama for dessert? I am proud to say she cooked Mazamorra Morada, the uniquely Peruvian purple corn pudding. And she is happy that today, you can get this purple corn at almost any Latin market in the United States, making the food of Latin America more accessible to everyone.
So what is Latin America? It’s a common language of food, music, and traditions, with a shared colonial past that started 500 years ago when Spain arrived. But it’s really more than that. It’s finding a part of yourself wherever you go, sharing a cafe con leche with a new friend, singing Cuban songs with a stranger, dancing to the rhythms of the Caribbean, and cooking a dish that is part Spanish, part African, part Indigenous, and a celebration of culture. And her book, Gran Cocina Latina? That’s the passport you’ll need to travel there.
A few days before the event, I stopped by Omnivore Books to pick up a copy of Gran Cocina Latina, and the first thing I did was to look up the Peruvian recipes, of course. Delighted that Maricel had included recipes for Chicha Morada and Manjar Blanco, I was inspired to prepare a Pisco cocktail and a Peruvian dessert for her event: Purple Corn Pisco and Manjar Blanco Bon Bons. And if the beautiful dedication she wrote on my copy of her book is any indication, I think she liked what I prepared.