Book Brief: The Southwest
From plump corn tamales and Native American fry bread to steaming pots of ranch-style beans, the earthy, robust fare of America's Southwest reflects the diverse peoples who influenced it. The Southwest, part of Williams-Sonoma's New American Cooking series, takes you on a culinary tour of the region, with more than 60 enticing recipes showcasing both classic and contemporary fare. You'll discover how four peoples—Native Americans, Spaniards, Mexicans and Anglos—helped shape this unique cuisine.

Author Kathi Long, who moved to Santa Fe in the 1970s, became enamored with the food after attending her first fiesta and has been exploring the culinary traditions of her adopted homeland ever since. A cooking teacher and private chef, she explains that the Southwest encompasses four states, each boasting distinctive fare: the barbecued meats and chuck wagon dishes of west Texas; the green and red chili sauces and rich stews of southern Colorado; the blue-corn tortillas, spiced-rubbed meats and piñon-studded desserts of New Mexico; and the flour tortillas, cactus paddles and ranch foods of Arizona. What unites them is an affinity for rustic rather than elegant fare and, most important, a respect for the traditions that have flourished for generations.

Drawing on these traditions, Long presents recipes made with time-honored ingredients, including corn, beans, squashes and fiery chilies. At the same time, she adds some contemporary touches, in keeping with the trend in Southwest kitchens toward culinary sophistication. Shrimp tostadas, for example, incorporate two classic Mexican ingredients—achiote paste and chipotle chilies—plus a splash of balsamic vinegar. The author showcases the hearty meat dishes that are a favorite of the region, including barbecued Texas baby back ribs and skirt steak fajitas paired with a piquant avocado salsa. You'll also find classics like red snapper ceviche, chili-spiked enchiladas and a warming stew of posole with winter vegetables.

To balance the heat and spiciness of many Southwestern dishes, desserts tend to be sweet and often cold. A medley of summer fruits drizzled with prickly pear syrup makes a refreshing ending to a meal. The chocolate-pecan torte, with its dense texture and intense flavor, typifies chocolate desserts in the Southwest. Also featured are cooling drinks, including watermelon agua fresca and fresh peach sangria, along with Mexican hot chocolate.

Interspersed throughout the book are informative sidebars on topics such as Southwest wines and the influence of ranching on the region's cuisine. You'll also learn about one of the Southwest's most intriguing ingredients, the cactus, which was cooked and eaten by the Pueblo Indians long before others settled in the region. Modern cooks add the cactus paddles, or nopales, to soups, stews and salads. A glossary describes staples of the Southwest kitchen, from chayote and purslane to jicama and tomatillos.

Beautiful photographs of ingredients, finished dishes and the people of the Southwest capture the region's vitality. This book will inspire readers who are exploring the Southwest table for the first time as well as cooks who want to experience a fresh approach to the traditional cuisine.