Tastes of the Southwest take glossy turn in Mark Miller's 'Coyote's Pantry'

September 26, 1993|By William Rice | William Rice,Chicago Tribune

Mark Miller, anthropologist-turned-chef-turned-entrepreneur, is a natural educator with a scholar's passion for detail. You can be confident of finding more than trite descriptions and formula recipes in his work, be it a poster of chilies or the memorable "Coyote Cafe Cookbook."

Mr. Miller, with a half-dozen or so fellow chefs, pretty much invented what has become known as new or contemporary Southwestern cuisine.

After establishing the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, his successful launch of Red Sage, a Western-theme restaurant, and a related food shop in Washington, D.C., gained him national attention.

So the appearance of a book called "Coyote's Pantry," with the subtitle "Southwest Seasonings and at Home Flavoring Techniques" (Ten Speed Press, $25.95), by Mr. Miller and Coyote Cafe chef Mark Kiffin, is bound to quicken the pulses of those who have grown accustomed to the Southwest's earthy tastes and zippy flavors.

The book is divided into seven sections, each of which contains a dozen or more recipes, an appendix with basic techniques and recipes, and a source list. The sections are titled: salsas and chips; chutneys, relishes and pickles; flavored oils and salad dressings; sauces and pasta toppings; grilling ribs, marinades and glazes; ketchups, mustards and tasty trail fixin's; bountiful beans and rainbow rices.

The objective, Mr. Miller writes in the introduction, is to encourage the creation of homemade foods that "connect with the traditions of bygone generations." Therefore the pantry Mr. Miller proposes to fill resembles his grandmother's, with space for conserves and condiments and even fresh baked goods, though the items themselves are far from the mainstream American fare of only a few years ago. Southwestern cuisine, he points out, reflects the influence of Native-American and Hispanic cooking as well as European.

Thus the potato chips he and Mr. Kiffin offer are seasoned with red chili and cayenne chili. Their selection of salad dressings includes creamy avocado rancho, old-fashioned molasses and a basil balsamic vinegar. They prepare rice in a style called prairie-fire reddened and also tropical tamarind coconut.

Clearly the inclusion of quick rice dishes and sauces intended to be served immediately after preparation stretches the traditional pantry concept. I doubt hungry cooks will mind.

Still, at 160 pages, "Coyote's Pantry" is not encyclopedic. If for some reason you are limited to owning only one book on the cooking of the Southwest, look elsewhere, perhaps back to the "Coyote Cafe Cookbook."

The recipes have lengthy introductions, but no attempt is made to link preparations such as martini relish made with olives to the Southwest. Instead, what ties them together is a distinctive flavor kick. Though not always spicy-hot, Mr. Miller and Mr. Kiffin's food is memorably assertive (and often very good). The recipes also contain serving suggestions and suggested storage limits.

L Here are some of them, reprinted as they appear in the book.

Homemade red chili potato chips

Makes about 8 cups

Storage: Can be stored in a cool, dry place 2 to 3 days, or up to 1 week in dry climates.

Prep time: About 25 minutes

Note: Idaho russet baking potatoes make the best chips, as they are high in moisture and low in sugar.

2-3 (about 1 pound) Idaho baking potatoes

1-2 quarts peanut or canola oil, for frying


1/2 teaspoon pure red chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cayenne chili powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Peel and slice the potatoes paper-thin with a mandoline or in a food processor. Soak the sliced potatoes in ice-cold water 5 minutes. (You can slice the potatoes ahead of time and hold them in water as long

as 4 or 5 hours.) Drain in a salad spinner or lay flat on kitchen towels and pat dry.

2. Heat the oil in a deep fryer or large pot to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, thoroughly combine all the chip seasoning ingredients in a bowl. Fry the potatoes in batches until crisp and brown. Remove with a slotted spoon or use a spoon and strainer, and drain on paper towels.

3. Transfer to a large bowl and toss chips with chip seasoning while still warm.

Serving suggestions: For best results, serve immediately. Good with burgers, sandwiches, or with eggs and chorizo for breakfast or brunch.

Savory cinnamon ketchup

Makes about 4 cups

Storage: Holds for weeks in the refrigerator.

Prep time: About 2 hours

1 tablespoon virgin olive oil

1 small onion, cut into 1/2 -inch dice

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

6 allspice berries, ground, about 1 teaspoon

1 teaspoon ground whole cloves

2 cups unseasoned rice vinegar

12 plum tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), roasted

1 cup apple cider

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

To roast tomatoes, cut them in half lengthwise and place on a wire rack or baking sheet, cut-side up. Roast in a 300-degree oven for 1 1/2 hours.

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