The Cordúa family recently released their first cookbook after more than 25 years in the Houston restaurant industry. It's the product of years of recipe development melding the food of Nicaragua with the melting pot of Houston cultures.
The Cordúa patriarch, Michael Cordúa, is credited with bringing Latin American cuisine to Houston and introducing American to the concept of the churrascaria. A quarter of a century later, Houstonians have embraced the Latin (but not Tex-Mex!) food of the Cordúas and the family's multiple restaurants, including four Churrascos locations, two Américas, Amazon Grill, Artista and Cordúa catering.
Michael's son, David, talked to us about the cookbook and the opening of a new Churrascos back in November, when the excitement for both debuts was building in the community. He said the cookbook, in particular, was something he's extremely proud of.
"It's definitely a tribute to everyone that made it happen, the recipes that made it happen and our country."
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Recipes or food porn: Both. Not only does the cookbook contain many of the recipes that are on the menu at various Cordúa restaurants -- including those to-die-for plantain chip and sauces -- it also features stunning photographs by Houston photographer Julie Soefer. Soefer traveled to Nicaragua with the family during the development of the cookbook to document the inspiration for the recipes and the culture that are so dear to the family.
In addition to the recipes and photos, the cookbook contains about 40 pages of family history and culture, as well as tidbits about the evolution of individual dishes above each recipe. There are also a number of tributes to people who influenced the family and their cooking scattered throughout the book. Because of this, it's more than just a cookbook; it's a diary, a personal glimpse into the life of the magnetic Cordúas.
Ease of use: Though some dishes require more than a dozen ingredients, only a few of the recipes are longer than a single page. The techniques and tools required to prepare the dishes are ones that any mildly experienced chef should have in his or her arsenal and kitchen. There's no sous-vide-ing or liquid nitrogen, but several recipes require a grill, so get outside and fire it up. There are definitely recipes that are simple enough for a novice to tackle, as well as a few that might require a little more know-how. The desserts are some of the more labor-intensive recipes, while the "perfect bites" or appetizers are simpler.
Difficulty of finding ingredients: At the front of the book, the Cordúas note that most the the more obscure ingredients are available at Fiesta or HMart in Houston. Some things that might be difficult to find are aji amarillo paste, guajillo peppers, hon dashi fish stock granules and ponzu citrus soy sauce. The Cordúas recommend checking out www.amigofoods.com to order specialty items.
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Production value: As stated previously, it's a beautiful book. Michael Cordúa says it best in his introduction, when he writes: "If I were an artist, I would want to fill my canvases with bold, vibrant strokes of color punctuated with surrealistic images, both real and creations of my imagination. If I were a poet, I would hope the pages of my journals would groan under the weight of the passion poured into them...Though I admire these artists and their passions, I am simply an explorer and a cook. Food is the medium I use to show you who I am."
The hardback book with a colorful sleeve features dozens of full-size photos of dishes and close-ups of specific ingredients like roasted pumpkin seeds, quinoa and mangoes. Who knew plain quinoa could be so photogenic?
Recipes I want to try: I haven't made anything from the cookbook yet, but I'm itching to try my hand at the famous plantain chips and dip, though I'm fairly certain they won't be as good as the ones at Churrascos. I'd also like to make the corn poblano soup while it's still chilly outside, because it looks super easy and comforting on a cold day. Finally, I'd like to attempt the carnitas pibíl, pork butt braised in anchiote marinade and Coca-Cola then topped with guajillo sauce.
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As a bonus, the cookbook includes recipes for some of the Cordúa restaurants' signature drinks, like the coconut hibiscus batida, the Cordúa paloma and ginger tequila punch. Let's be honest; I'll be making those first.
Verdict: I'm kind of obsessed with this cookbook. As soon as I find the time to devote a day to creating a meal from it, I will, gladly. I think it would also make a great gift for someone new to Houston or someone who appreciates micro-regional cooking, as this book shows how to do traditional Nicaraguan food with the Vietnamese, Korean and Tex-Mex twists unique to the Bayou City.
Stats: Cordúa: Foods of the Americas by Michael Cordúa, David Cordúa & John DeMers Photography by Julie Soefer $34.95 99 recipes 196 pages