The Zapoteca chef is happy to be home after a six-day tour to promote her first cookbook, ‘The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen.’

More than 3,000 cookbooks are published every year in the United States. Did chef Shannon Bard, owner of Zapoteca in Portland and Mixteca in Durham, New Hampshire, worry that hers – her first – would get lost in the throng? Did she fret over stiff competition in the Mexican cookbook arena from such luminaries as Rick Bayless or Diana Kennedy?

“I didn’t even think like that,” she replied to these questions with her trademark self-assurance. “It was always on my bucket list,” she continued. “If I had that type of attitude – ‘Oh my goodness I have so much to compete against’ – I’d have a heart attack in the restaurant business. I just go out there and do my best, and it has turned out well.”

Bard’s “The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen: A Cookbook” ($19.99) was released in February. It offers more than 100 recipes that range widely – from traditional to contemporary, from guacamoles to drinks, from intricate moles to tempting desserts. More than a few ingredients – say banana leaves, nopales (cactus paddles) and avocado leaves – will require some shopping legwork for the Maine cook. The book is illustrated with many color photographs – of the food and of Bard – shot by Yarmouth resident Ted Axelrod.

We chatted with Bard about “The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen” one day after she returned to Maine from a six-day book tour to Dallas, Chicago and her native Oklahoma, a tour she described as “a little crazy, a little tiring, glad to be home.”

Writing the book was a something of a whirlwind, too. Page Street Publishing gave Bard just three months to turn it in. “And one of those months I was in Spain (researching a Spanish restaurant she hopes to open),” she said. “Luckily, they were very lenient about the time.”

Bard said she strove to make her recipes accessible to the home cook. For one, she replaced the somewhat involved chipotle-pepita-chocolate brittle that she typically serves with her Roasted Oaxacan-Spiced Orange and Butternut Squash Soup with an easier garnish – instructing home cooks to simply grate chocolate over each soup bowl.

That said, more than a few of the recipes have several components and dauntingly long ingredients lists. We picked the Spice-Rubbed Roasted Chicken with Pueblo-Style Mole at random and tallied the number: 32 ingredients.

“That’s actually the longest in the book,” she said, chuckling. “I am such a mole fan. I think we have five or six on the menu (at Zapoteca). I couldn’t have a cookbook without mole. That’s just not who I am.”

She suggested the beginner cook start with the easier Cranberry-Pecan Mole (her own twist on the traditional Mexican sauce – cranberries for her adopted Maine home, pecans for her Oklahoma childhood). In fact, Adobo-Glazed Duck Breast with Cranberry-Pecan Mole, while it sounds delicious, has 29 ingredients, several of which require advance preparation. So, Chef Bard, may we respectfully suggest that beginner cooks (or those who are pressed for time) try the slightly more manageable Red Chile-Marinated Rib Eye Steaks instead? Or simply make a reservation at Zapoteca and have Bard cook for them.

Red Chile-Marinated Rib Eye Steaks (Carne Asada Roja)

Bard serves the steak with sliced avocados and warm Salsa Roja, which she makes from roasted garlic, roasted chilies and roasted tomatoes.

Serves 6

16 guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded, dry roasted and rehydrated

5 garlic cloves, dry roasted and peeled

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

3 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 teaspoon canola oil

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

6 (12-ounce) boneless rib eye steaks, 1-inch thick

Olive oil, for grill

Puree the rehydrated chiles, garlic, cumin, oregano, vinegar and 1 cup of broth in a blender until extremely smooth.

Heat the canola oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot and begins to shimmer, pour the pureed chile mixture into the pan. Be careful, as the sauce will splatter. Immediately stir and reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer, stirring often, for 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens and begins to darken.

Stir in the remaining 2 cups broth along with the salt and sugar. Continue to simmer for an additional 20 minutes to reduce. Remove the mixture from the heat and season with additional salt, if desired. Transfer to a large, shallow baking dish and set aside to cool completely before marinating the steak.

Place the steaks in the cooled red chile marinade, making sure the pieces are thoroughly coated. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight.

Preheat an outdoor grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Lightly brush the grill grates with olive oil to prevent the steaks from sticking. Place the steaks on the grill and cook for approximately 12 minutes for medium-rare steaks, turning once.

Allow the steaks to rest 5 minutes before serving.

 


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