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Originally published Friday, April 9, 2010 at 7:03 PM

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Best of the latest books on Latin cuisines

A look at new cookbooks that reveal the secrets of Latin cuisines: "Nirmala's Edible Diary," "The Brazilian Kitchen," "Daisy: Morning, Noon and Night" and "Seasonal Spanish Food." Plus, a recipe for Peruvian Potato Salad.

The Associated Press

The bold flavors and fresh tastes of Latin cuisines make them an exciting way to perk up your palate in the heat of summer.

Cooks from Mexico to Rio have long known the powers of cumin, peppers, chocolate and the delicate balancing of sweet and acid. All are used liberally in several new cookbooks that reveal the secrets of Latin cuisines, and explore the diverse cultural influences that have shaped them.

"Nirmala's Edible Diary" by Nirmala Narine (Chronicle Books, 2009) tumbles through South America's 14 countries with gorgeous, color-saturated photos and more than 70 recipes that illuminate the influence of African slaves, native Arawak Indians, Chinese, Javanese, Portuguese and other colonial powers on the continent.

A woman of Asian-Indian descent raised in Guyana, Nirmala offers engaging reminiscences of her childhood, travels and lessons of her grandfather — an Ayurvedic doctor and Hindu priest — in a book that is part travelogue, part cookbook.

Organized by country, the book allowed readers to eat their way around the continent. Start with a bracing Brazilian caipirinha cocktail then continue on to an appetizer of chicken and plantain tamales from Colombia.

A cardamom-scented taro-and-coconut milk vichyssoise from French Guiana will cool off a hot day, and Peruvian potato salad spiked with fruity yellow chili would make a good summer side dish.

"The Brazilian Kitchen" by Leticia Moreinos Schwartz (Kyle Books, 2010) focuses on the little known but increasingly popular cuisine of Brazil, where colonists, immigrants and native influences have created a food that is as diverse as it is unique.

The author is a native of Rio, and she offers myriad croquettes, empanadas and fritters stuffed with beans, meat or fish as crispy, hot, salty bar food. Dishes like salted and peppered melon — seared melon offset by mango-and-yellow pepper sauce — and grilled fresh cheese with Brazil nut and cilantro pesto promise refreshing summer meals.

In "Daisy: Morning, Noon and Night," Food Network host Daisy Martinez (Atria Books, 2010) offers recipes such as chili-spiked hot chocolate, Latin johnnycakes (called arepas) and breakfast tamales to remind us that Latin food isn't just for dinner.

But if you are thinking dinner, black bean and fresh cheese tostadas and spicy gazpacho shooters laced with tequila promise unusual cocktail party fare, while shrimp tacos with tomato and avocado salsa suggest a hearty weeknight dinner.

Many people consider Spanish food the mother cuisine of Latin America, and chef Jose Pizarro's "Seasonal Spanish Food" (Kyle Books, 2010) outlines its basics. Sultry photos on matte paper and anecdote-rich sidebars about tapas, cheese curdled with wild thistle, and customs like stringing fresh peppers over smoldering oak fires to make smoked paprika, conjure up the deeply sensual experience of eating in Spain.

Organized by season, the book offers recipes for vibrant dishes like an artichoke and sheep cheese salad that contrasts vinegar and arugula with toasted pine nuts. In summer, tomatoes take center stage with refreshing tomato-and-melon gazpacho and cinnamon-laced tomato jam.

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PERUVIAN POTATO SALAD

This unusual potato salad from Peru is dressed with a sauce of coconut milk, cheese and aji amarillo (yellow chili powder). The sauce and potatoes can be made a day ahead and refrigerated.

Start to finish: 1 hour

Servings: 6

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes

Salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 small shallot, minced

1 tablespoon aji amarillo powder or sweet paprika powder

14-ounce canned unsweetened coconut milk

6 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Ground black pepper

4 large hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped

In a large saucepan, combine the potatoes and 1 teaspoon of salt. Add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover and cook until the potatoes are just tender but still firm, 8 to 10 minutes. Immediately drain and set aside to cool or refrigerate until ready to use.

Meanwhile, in a medium nonstick saucepan over low, heat the olive oil. Saute the garlic, shallot and aji amarillo powder for 2 minutes or until the mixture is soft.

Whisk in the coconut milk and cheese. Cook, whisking continuously, until the mixture is reduced to about ¾ cup. Add the cilantro and whisk for another minute. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the potatoes in a large bowl. Pour in the cheese mixture. Mix well to coat. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with eggs before serving. Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 459 calories; 285 calories from fat; 33 g fat (19 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 172 mg cholesterol; 33 g carbohydrate; 14 g protein; 4 g fiber; 571 mg sodium.

Recipe from Nirmala Narine's "Nirmala's Edible Diary," Chronicle Books, 2009

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