Like many grand dames and queens of various cuisines we’ve featured in the 50 Women Game Changers in Food series, we have one such person at #45 with prestigious honors in Mexican cuisine – Diana Kennedy. She is a firecracker, for sure, giving even the Jalapeno chile a run for its money. Not one to suffer fools, Diana does not pay any attention to hospitality or little niceties, like many journalists/interviewers who’ve witnessed it first hand will tell you. Food is of the essence. A correspondent for AP wrote in an article, “The queen of mexican cuisine is scolding me with a wooden spoon.” She apparently wasn’t very happy with the way he was handling ingredients.
She’s a perfectionist and anyone who’s eaten her food will attest to that. She’s a strong supporter of the local food movement and the preservation of local and cultural richness of true Mexican cuisine. She has an expansive garden at her home in Mexico, where she grows her own fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, coffee and just about anything under the sun, including a few almost-forgotten edible plants from the old days in Mexico.
Diana was born in England in 1923. She emigrated to Canada in 1953 and four years after her stay there, she was headed back to the UK via the Caribbean to visit a friend in Jamaica. On her way, she visited Port Au Prince, where she met her husband, Paul Kennedy, whom she married within a year. Paul was a New York Times correspondent and they moved to Mexico in 1957. That is when her love affair with Mexican cuisine began. Taught by her maids, friends and their families, Diana grew more and more interested in discovering the real flavors and ingredients of food in Mexico.
In 1966, Diana moved to New York when Paul was dying of cancer. A year after his death in 1967, Diana was urged by Craig Claiborne to start teaching and writing a book on Mexican cuisine. And thus, she traveled back to Mexico to research and unearth the traditional food of different states. Her first book, “The Cuisines of Mexico” was aptly named a game-changer since it opened America’s eyes to true, authentic Mexican food. She’s written a total of 10 books since then, winning awards including a James Beard Foundation award for cookbook of the year (“Oaxaca al Gusto”). She’s also been awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle by the Mexican Government for her contributions to the documentation of regional Mexican cuisine. You can read an interesting interview with Diana on The Cookbook Blog.
Now let me tell you about the dish I picked for this week by her. This Pork stew is the BEST I’ve ever eaten. Seriously. EVER. I am not kidding because even the hubby, who’s a fussy giver of compliments, was rendered speechless by this one. Usually with every dish I make, he has something or the other to say in terms of adding this or adding that to make it better. But, for this, every time he opened his mouth to comment on any modifications, nothing came out. Instead he kept stuffing spoonful after spoonful of this delicious pork stew in silent bliss.
In my entire life, I have never been so mesmerized with the aroma of a dish while it’s cooking. When you add the cinnamon-spiced paste in, be prepared to swoon. I hovered around the stove the whole time it was cooking after that. It is pleasantly intoxicating, if you ask me. This one here, is going into my book of favorites as a recipe with highest honors.
You can serve this either with rice or warm tortillas. You better get some traditional tortillas otherwise Diana may come after you with a wooden spoon since she has been known to speak out against the rise of industrial-standard tortillas. I served mine on a bed of white rice strewn with a fresh corn and tomato salsa. I give this meal 10 stars out of 5 (and no, I didn’t make a mistake, I meant that).
(Recipe courtesy: Food & Wine)
Ingredients and instructions
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of some but not all of its fat, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
- 15 seco del norte chiles (also called California chiles – deep red dried chiles about 5 inches long)
- Boiling water
- 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 inch cinnamon stick
- 1 bay leaf, preferably Mexican
- 1 heaped teaspoon crumbled dried oregano