Jackie Alpers got the idea for her Tucson cookbook while she was at Seis Kitchen one day, shooting photographs for the Food Network.
"Erika (Muñoz) at Seis used to be a nutritionist," she said. "I was talking to her and I was like, 'Oh this is a book,' gathering some of the knowledge of these amazing Tucson chefs and putting them together."
The Ohio-native got her start in photography, but cut her chops as a server at El Charro Cafe before she went on to work for various publications including the local outlet Madden Media. She's a jack-of-all-trades, interviewing a diverse array of chefs, recreating and testing recipes herself, then shooting and editing the photos from her home studio in Tucson.
Her latest book "Taste of Tucson: Sonoran-Style Recipes Inspired by the Rich Culture of Southern Arizona" just came out this week through the Portland-based publisher West Margin Press. The hardcover includes 80 original recipes from local chefs like Daniel Contreras at El Güero Canelo, Suzana Davila at Cafe Poca Cosa, Travis Peters at The Parish and Maria Mazon of Boca Tacos y Tequila.
For Alpers, it's a signal that Tucson's cuisine has arrived, and that people across the U.S. are paying attention to the vibrant flavors of the Sonoran Desert.
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I got to see my real live cookbook for the first time today, when much to my surprise the advance copy showed up on my doorstep. I am so beyond thrilled! It looks even better than I'd imagined. I can't wait for you all to see it. 🙏🏻😘Thank you so much to the fabulous team at @westmarginpress #cookbook #tasteoftucson #tucsonsonora #yay!!
"When I was pitching the book, had a couple people saying, 'Oh it's like New Orleans was when Cajun food started to really hit,'" she said. "There's a potential for this Sonoran cuisine to really be a thing."
But for local readers who are stuck at home right now, the book offers a unique opportunity to master the familiar dishes we love and miss. In addition to staples like cheese crisps, Alpers has an entire section on Mexican snack foods including El Guero's Sonoran hot dogs, recipes for tostilocos and tostinachos, even a hot dog taco. This sets the book apart from previous Tucson cookbooks, which tend to focus on homestyle Mexican restaurants with servers and combo plates. (Although, the book does have some of that too.)
One of Alpers' favorite recipes is the spicy tomato and cheltepin salsa, which she "uses for everything" including eggs, Jewish matzah bread and even salad dressing. The book also breaks down common pantry items and how to use them in your kitchen.
"I really wanted to promote Tucson cuisine as a whole," she said. "My plan is to teach people how to take these basic things and understand the cuisine ... and expand on it."
Red or White Menudo
"Back in Ohio in the early 1980s, I knew Menudo as a boy band named after a soup I had never tasted, and that both the soup and the band were supposed to be spicy and from Mexico. A lot of what I now know about this traditional tripe soup I learned from Teresa Matias of Teresa’s Mosaic Cafe´ Her biggest tip is to buy the best-quality fresh honeycomb tripe you can find. Serve this soup with toasted and buttered bolillo rolls. Try and use fresh hominy if possible. A lot of people think of the soup as a classic hangover cure, which may be why many restaurants only serve this slow-cooking soup on the weekends."
For the tripe
- 1-pound honeycomb tripe
- 8 cups water
For the soup
- 1 ½ cups canned or fresh
- hominy (one 15.5-ounce can), well rinsed
- 1 medium white onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
- 2 green onions, chopped
- ½ fresh green Anaheim chile, chopped
- ¼ cup sea salt
- Optional garnishes: minced cilantro, minced white onion, crushed chiltepin, and dried
- Mexican oregano, toasted and buttered sliced bolillo rolls
With your hands, thoroughly clean the tripe under cold running water using a scrubbing motion. Trim the fat from the tripe and dice the tripe into 1-inch pieces. Rinse the diced tripe in a large bowl and drain through a colander, changing the water several times to be sure that the tripe is very clean.
Add the tripe and the 8 cups water to a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Properly cleaned tripe should remain clear when added to boiling water. If the water is not clear, drain the tripe and wash it again before returning it to the boiling water. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, covered, until tender, about 2 hours.
Add the hominy, onion, garlic, green onions, and chile. Allow to boil until the hominy is tender, about 1 hour. Add 1/4 cup salt; adjust seasoning to taste.
Ladle into bowls. If desired, garnish with minced cilantro, white onion, crushed Chiltepin chiles, and dried oregano. Serve with slices of toasted and buttered bolillo rolls
Variation: Teresa's Red Menudo
Follow the White Menudo recipe. At the step when you add the hominy, also add: 1 cup red chile powder, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano.