Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors from the Edge of the Yucatán, written by the owners of the restaurant with the same name- Eric Werner and Mya Henry, features a unique collection of recipes inspired by the surrounding Yucatán. This is an absolutely gorgeous book, from the textured canvas cover to the detailed photographs of local scenery and food. The dishes have been adapted for the home kitchen with well-written instructions and tips for delicious results.
Eric Werner and Mya Henry own and operate the restaurant Hartwood in Tulum, Mexico. They are originally from New York, but fell in love with the Yucatán during a vacation. They sold their possessions, left their jobs, and relocated to Tulum to build their restaurant with a pair of machetes in the thick jungle near the beach. The result was an open air restaurant with dining under the sky and stars surrounded by 2 1/2 walls. I love the detailed inside look at how the restaurant operates. They have to close during heavy rains (due to lack of a roof) and the humid environment requires constant attention and upkeep. Everything is cooked on the grill and wood-burning oven. No power lines reach their property, so they have solar panels and a gas generator to operate the sound system and freezer. A constant supply of ice keeps the drinks and fresh seafood chilled.
Chapters are divided based on food category: It Began, El Almacén (The Larder), El Mercado (The Market), El Mar (The Sea), La Tierra (The Land), Los Dulces (Desserts), and Las Rebids (Drinks).
While Hartwood doesn’t have authentic Mexican dishes, it focuses more on using the local cuisine to create something that is unique with the inspiration of the Yucatán. The authors cook with the freshest and most flavorful ingredients available. I particularly enjoyed this line: “You don’t build flavor to overwhelm your senses, you build flavor to heighten the purity of what you’re cooking.” Part of this includes having a good base. The El Almacén chapter has an abundance of pickles and roasted flavored oils to help enhance the dishes.
Tips for various cooking techniques are also provided, such as how to supreme citrus fruits, dry herbs to concentrate the flavor, prepare ceviche, grill a whole fish and different types of meats, and make your own masa and tortillas. The process of working with a wood fire and wood burning oven is also explained. A list of local ingredients is included with the different varieties of chiles, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, seeds, nuts, and sweeteners.
Every recipe includes a headnote with background information on the dish, ingredients used, and tips. Measurements are provided in US Customary.
The photographs are provided by Gentl and Hyers. Every recipe includes a beautifully styled full page photo of the finished product. Amazing photos of the scenery, from the restaurant and underwater coral to jungles and caves, also fill the pages.
This book is best for cooks experienced in grilling that are looking for new and unique flavors. Seafood lovers will enjoy the highly detailed and diverse fish section, including five types of ceviche. You will also find octopus, squid, prawns, lobster, sardines, red snapper, and grouper. Those looking more for meat will have plenty to choose from too, from rib-eyes and pork ribs to pork belly, short ribs, roast chicken, veal chops, and lamb. A variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are also included. The dessert section stands out with interesting recipes such as Horchata Cake, Chocolate Habanero Cake with Chocolate Avocado Buttercream, and Lime Tart with Lime Caramel. Many of the ingredients require sourcing a Mexican grocer or ordering online (they recommend buying local if available). Having access to fresh seafood is also a plus. Some of the fruits may be available at Whole Foods or Asian markets as well. The dishes range from being easy to prepare to requiring several hours.
The first recipe that caught my eye was Roasted Camotes with Chamomile, Honey, and Pepitas. It was definitely unlike anything I had seen before. Camotes (sweet potatoes) are baked in chamomile infused water until tender, then cut in half and roasted in butter and honey until well-flavored and lightly crisp on the edges. They are then finished off with an additional sprinkling of chamomile and toasted ground pepitas. The recipe is based on the Maya charred sweet potatoes drizzled with honey.
The flavor was amazing with just a handful of easy to find ingredients. The authors recommend pairing this with grilled fish.
I used the contents of organic chamomile tea bags. You can also dry your own fresh chamomile or locate dried chamomile.
I found shelled pumpkin seeds (Pepita) at Whole Foods. They are also available in the nut and seed section of many larger grocery stores and International Food Markets featuring Latin American and African ingredients.
I also made Mango Limeade, Costillas, Chamomile Flan with Candied Peanuts, and Chelada.
The refreshing Mango Limeade stood out as I had a few mangos that needed to be used. Pureed mangos are combined with water, honey, lime juice, and zest. The drink came together easily and was a nice accompaniment to the Costillas. Don’t have any mangos? There is also a recipe for the pure Limeade.
Costillas are pork ribs that roasted for a few hours, then finished on the stove in its braising liquid. This was actually my first time making pork ribs and they were perfect. Chad said this was his favorite recipe from the book. The ribs are arranged in the pan on a layer of chopped onions, carrots, celery, and pineapple. They are topped with beer, honey, and star anise, covered with a banana leaf, and baked for 7 hours. The resulting sauce is simmered on the stove until reduced, then the ribs are added and cooked until coated in the syrupy glaze. I always keep a stash of banana leaves on hand to use in cooking or as decoration. I found them in the freezer section at the international food market. You can substitute with parchment.
Flan is a favorite of mine and I love the unique twist in the Chamomile Flan with Candied Peanuts. Dried chamomile or the contents from an organic chamomile tea bag is mixed into the caramel before it is poured into the ramekins. The flan base is lightly sweetened with honey. It is baked in a water bath until barely set. The flan is served with chamomile flowers and candied peanuts. I loved the texture contrast of the candied peanuts to the flan (I may have had a few less peanuts to work with since many disappeared shortly after preparation).
The Michelada is a Mexican beer seasoned with Worcestershire sauce, Maggi seasonings, Tabasco sauce, and lime juice. When I mentioned that to Chad, he wasn’t quite on board. Luckily, the next page had a recipe for Chelada, a lightened version with only crushed ice, lime juice, and salt. From there, he will be able to move up to the Michelada.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Artisan in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Roasted Camotes with Chamomile, Honey, and Pepitas
Adapted from Hartwood: Bright, Wild Flavors from the Edge of the Yucatán
1 bunch dried chamomile (or 8-10 organic chamomile tea bags)
4 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds), toasted until lightly browned and coarsely ground
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a 9″x13″ baking dish, spread the dried chamomile or contents from the chamomile tea bags in an even layer. Reserve a few sprigs or 1-2 bags for garnish. Arrange the sweet potatoes in a single layer over the chamomile. Fill the baking dish 1/3rd with water. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 1 hour.
Remove the baking dish from the oven once the sweet potatoes are tender all the way through and add an empty large cast iron skillet to the heated oven.
Cut the cooked sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and place cut side down in the heated cast iron skillet. Sprinkle the diced butter around the sweet potatoes. Drizzle with honey and bake in the oven for 5 minutes. Baste the sweet potatoes with the sauce in the pan and continue to roast until crisp around the edges, 8-10 minutes. Baste an additional time before removing to serving plates.
Seve hot toped with reserved chamomile and ground pepitas.