Jane Butel’s Fiesta! brings to life the spirit of a region where company is always welcome, where the flavors are always clear and strong, and where creativity finds no more satisfying outlet than in the kitchen. The recipes in this book include both traditional dishes and new interpretations of them. After a helpful introductory section on ingredients and basic preparations, Jane Butel presents a series of festive brunches, lunches and picnics, and twelve special dinners. A cookbook called Fiesta! wouldn’t be complete without a section on Grand Events, and here you’ll find everything from a tamale roll and a Fourth of July fireworks patio party to a wedding feast and, of course, a fiesta. But Fiesta! is even more than its extraordinary food: it is a complete entertainment guide, offering “game plans” to help organize meals efficiently (including suggestions on what dishes can be made ahead of time), decorating tips that help create ideal settings, and plenty of other helpful hints. With Jane Butel as a guide, meals for fifty at a Texas-style barbecue—or for only two at a candlelit dinner—can be manageable as well as memorable.
Here's a sneak peak at the book's introduction, as well as a downloadable PDF recipe card for Jane's Green Chili Sauce, featured in Fiesta!
What makes fiestas such memorable occasions in the Southwest? With their origins in the
Spanish feasts held in honor of the saints, they have evolved into happy celebrations with
their own very special ambience. Despite the formality of customs and traditions in much
of their culture, the Spanish have always seemed to love the informality the fiesta allows—
from the brightness to the spiciness to the loudness. A number of forces and factors have
combined to make the fiesta what it is today: the excitement of traveling great distances to
get together to celebrate, the sun-drenched climate, the legacy of Spanish customs and spirit,
and the bounty of the Southwest itself.
A guest at a contemporary fiesta will be struck first by its rainbow colors—the brighter
the better. Red, green, and white party dishes (the menu traditionally includes the colors
of the Mexican flag as much as possible) featuring a range of chile and corn creations are
dressed up with brilliantly hued vegetables against a background of pure primary colors in
the table decor—purples, magentas, yellows, oranges, blues, and the like. The party spirit is
further heightened by the presence of merry mariachis, whose staccato trumpet and romantic
guitars and violins set everyone’s foot to keeping time with the music, if not dancing for
hours on end. And indeed, because many of the guests would have journeyed for days or
even weeks to visit friends and relatives they had not seen for a good while, fiestas have customarily
been known for their duration, often lasting at least twenty-four hours.
I grew up on a farm in the Southwest where western hospitality was taken very seriously
and food was the focus of most all social gatherings. We processed all our own meats,
produce, and dairy products, and even ground our own grain. My mother, who was raised
in Texas near the Mexican border, learned a great deal from Mexican cooks. Dad, on the
other hand, developed his skills on his father’s Kansas farm, which was probably the only
chile-growing enterprise for miles around. Uncle Harry, who married and lived in Mexico,
taught us all how to prepare a wide range of native dishes. Aunt Virginia, an accomplished
bourgeois Spanish cook, shared her subtly flavored and beautifully prepared Europeaninspired
My real education in Southwestern cooking came when I moved to New Mexico right
out of college. Armed with a degree in home economics and journalism, I was excited to
have the opportunity to work as a home economist for the Public Service Company of New
Mexico. I traveled the state teaching cooking, equipment, and lighting courses. The most
successful programs we developed were a series on Southwestern cuisine. As I taught these classes, I found that I was as much a student as my own pupils, who brought their knowledge of the
region’s food to my classes.
In this book I’ve tried to share many of the terrific tastes of the area, reflecting a balance between
decades-old recipes from the frontier to innovations I have created especially for these recipes. The foods
for fiestas adapted to a home setting are easily planned, as noted in the suggested menus in this book.
Many Southwestern foods can be prepared ahead for last-minute heating and serving. Dishes featuring
crispy crunches of tortilla, topped with spicy sauces and complemented by delightful fillings, stay worthy
of serving for hours. The suggested occasions are as various as the number of guests they accommodate,
from a Scintillating Supper to be shared with only one or two additional people to a Texas Barbecue for
50 to a fiesta for an even larger crowd. The planning section for each menu allows for fine scheduling to
prevent any last-minute rushing.