Sunday, August 15, 2010


It seems that things keep happening to hinder my exploration of Mexican cuisine.

First, I was incredibly excited to start cooking Mexican dishes, and then three days later my doctor informed me that I had gastritis and couldn't eat anything spicy or greasy and I had to stick to lean meats. That rules out a lot of Mexican food. Instead of cooking anyway and dealing with the stomach pains, I decided to postpone my Mexican Summer.

After being informed that I no longer have gastritis and simply need to be careful, I was ready to begin again. Unfortunately, I found myself in a circumstance where it was best to quit my job. Even though I am one of the many unemployed in this country, I am optimistic about this change in my life. The most discouraging part is the financial strain, which I will certainly be feeling as I continue on this culinary journey.

But even though I'm a pessimist at heart, I'm remaining optimistic. I'm not the only person in this country without a job, and I'm probably one of the many who would like to still eat well on a budget. And fortunately, some Mexican dishes are very wallet-friendly.

The real daunting task ahead is how and where to start. And who to start with. I bought three cookbooks by four giants of Mexican cooking. I also bought them all used on Amazon in Like New condition--a little trick I learned from budgeting my books for school. They all came in perfect quality and have been my reading companions the last week.

The Essential Cuisines of MexicoMy first arrival was The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. Diana Kennedy did for Mexican food in America what Julia Child did for French food: she introduced America to a different standard that is possible to make from home. She moved to Mexico in 1957 after getting married, and once her love affair with Mexican cuisine began, she taught cooking classes and published her first Mexican cookbook in 1972. She has published many more since and still cooks and lives in Mexico to this day. This particular cookbook is a compilation of three of her cookbooks: The Cuisines of Mexico, The Tortilla Book, and Mexican Regional Cooking. Diana Kennedy's love affair with Mexico and its food is relayed well, and it makes you want to travel to Mexico and cook with the locals. This book has no pictures, but it has many interesting facts and fundamental recipes. Next to nearly each recipe is a unique symbol that shows which state in Mexico the recipe is from, which satiates my geeky palate, since it explains why the ingredients vary depending on the region.

Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico [AUTHENTIC MEXICAN]
Next was Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Rick and Deann Groen Bayless. This is the 20th anniversary edition, which gives you an idea of how long Rick Bayless and his wife have been exploring Mexican cuisine. They also own the restaurants Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, XOCO, Frontera Fresco, and now Red O. Rick Bayless has written many, many books about Mexican food, but I sampled the original version before and thought it would be a good start. He has a thorough introduction to Mexican cuisine and each recipe has a Cook's Notes section with alternate ingredient suggestions, tips on technique, timing, or variations. These are very helpful, especially if you're new to cooking Mexican food. There are two sections of pictures for a few recipes, but there are also drawings throughout the book that are helpful guidelines.

Mesa Mexicana
Last, but not least, was Mesa Mexicana: Bold Flavors from the Border, Coastal Mexico, and Beyond by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. These two chefs are responsible for helping my taste buds make the distinction from Mexican fast food to Mexican cuisine. They have written other cookbooks, including Mexican Cooking for Dummies, but are best known for their restaurants Ciudad and The Border Grill. I have been to both restaurants in LA, and the first time I had fried plaintains at the Border Grill I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Recently I tried the Yucatan Pork Taco available at the Border Grill Truck and thought I'd died again. It was a culinary delight that had a variety of flavors that surprisingly complemented each other incredibly well. I have every intention of hunting that truck down in the future so that I can scarf down many more. The cookbook does not have pictures, but it has a variety of recipes and cooking tips that are also helpful. The love these two chefs have for Mexican food is clear throughout the book, and that always makes me want to cook more.

With cookbooks like these, how can you not love life or appreciate food? What I love most about Mexican cuisine is the flavors that tempt, tease, and satisfy the palate. The tricky part is figuring out which book to try first.

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