Mexican Cookbooks (US)



When I posted a collection of my many Mexican cookbooks on Facebook, a cheeky relative enquired why there were no Hispanic surnames.

I say "cheeky", but he does indeed have a point. Why aren't any of my cookbooks by Mexican authors?

My excuse at the time was that Mexican-authored cookbooks tend to be in Spanish, and my Spanish isn't quite good enough to read them. My Spanish is improving, however, so that excuse won't hold much longer.

The real reason is that none of the books I happen to own happen to have been written by Mexicans.

It is strange that I haven't yet come across a cookbook written in English by a Mexican American.

If any of you know of one, let me know. Plus eventually I really will get some books in Spanish.

In the meantime, here is my meagre list of Mexican cookbooks written by or for Americans.

This means they have temperatures in Fahrenheit, measurements in Imperial, and they measure dry ingredients by volume rather than weight; all the stuff I basically don't understand, because I learned to cook first in Germany and then in Britain, and we use the metric system.

Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Rick Bayless

This, for me, is the big one, by the modern guru of Mexican cooking (outside of Mexico).

Bayless is not only a great chef, he's also an anthropologist. He's done serious study of Mexico's history and pre-history, he speaks Spanish, and if he doesn't speak Nahuatl, he sure knows a hell of a lot about it.

How many other cookbooks can tell you what the original crops grown in Mexico were? Or who quotes from the writings of Cortes and the conquistadores as they observed cazuelas of pipian?

Especially for lesser-known regional things like Yucatecan achiote paste, he's often my primary authority. Like Diana Kennedy, he's lived the dream, but he's a bit more up-to-date. And his flavours are incredible. 
Negatives are few. The big one is not a lot of colour photos. Most of the dishes are accompanied by  black-and-white illustrations. 
I also find it odd that a cookbook which actually recommends you soak your own dried white corn in slaked lime and then grind it into masa to make tortillas doesn't include all seven Oaxacan moles. 

Because where the hell else am I gonna find them?

Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy

Kennedy is considered the Julia Child of Mexican cooking, Which means she lived in Mexico as an expat, embraced the lifestyle and the cuisine, learned to cook it and then taught America how to do it through her influential books.

This is a compilation of her three classic books, kind of a "greatest hits". What I love most about it is that it retains all the descriptive introductions drawn from her personal experiences in Mexico.

Kennedy's Mexico, the Mexico of the 1950s and 1960s, is pretty much gone. Books like hers are one of the only ways we have access to a now-vanished way of life, and way of cooking.

I have to admit I don't cook a lot from this book. I use it as more of a history guide.

Although the original editions contained colour photos, this version omits them.

Also, Kennedy is more inclined to include "extreme food" recipes, which she ate happily during her time in Mexico. Rick Bayless may be adamant that menudo (tripe) is delicious, but Kennedy includes a recipe for calf brains. Jesus fuck.

Still, this is the book that taught me to make sikil p'ak, the Mayan pumpkinseed sauce that blew my mind.

Mexican by Marilyn Tausend, Chuck Williams and Maren Caruso

This is a good basic introduction to cooking Mexican food. It has a mix of the basics (salsa, guacamole), the familiar (tacos and enchiladas), the adventurous and complex (mole), and the elegant (duck in pipian).

It is also beautifully illustrated with photographs that will make your mouth water.

And it has a section on basic skills including a thorough illustration of how to prepare chiles poblanos.

What it lacks, really, is length. It's a fairly short book, so it can't go as in-depth into regional dishes like Bayless and Kennedy can. It also has less "personality" than the other cookbooks.

However, it does manage to cram a lot of info into a small place, and it is definitely real Mexican food, as opposed to Tex-Mex or sanitised American Mexican cuisine. It even includes a recipe for chilaquiles instead of nachos.