Pros: covers lots of basics of mexican cuisine, great introduction to mexico beyond the standard
Cons: with all the basic recipes the book seems geared towards noices to Mexican cuisine
Having spent many, many years in the restaurant business, I have grown to love the foods of Latin America, especially the foods of Mexico. It's hard not to when much of the kitchen and service staffs are staffed with Hispanics. Family meal (that meal shared by the restaurant staff before service starts) was often tacos of some sort or another Latin American specialty, and even if it wasn't Latin cuisine it was often accompanied by searingly hot chile peppers. Not that it took much to make me fall in love the the cuisine of Mexico. The foods of Mexico are diverse, complex, and hearty. The foods run the range from delicate dishes inspired by European immigrants to hearty, stick-to-your-ribs dishes based on native ingredients, and prepared the way they have been prepared for 1000s of years.
This great diversity can be seen in the street foods of Mexico, which go beyond the standard Tex-Mex fare that most Americans think define Mexican food as a whole. And there is no better book to help discover that diversity of cuisine than Roberto Santibanez's book, "Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales-Flavors from the Griddles, Pots and Streetside Kitchens of Mexico." In the book, Mr. Santibanez sets out to introduce the reader to the great diversity that is Mexican cooking and does a noble job, considering the huge task set before him and along the way provides a book filled with the basic building blocks that help to make the foods of Mexico so rich in their diveristy.
What really excited me about this book is the fact that it spends a good amount of space dedicated to the Torta, the sandwich of Mexico. Oh sure, there are plenty of recipes for tacos and tamales (as the title implies) but there are hundreds of cookbooks out there devoted to such food. Finally, the Torta gets its due. For someone who has never had a Mexican torta it might be hard to imagine what the fuss is all about, but then they try one and are usually amazed. If most American sandwiches are simple melodies of flavor, tortas are virtually symphonies of flavor, their rolls bursting with a myriad of flavors that compete, contrast and compliment each other. Even lowly bologna gets a jump start when used in a torta and topped, Mexican style with refried beans, slices of fresh avocado, spicy pickled vegetables, mayonnaise, mustard and cheese. And this is one of the simplier versions that can be found in this book.
Beyond the three foods mentioned in the title, this wonderful little book contains a large chapter on salsas and condiments, drinks, including a large selection of agua fresca (the street beverage of choice in Mexico) and desserts, covering quite a large range of Mexican specialties.
If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that it is so full of basic Mexican recipes. For the most part the book doesn't cover new ground, for me. But then, I am some one with an extensive collection of Mexican cookbooks. For the novice this would be a great book to have as it has so many important recipes for someone wanting to explore the world of Mexican cuisine. Even for me, with my large collection of Mexican cookbooks, I found a number of can't-wait-to-try recipes and I look forward to trying every single one!
The torta below is a great example of the fusion of American and Mexican cuisine that can be found throughout Mexico. This one takes the standard Turkey Club and gives it a Mexican twist.
Torta de Pavo
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 large rolls, preferably teleras, Portuguese, kaiser, or ciabatta, split
1/2 cup Refried Pinto Beans or Refried Black Beans, homemade or canned
3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
4 teaspoons Dijon or yellow mustard
3/4 pound thinly sliced smoked turkey
1/4 pound sliced Manchego cheese
8 or 12 slices crisp cooked bacon
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Spread the butter evenly over the cut sides of the rolls. Cook the rolls, butter sides down, in the skillet until they are light golden brown and crisp, but still soft in the middle, a minute or two.
Spread a layer of beans (a tablespoon or two) over the bottom half of each roll and spread the mayonnaise and mustard over the roll tops. Stack the turkey, cheese and bacon on the roll bottoms. Top with sliced canned pickled jalapenos, thinkly sliced white onions, slices of ripe Mexican Hass avaocado, and a pinch of salt. Cover with the roll tops and press firmly but gently.