Sunday, May 05, 2013

Cookbooks: 200 Easy Mexican Recipes by Kelley Cleary Coffeen

When I was growing up, the biggest food-related treat I could imagine was going to a certain Mexican restaurant in the heart of Venice, California, that was, at the time, something of an institution in Los Angeles. It was old and elegant and, to my mind, vast. The service was wonderful, the food sublime, but to my mind, the very heart of the restaurant and the best part was the woman who worked throughout service in a central spot next to a special oven making handmade corn tortillas intended for the immediate pleasure of diners. And that pleasure was intense. The delicate tortilla was carefully protected in a special basket. It was translucent in the candlelight: a honey colored disc of delight, so perfect in taste and texture and temperature, the only thing that needed to be added was your enjoyment. Left to my own devices, I could have made a meal just of those, every time.

For me with my western European background, that pleasure was not to be duplicated. You can’t package that particular combination of wonderfulness. And, no matter what anyone tells you, you just can’t take it home. After all, a proper corn tortilla is made out of almost nothing: masa harina and water; nothing more. An extra fancy corn tortilla might (might) have also a touch of salt and baking soda, but even that isn’t always the case. The secret lies in two things: a practiced hand and immediate consumption.

Based on the very clear recipe in 200 Easy Mexican Recipes (Robert Rose) I was able to move forward quite nicely on both requirements. Now, clearly, I’m not going to manage the creation of a corn tortilla with the expertise and excellence of the women I saw doing it -- almost floorshow style -- at the center of my favorite childhood restaurant. But with a combination of careful following of instructions followed by speedy consumption, my results were more than passable: they were delicious!

Of course, corn tortillas do not alone Mexican food make. Not by a longshot. But Las Cruces, New Mexico-based author Kelley Cleary Coffeen does a great job with a wide swath of the wonderful variations of food we think of as Mexican. As she points out, “Mexican cuisine is all about layering flavor upon flavor, adding freshness and spicy accents all at the same time.” She stresses “simplicity in methods and variety of ingredients.” All of this goes a long way to explain the growth of appreciation for this type of food over the last decade or so. At its best, Mexican food is fresh, makes terrific use of local ingredients… and lays on the flavor. A wonderful combination of things that, with some modification, most types of diets can incorporate.

All of the classics are here, in several variations. Lots of solid recipes for salsas, quesadillas and nachos, from basic to more complicated. Recipes for slightly more demanding, but still popular dishes are included, as well. Chile Rellenos, for example, are here in all of their cheesy splendor, as are fish tacos, chimichangas, enchiladas and burritos. Quite beyond the basic, included are recipes for tamales, menudo and empanadas.

Clearly, with 200 recipes, there is room for lots of variation, but if you ever wanted to try your hand at Mexican cooking and wanted a clear and basic starting point, you won’t go wrong with 200 Easy Mexican Recipes.

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3 Comments:

Blogger CathyS said...

We're invited to a Cinco de Mayo potluck tonight and I discovered I didn't have a go-to Mexican recipe. This book looks great.

Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 3:01:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Robert Mackay said...

I've missed Cinco de Mayo, but will check out the book asap.

Monday, May 6, 2013 at 7:52:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Buzz-meter said...

Really nice recipe...informative

Friday, August 2, 2013 at 7:16:00 AM PDT  

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