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Mar 20, 2011 11:53 AM

Your Favorite Mexican Cookbook and Why

I have more cookbooks on my bookshelves than I could possibly ever hope to cook through. Even though I don't have that many Mexican Cookbooks, I would like to more fully use of the ones I have. I need someone to point me in the right direction as to which recipes are the ones not to miss. Can you help? I would love to know which Mexican cookbooks in your collection are your favorites and why? What are your favorite recipes out of these books?

My Books:

The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy (taken a cooking class with her, she is brilliant)
The Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy
Mexican Kitchen by Rick Bayless (made one recipe so far)
Mesa Mexicana bu Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger (taken two cooking classes with them, they are hysterical and terribly talented)
Isabel's Cantina by Isabel Cruz (never cooked out of this one)
Salsas, Sambals, Chutneys and Chowchows (never cooked out of this one)

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  1. I have more Mexican cookbooks than I want to count :-). Probably close to 200. Some are in English, some in Spanish.

    My favorite, and the one I keep coming back to time and again is DKs The Art of Mexican Cooking. I also really like The Cuisines of Mexico.

    By DK I also have: - My Mexico, The Tortilla Book, Mexican Regional Cooking, Essential Cuisines of Mexico, From My Mexicn Kitchen and the Oaxaca book in both languages. I have taken classes with her in Mexico and agree, she is brilliant

    My favorite cookbook from Rick Bayless is Salsa's that Cook followed by Mexican Kitchen and Everyday Mexican (Roadside Chicken, YUM!)

    By RB I also have: Authentic Mexican (original edition), Mexico: One Plate at a Time, Everyday Mexican and Fiesta at Ricks. My least favorite is Fiesta at Rick's. I have taken classes with Rick in both the U.S. and Mexico and he is a fantastic teacher.

    I also have:

    Seasons of My Heart by Susanna Trilling. I've cooked a lot from this book and love it. Recipes are solid.

    Veracruz by Zarela Martinez. I've cooked alot from the this book and really like it...alot. If the amount of oil in some recipes seems excessive, it can be reduced without affecting the end product. I also have Zarela's Oaxaca book and have not cooked from it.

    Mexican Family Cooking by Aída Gabolindo. Zarela's mother. Have not cooked from this cookbook in a while.

    Mexico The Beautiful by Marilyn Tausend and Susanna Palacios. This book falls into the most surprising cookbook category. It's basically a coffee table book but boy are the recipes good. I've cooked several dishes from this cookbook in the last few years and am consistently surprised at how well they turn out and how good they are.

    By Patricia Quintana I have (in English) - Tastes of Mexico, Feasts of Life and Cuisine of the Water Gods. Tastes was her first book published in English and contains a number of printing errors, if it's been reprinted I would assume the errors have been corrected. I've cooked from Cuisine of the Water Gods but it's been a while. I also have a couple of her single subject cookbooks in Spanish.

    Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. I have it in paperback, the pages are yellowed and brown around the edges. This is an old warhouse with good recipes that work.

    Frida's Feasts by Guadalupe Rivera (yes, Diego's daughter) I've owned this book for years and everytime I leaf through it I always find lots of things I want to cook, but somehow never do. I know, however, quite a few people that also own this book that have cooked from it and really like it.

    In the dessert category I have Dulces by Joseluis Flores. I have cooked from it but have had a few problems with the desserts but by and large the recipes work. I also have My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson and have baked a lot from this book. Once again, there were minor issues with the recipes but certainly not enough to make me stop using the book, I highly recommend it.

    In Spanish, if you can find a copy of Alquimia y Atmosferas del Sabor by Doña Carmen Tititia take a look at it, you don't need to buy it, just look at it. It's a Veracruz cookbook but the photography is spectacular. Absolute food porn. I have successfully cooked from this cookbook.

    22 Replies
    1. re: DiningDiva

      Wow Diva, what a wonderful collection you have at your disposal. Yours is not the first recommendation I have seen for Mexico, the Beautiful. It is on my wishlist. Meanwhile, can you recommend a few of your favorite dishes out of The Art of Mexican Cooking and/or the Cuisines of Mexico?

      In return, I recommend you try Rick's Achiote Roasted Pork Tacos on page 170-172. It is the first and only recipe I have made out of the book and it was quite good.

      Over the next month my cooking club will be taking a tamale class together (April 3rd) and then cooking a menu out of another Rick Bayless cookbook (not sure which one). I will report back on any recipes that are keepers here and on this thread:

      1. re: dkennedy

        The Art of Mexican Cooking, wow, it's hard to know where to start on recommendations. Here are a few:
        Salsa de Chile Cascabel (pg 350) very good all purpose sauce
        carnita Caseras (pg. 262)
        Chorizo Verde (pg 268) , really delicious and you don't have to stuff it into casings.
        Higaditos en Chipotle (pg. 218) Chicken Livers in Chipotle, I like it with rice
        Sopa de Albondigas (pg. 100) be careful with the Fresno chiles
        Tacos de Requeson (pg. 30)
        Efigenia's Chilaquiles (pg. 31)

        In The Cuisine of Mexico I always start the basic albondigas recipe in this book even if I'm doing something different. I also use the Enchiladas Sencilla and Pipian Verde recipes from this book.

        1. re: DiningDiva

          Thank you Diva. I will look forward to trying your recommendations.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            Thanks for your recommendations. I just got this cookbook and am trying to decide where to begin! I was looking at the Carnitas Caseras and found the addition of milk to be interesting.

            I have the Mexico The Beautiful cookbook, too, and I adore it. I wanted a Mexican cookbook to serve as my guestbook for our wedding, and after much research, I chose this one. The plus was that it was both beautiful and authentic. So as I cook from it, I come across all the lovely notes from family and friends. I just love it.

            Would you mind sharing your favorites from Mexico The Beautiful, too? I've had great success with the enchiladas, albondigas, salsa de tomate verde con aguacate, and pescado a la Veracruzana. I'm trying to decide what to try next!

            1. re: DCcook

              I also have (and love) the Mexico the Beautiful cookbook. The pictures are gorgeous and everything I've made has turned out wonderful. I can't remember the names of the recipes I made off the top of my head, but have made the chicken enchiladas with green sauce (delicious!) and adapted a recipe for pork ribs into a chili verde filling for burritos (also delicious!) I have also made the turkey mole, although I halved the sauce and used a whole chicken instead of a whole turkey. And I have made corn tortillas several times, with varying success (due partly to my inexperience and partly to my cheap plastic tortilla press - I doubt there's anything wrong with the recipe).

              If you're feeling ambitious, I'd try the mole. It took most of a day but the results were fantastic.

              1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                The mole is on my list. Hope to try that soon. I haven't tried Kennedy's mole recipes but my plan is to try those, too, and see how they compare. I've had varying success with the tortillas, too. I think I went off Kennedy's instructions the last time and that seemed to work a little better.

                1. re: DCcook

                  Finally found a copy of Mexico the Beautiful at a price I could live with so I ordered it yesterday. I am looking forward to pouring over each and every page. Everyone on Chowhound has given it rave reviews so I know it must be a real treasure.

                  1. re: dkennedy

                    I love this book, it's real. There are 2 easy recipes that you might want to steer your daughter to...

                    Auga de Jamaicaa - this is my "go to" recipe for jamaica. It's easy and it's delicious. You can adjust the sugar as needed if you'd like it sweeter, but it's pretty darn close as it is.

                    Queso con Oregano - easiest app in the world. Take a round of panela cheese and puncture it all over with the tip of a skewer. Mash up 6 cloves of garlic, toss in some Mexican oregano, add olive oil and corn oil and stir. Put cheese in a zip lock, pour on the marinade, zip closed, put in the fridge and let sit over night, turning occassionally. Pour everything (except the zip-lock) into a shallow baking dish, bake at 350* for about 10-15 mintues or until the cheese is warmed through, serve with cracker or baguette slices. Easy-peasy, and drop dead delicious. (Panela will soften but won't melt entirely. Youc an sub mozzarella. I've also made this dish with cotija and like that version just as well)

                    I think the soups are particularly strong in this book as are some of the meat dishes.

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      Thanks Diva, I am making a note. The appetizer sounds similar to one I made for Thanksgiving two years ago. I can't wait!

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        Does that book have a recipe for crepes with cajeta (dulce del leche)?

                        Several years ago I gave a combined Mexico and Texas the Beautiful volume as a wedding present. I bought a couple of other volumes at Half Price Books (Med. and China).

                      2. re: dkennedy

                        It's a beautiful book, recipes aside. My boyfriend has a copy that one of his relatives left at his house one time. It was sitting outside in a box for several months and is somewhat bent from the water damage, but the pictures are still beautiful and the food is still delicious.

                        I've only just got into Mexican cooking since moving to California. The ingredients are easy to find here, and are really inexpensive, which is good, since I don't have a whole lot of money.

                        @DCcook- I'll have to search out some of Kennedy's books for the tortillas, although mine get a little better every time I make them, so I suspect my technique is a large part of the problem and I just need practice. I've also been using a tortilla press that I found in the back of a cupboard, and have been using pretty much the cheapest masa I could find. I imagine that with better ingredients, better equipment and a bunch of practice, I'll eventually get them right.

                        1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                          BBL, are you in SoCal or NorCal. If SoCal you can probably find masa already prepared at a local Mexican market. If you've got a Gonzales Northgate anywhere near, their regular masa is pretty decent and doesn't cost very much.

                          Here are some tips for making tortillas, it really *is* simple. Grab a piece of masa that's bigger than a walnut but smaller than a golf ball and roll until smooth. Take a quart size zip lock bag and cut it down the seams and across the bottom to make two pieces. Open the tortilla press and put one of the pieces of plastic down. Place the masa dough ball on it and then put the other piece of plastic on top. Close the lid of the tortilla press and gently press down on it, you don't need to use tremendous force. Open the tortilla press and give the dough disk a quarter turn. Close the press and then press again. Open the press and remove the top piece of plastic.

                          Hold the piece of plastic with the tortilla face up in your non-dominant hand, this will help facilitate transferring the tortilla. Hold the fingers of your dominant hand together and turn the hand so it's at an approximate 45* angle, you don't want the hand flat, nor do you want the hand perpendicular either. Transfer the tortilla to your dominant hand lining up the upper third of the tortilla with the upper fingers so that a tad bit of it folds over the top index other words, don't put the center of the tortilla over your fingers, the bulk of the tortilla should sort of "drape" over the palm of your hand.

                          Still holding your hand with the tortilla at an approximate 45* angle, lower the tortilla to your comal, griddle, skillet or whatever your using to cook them, and let the bottom part of the tortilla hit the comal first, then gently turn your hand away and the remainder of the tortilla will fall onto the comal and the back of the will be facing up. It's basically a graceful wrist pivot of a movement. I know this sounds weird but once you get the hang of it, it goes really fast. The best part is, that if you screw up a tortilla or don't like the way it comes out, just smash it up and do it again. Masa is a very forgiving dough, and, it's inexpensive. The plastic can be reused many times.

                          Let the tortilla bake on the first site until it begins to look dry around the edges, this can be as short as a few seconds or as long as a minute, it depends upon how thick you've made them. Flip the tortilla and cook on the 2nd side, which should take less time. If your masa is good and you've cooked it correctly, the tortilla may poof up after it's flipped. This is exactly what you want. You can flip the tortilla back to the first side if you think it needs it. Sometimes they will also poof after the 2nd flip.

                          Good luck, it isn't really that hard, you just need to practice.

                          1. re: DiningDiva

                            Thanks for the advice! I'm in Fresno, which I suppose is MidCal? I haven't seen any prepared masa dough, but then again, I haven't been looking. In either case, masa flour is everywhere, and I should be able to get the right consistency with a bit of experimentation.

                            My problem is getting the tortillas thin enough that they are pliable once cooked and don't just crack in half when I try to bend them. The first time I made enchiladas with homemade tortillas, they tasted more like sauce-soaked tomales because they had so much masa in them. The last time I made the tortillas they were a lot better, and I imagine they will keep getting better the more times I make them.

                            The wrist pivot thing sounds like fun. I'll have to practice that.

                            1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                              BBL, I think there is at least 1 Vallarta market in Fresno. We have several here in San Diego that get rave reviews. The one closest to me just open recently but I haven't had a chance to check it out yet and try their masa. but I digress...

                              Vallarta market most likely will have an in-house tortillaria and masa para tortillas. Fresh masa is usually pretty cheap. It will sour in about 3 days. I much prefer buying the masa already made up than trying to work with masa harina. I have a hard time getting the water right, and I've been making tortillas for 25+ years ;-). Masa needs to be pretty pliable to start with. I like Maseca better than the Quaker Oats brand of masa harina.

                              Based on what you described above, it sounds like you're making your tortillas too thick. This You Tube video shows the process pretty well - . The website link at the end of the video does not appear to be active any longer.

                              1. re: DiningDiva

                                I believe there are several Vallarta markets here. I used to live really close to one and it was wonderful (their fresh tortillas are the best!). Unfortunately, I don't have a car and Fresno has pretty much the worst public transit system in the world, so I haven't made it to one since I moved. Perhaps one day I'll make it out to one. In the mean time, I shall keep trying to perfect my tortillas.

                                I'll keep an eye out for fresh masa, or the Maseca brand (I think I have some kind of no name brand masa harina). And thanks for the youtube link. I shall study that and get to practicing!

                                1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

                                  My copy of Mexico the Beautiful arrived today. What a gorgeous-so book. Can't wait to give the recipes a try. I tagged the corn fungus crepes on page 96. Any suggestions on where to get corn fungus in Los Angeles? I am guessing a canned or frozen version is available at Vallertas but if somebody could recommend a brand I would appreciate it.

                                  1. re: dkennedy

                                    This is huitlacoche season, in LA you *should* be able to find it fresh. There is no comparison between fresh and canned.

                                    I'd try Grand Central downtown. Vallarta might have it fresh at this time of year, as might Gonzales Northgate. Santa Monica farmers market might have it fresh. I've seen it at one of our more upscale farmers markets here in San Diego.

                                    1. re: DiningDiva

                                      Thanks Diva, I'll be on the lookout.

                                      1. re: dkennedy

                                        Sopa de Lima p. 83, Mexico the Beautiful

                                        I will make this for Wednesday night's dinner. It is the first recipe I am making out of this book. I had tagged this recipe in several books, but the inclusion of chicken livers in this recipe swayed my vote. Wish me luck!

            2. re: DiningDiva

              +1 on Mexican Everyday. Super crock pot recipes and his basic bean recipe has become my go to. You must try the Pollo Pulquero!

            3. Any and all of Diana Kennedy's books. I have taken classes from her in the US and traveled with her throughout Mexico and at her home in Zitacuaro, Michoacan, MX over a number of years. She is the real deal. And her recipes are totally authentic.

              Up there too is Rick Bayless who I have taken many classes from. His cooking is exquisite and produces a great result. His recipes are clear and easy to follow.

              I am listed as a recipe tester in "Mexico, the Beautiful" and have some favorites in there.

              But ultimately, all Kennedy and Bayless books.

              1 Reply
              1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                Silverlake Girl,

                Can you tell me a few of your favorite recipes from the Diana Kennedy books and/or the Rick Bayless book.

              2. I have 1000 Mexican Recipes and I like it. I think there are more...approachable recipes in it than in Diana Kennedy or Rick Bayless. It's also got a combination of classic recipes and more modern ones. I like the tone of the author too.

                1. I'm certainly not the Mexican Food cook some of you are but I like "The Tex-Mex Cookbook" by Robb Walsh (2004).

                  Besides having a lot of recipes both Tex-Mex and Mexican, it has a lot of pictures and history. It has several chili, tamale, and enchilada recipes including Lady Bird Johnson's chili. It is a good first book for the cuisine.

                  As a bonus, the book is cheap. You can get it brand new for $12.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                    I have that one, but haven't cooked from it yet. I've tagged a good number of recipes in it. I'd like to make the tamales (89) using pork butt - never made tamales before but I'd like to. I'm going to keep this one off the shelf and make some of the recipes from it.

                  2. Here is a new Mexican cookbook that many probably haven't been exposed to. Those of use who have lived in Austin TX have enjoyed eating at Fonda San Miguel for decades. It is a restaurant specializing in Central and Southern Mexican cuisine, and for many of us our first exposure to treasures like Cochinita Pibil, Tikin-Xix, and even refried black beans. Also the first place I had fresh "homemade" corn tortillas, and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. The Sunday brunch was to die for. They recently published a cookbook celebrating 30 years as a restaurant. The reviews on Amazon (mostly by local Austinites) are very good. I bought a copy. It's gorgeous - food porn. I only made the carne guisada so far - very good. I am definitely making the almond flan!

                    Anyway - thought folks here might want to take a peek.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: audreyhtx1

                      I'm intrigued. Do you have his soup book as well? I am a big fan of soup books. I wonder if this is one is a keeper?

                      1. re: dkennedy

                        My son is at camp this week and so my 10 year old daughter and I have a week alone together. Yesterday, she decided to make dinner. I came from yoga at 7:15 a.m. to find her camped out in our family room, buried under a mountain of cookbooks. Some were sprawled open, some were tabbed, and she had a few more piled on her lap. it was like seeing a mini version of me! She had set her mind on a Mexican pork dish, so off we went to explore our available options on Eat Your Books. We finally honed in on the perfect recipe - Roasted Garlic and Carnitas Quesadillas from MESA MEXICANA. Not an easy dish - it had 4 components; carnitas (p. 136), chile de arbol salsa (p. 35), assembling the quesadillas themselves (p. 76-77); and homemade corn tortillas (out of Diana Kennedy's cookbook). She also decided on accompanying the dish with a fruit smoothie (Food Network recipe). We had our work cut out for us!

                        Off to the grocery store where we were able to procure everything but masa (mine was rancid) and lard (which we couldn't find). Went to a second store for the masa and then back home for an alternative recipe for making the carnitas. Found one in Rick Bayless' cookbook, and confirmed the method in Diana Kennedy's, (simmer in a shallow amount of water, lime and salt, allow the water to evaporate and brown the meat slightly). So now we were ready to start:

                        I set up the mis en plas for each dish, then wrote up a master list of steps so we wouldn't get lost in the recipes. It came together nicely. We put the garlic in to roast. Then, we cut up the pork and put it in a dutch oven to simmer. Those were the two steps in the recipe with the longest cooking times. While they cooked, we prep'ed all the ingredients for the salsa, and the smoothie. By the time the meat was done, she was pretty tuckered out so I finished shredding the meat. She set the table. I washed the dishes. At dinner time, we made the masa dough and she pressed them. I cooked the first round, she cooked the second. I assembled the first round. She started to assemble the second and then lost interest. The quesadillas were mine bogglingly good. We now have a freezer bag ready with the roasted garlic, chile de arbol salsa and the carnitas components so it will be a breeze to make the second time around (definitely the way to go- making ahead).

                        Verdict: make this dish! It is so yummy. Really fun to make with kids. Lots of shortcuts available if this is too much for you: store bought carnitas are available at TJs. Corn tortillas from your local Poquita Mas. If making it with kids it really covers all the cooking basics:

                        Component recipes (recipes within recipes) - reading your recipes through before you start!
                        Mis en plas.
                        Cutting meat and onions, picking, cleaning and chopping herbs.
                        Broiling, simmering, pureeing, and straining.
                        Using a spatula, a Cusinart and a blender.
                        Time management.
                        Layering flavors.

                        I am tired just writing about it!

                        1. re: dkennedy

                          What a wonderful day you had with your daughter! The whole process sounds delightful, and delicious.
                          I am walking distance from masa that is ground daily. May have to make some tortillas soon, but now I want my friends 15 year old to come help me!

                          1. re: dkennedy

                            Wow, very cool experience for you and your daughter. Thanks for sharing

                            1. re: DiningDiva

                              Thanks for the warm thoughts. For those of you who are thinking of making the recipe, I forgot to mention that we reduced the arbol chiles called for in the Chile de arbol salsa from 40 to 2! After all, this is tailored to a 10 year old's palate.

                            2. re: dkennedy

                              I look forward to doing this with my kids someday - they're 4 and 1 now so we barely make it through the simplest recipes, but my daughter does surprise me sometimes by her detail when pretending to cook!