HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Jul 13, 2014 06:17 PM

Must have mexican cookbooks

I live in Aguascalientes, Mexico and I actually don't own any specifically mexican food cookbooks. What are the best cook books by authors such as Diana Kennedy for starting a good collection?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Ricardo, much depends on whether or not you are fluent in your ability to read Spanish. There are a few good English-language Mexican cookbooks, but most are very dumbed-down for cooks who do not live in Mexico and are interested in quick meal preparation.

    You mentioned Diana Kennedy. She is truly knowledgable and writes extremely well. Her books--starting with From My Mexican Kitchen, which will teach you about techniques and ingredients--and moving on through her repertoire, are as good a place as any to begin. You'll find most if not all of her books listed on Amazon.com, and often I find her titles on eBay.

    If you are particularly interested in books featuring one cuisine rather than a compilation of regional cuisines, I strongly recommend two books: Diana Kennedy's Oaxaca al Gusto (in either English or Spanish) and David Sterling's new book, YUCATAN--it's a masterwork.

    Let me know about your language needs and I'll post a more complete list.

    I would not recommend Rick Bayless's books if you are interested in learning honest Mexican home cooking.

    <ducks the flak fallout>

    Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

    2 Replies
    1. re: cristina

      Leaving aside all the subsequent books, I find it hard to imagine what criticisms could be made of Bayless' first, Authentic Mexican, and would be interested in reading any that you have.

      For me, its strengths include:
      - a clear overview of Mexico's culinary regions.
      - detailed and helpful review of major ingredients
      - full, traditional preparations -- not at all dumbed down

      Both Bayless and Kennedy cover restaurant and festival dishes as well as "honest Mexican home cooking"

      When I compare several specific recipes in Bayless' AMC with the only Diana Kennedy I have, Mexican Regional Cooking, I find either very few differences or, in cases of departures, that the Bayless instructions make more sense (case in point: tinga poblana).

      So what are some problems with Bayless recipes in Authentic Mexican?

      Diana Kennedy's My Mexican Kitchen has been on my wishlist for some time; I love to read about ingredients, equipment, and techniques. But reading articles and excerpts of other books by her, I've wondered if the underlying message isn't just "you can't really be cooking Mexican food if you aren't in Mexico."

      1. re: cristina

        I'm a big fan of Rick Bayless' books and as Elabee notes, Authentic Mexican is...well, just that. I've had great success with his books and would highly recommend them.

      2. First fallout, yo, Cristina!
        Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday is my go-to cookbook, ahead of all his others, ahead of Diana Kennedy.
        (And I've spent enough time in Mexico and studied enough to be pretty knowledgeable. "Authentic" means lots of different things to different people.)

        9 Replies
        1. re: BerkshireTsarina

          BerkshireTsarina, I re-read my post--3 times, thinking I missed something I said!--and discovered that I didn't use the word 'authentic' as a descriptor. It's a word I don't use to describe recipes or food. As you mentioned, 'authentic' means lots of different things to different people.

          Maybe after 33 years in Mexico I have lived too long here to properly appreciate Rick Bayless's books. I know him personally and think he is a terrific human being, but his recipes...not so much.

          Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

          1. re: cristina

            My reply may be a bit late, but here it goes...I am from Monterrey (born and raised), have lived in Mexico for over 50 years, and consider Rick's books essential. Cristina, I have known gringos who have lived in Mexico 40 or more years, and they still are "foreigners". No offense intended, just making a personal observation.

          2. re: BerkshireTsarina

            You can have my copy of Mexican Everyday if you want it. I've spent plenty of time in Mexico, too, at the markets, and even peering over the shoulder of a home cook, and I find Mexican Everyday to be dumbed down. But DiningDiva explained to me in a previous thread on this topic that not all his books are like that. However, it's the only Bayless book I am familiar with. I've really got to get a Diana Kennedy book so I can talk more intelligently about this topic.

            1. re: LorenzoGA

              The one thing I like about both Rick and Diana is that they use their writing skills to describe the dishes, the traditions around certain dishes, the ingredients, the regions and such, so that their books are often much more than a bunch of recipes crammed on a few pages.

              Rick kind of lost me beginning with Mexico One Plate at a Time as his writing became a little too effusive and over the top; the commentary and recipe headers were not nearly as contrived in his earlier books.

              Diana's books The Art of Mexican Cooking and Cuisines of Mexico used to be bedtime reading for me. It really made me want to go and seek out the ingredients or travel to the places she described. I've actually ended up going places I've read about in her books, not by design, it's just kind of worked out that way.

              1. re: DiningDiva

                I don't like one Plate at a Time either, perhaps because it's really a television show transcript, rather than an original book. Mexican Everyday I find extremely useful (cooking from it today) and especially adapted for just contemporary people who want to just cook Mexican food, traditional and contemporary, with lots of riffs on the basics. Like I said, I'm not Señora Autentica. I like good food, and since good Mexican doesn't exist where I live, it's essential to be able to produce it myself. Rick is (relatively) quick and (relatively) easy, but I don't feel that he's sacrificing quality for those goals. It sounds like the OP has different goals for his Mexican cooking, which other cookbooks may meet better. But I frown on putting down Rick Bayless; he's one of the modern champions of an ancient cuisine, and still tops in quality.

                1. re: BerkshireTsarina

                  Fair enough. With a large immigrant population, we're spoiled for choice in markets that stock items for Mexican cooking in Atlanta. I didn't need or care for Rick's suggestions of what to substitute in place of traditional ingredients, but I can certainly see how that would be appreciated elsewhere.

                  1. re: BerkshireTsarina

                    BT please check up thread, I didn't dismiss either Rick or Mexican Everyday, in fact I recommended it. I own Mexican Everyday and have cooked from it and like it. I especially like the salad section in the front of the book. If you haven't tried the sweet potato salad with guajillo chile dressing, give it a go, it's quite tasty.

                    I have all his books except the last one and have cooked from all the ones I own and I've had good luck with his recipe and very few failures :-). I just think his earlier books were better all around. Mexican Everyday accomplished exactly what it was supposed to...introduce a broad cross section of Americans to Mexican dishes and flavors and give them an easily accessible way to recreate those flavors in a home kitchen. I wouldn't call the recipes dumbed down as much as I would say they have been streamlined for a home cook.

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      I do realize that, DD. It was Cristina who dismissed RB up front, and as she said --- she was braced for the flak. (Although I was surprised there was so little.)
                      Thanks for the tip on the sweet potato salad, I'll give it a try now that our supermarkets occasionally stock guajillo chiles. I'm partial to the Roasted Poblano-Potato Salad with Flaked Tuna, an old favorite made new by a Mexican accent, and an example of why I find this cookbook so useful.
                      Buen provecho!

                      1. re: BerkshireTsarina

                        I'm going to try that poblano/potato salad, that sounds like a good fit for the hot and humid weather we've been having lately :-)

            2. Ricardo, I have about 200 Mexican cookbooks in English and Spanish.

              Diana Kennedy is probably the master of Mexican cookbooks in the English language. Her first book The Cuisine of Mexico and the 2nd book The Art of Mexican Cooking are very good. My Mexico is a compilation of her first 3 books and is very useful. I also like The Tortilla Book which focuses on masa based dishes. All of her books are, without fail, solid, well researched, with recipes that work. They do, however, rely (assume?) that the person doing the cooking has a little bit of knowledge about Mexican products and techniques. The recipes can seem daunting, but if you carefully read them through a few times before starting the cooking process you'll quickly find they aren't as difficult as they appear.

              DK's Oaxaca book is a tour de force and probably the definitive book on Oaxacan cuisine. Sourcing some of the ingredients might be a challenge if you don't live in Oaxaca :-)

              I don't agree with Cristina about Rick Bayless. Authentic Mexican is good, but I think Mexican Kitchen is better. He has an interesting little book that I recommend for people just starting to cook Mexican cuisine, Salsa's that Cook. That book starts with 8 basic salsa recipes scaled for 3 different yields. He offers suggestion for making chile substitutions if you can't find what the recipe needs, but since you're in Mexico, I don't think the challenge would be as great for you. The remainder of the book is 50 recipe using the 8 basic salsas. It's a nice little book that introduces novice cooks to some of the basic ingredients and techniques used in Mexican cooking.

              Mexican cuisine can be a laborious, time consuming process. Mexican Everyday is actually a pretty good cookbook in that RB has streamlined the preparation process while retaining the integrity of the flavor profile. As with most of his later cookbooks, he offers a multitude of variations for each recipe including some for crockpots. The other thing I do like about Mexican Everyday is that he's taken Mexican flavors and ingredients and applied them to American salads.

              If you are interested in an RB cookbook your best bets are (in the order they were published): Authentic Mexican, Mexican Table, Salsa's that Cook or Everyday Mexican. The others you could safely skip.

              Other English language Mexican cookbooks that I like and use are:

              Veracruz by Zarela Martinez...probably one of the single most under rated Mexican cookbooks on the market. While I don't prefer some of the techniques she uses, I've not had a recipe fail from this cookbook and her flavor profiles are true to what I've eaten in Veracruz

              Season's of My Heart by Susana Trilling...Oaxaca
              Her mole recipes work...they're a lot of work, but they turn out well.

              Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibañez...this is another good cookbook for novices to Mexican cooking. The carnitas recipe in this book is killer. The guacamole recipe is classic and traditional, the variations are a mix of traditional regional guacamoles as well as some contemporary ideas.

              Pati's Mexican table by Pati Jinich...I would have to agree with Cristina here that the recipes are dumbed down versions of traditional Mexican recipes, but they're actually pretty good and make cooking Mexican approachable for the average American cook with little experience with it, or not a lot of time to do the full blown traditional version. (Her chilorio recipe is quite good and very simple)

              Salpicon by Priscilla Satkoff...this is also another underrated Mexican cookbook. It takes a more contemporary approach to traditional Mexican cooking without dumbing down or losing the intent or flavor profiles of each dish. The ancho-honey salsa in this book is one of the single best multi-purpose salsas I've encountered

              I also agree with Cristina about David Sterling's Yucatan book. Not only is it an absolutely stunning cookbook visually, it is a pretty thorough examination of the cuisine of the Yucatan.

              Good luck. I'd be curious to know what you finally end up purchasing. :-)

              9 Replies
              1. re: DiningDiva

                Wow - a very nice breakdown by region and author.

                Do you have a "swiss army" Mexican cookbook suggestion? (if you could have only one Mexican cook book - My small space won't allow for more).

                1. re: sparky403

                  If I could only have 1 Mexican cookbook it would be The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    Yes, The Art of Mexican Cooking would be my first choice.

                  2. re: sparky403

                    I find myself using "Mexico— The Beautiful Cookbook" more than any of others I own, including several aforementioned DK cookbooks. Also, Cocina de la Familia, by Marilyn Tausend.

                    But really, since moving to Mexico 9 years ago, I cook Mexican food less than before. Why bother, when I can can get it in area restaurants and from our neighbors in this small, Michoacán ranching community?

                    In fact, we are invited to comida later today by an amiga who lives 5 houses from ours. At this moment, I'm sure she's making tortillas from nixtamal in her tejaban kitchen. I'll bet that she doesn't own a cookbook, either.

                  3. re: DiningDiva

                    I thought it was The Essential Cuisines of Mexico that's the compilation of her first 3 books?

                    1. re: rasputina

                      My error, you are correct. I've got so many of these cookbooks I tend to confuse them. Essentials had the blue dust cover and My Mexico the yellow one, and I was clearly seeing the blue cover in my mind when I posted. Just got the wrong name on it.

                    2. re: DiningDiva

                      Your Santibanez recommendations from previous threads on this topic have kept me and my wife busy for the past year! If only we had the time to cook from another one of your knowledgeable recommendations!

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        I've also enjoyed Food from My Heart by Zarela. It's a great read as well as a good book.

                        I don't have Pati's cookbook. But I have tried several recipes off her website and enjoyed them all so far.

                        1. re: mike0989

                          Zarela's mother wrote a cookbook years ago that is also really good. I'm forgetting the title right now but it's geared a little bit more towards northern Mexico and her life on the ranch

                      2. Thank you so much for all the great responses. I am fluent both in Spanish and English so this could give me a lot more options. As of now I'm considering buying The Essential cuisines of Mexico and The Art of Mexican Cooking (I don't know if this would be redundant), and possibly From my Mexican kitchen and or Yucatan by David Sterling as well. Right now my goal is to get a good, well rounded introduction into authentic mexican basics such as salsas, stews, tools, ingredients and techniques. I'm still open to changing my choices based on what others think is most essential.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: ricardomartindelc95

                          The only Mexican cookbook I own is Kennedy's Art of Mexican Cooking. I think the subtitle tells the story: Traditional Mexican Cooking for Aficionados. I love that she includes so many historical and contextual details in the prefaces to the recipes without overwhelming the reader, or taking the focus too far away from preparing good food.

                          All my other Mexican recipes have come from friends while traveling, or poking around online. But Diana, she is never leaving my library :-).

                          1. re: ricardomartindelc95

                            If it were me, just starting out buying Mexican cookbooks, I'd start with The Art. Work your way through that one and then, if you need more, get The Essential. My The Art is tattered and stained, The Essential isn't. Like DiningDiva, I also recommend The Tortilla Book, if you can find one.

                            Another book in English that I LOVE is Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz's elderly The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking. Mine is falling to ruin, but I keep using it. The picadillo recipe is out of this world.

                            In Spanish, the #1 must-have is Ricardo Muñoz Zurita's Larousse Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Gastronomía Mexicana. It's not a cookbook; it's a photo-illustrated compendium of ingredients, utensils, and techniques that you have to have. His Salsas Mexicanas (IMHO) is better than Rick Bayless's salsa book. His Verde Blanco Rojo is very well done; it contains many of his recipes that are in others of his books, but they're very well organized in this one and very easy to follow. Don't for God's sake buy Verde Blanco Rojo on Amazon--they want $120.00 USD for it. I can get it for you for about 400 pesos and ship it to you, if you can't find it on Gandhi or somewhere else.

                            You will also want Carmen Titita Ramírez Degollado's Alquimias y Atmósferas del Sabor. It's available at Cafebrería El Péndulo here in the DF, and they do ship. They might also have Verde Blanco Rojo and you could kill two birds with one stone. Here's their website: http://pendulo.com/

                            There are others, but this should get you started.

                            Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

                            1. re: cristina

                              HUGE second on Alquimias y Atmosferas del Sabor book. It's a beautiful, beautiful book. Stunning photography...gives new meaning to the term food porn.

                              Good call on the Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz book. Mine's a paperback and the pages are getting so brown from age, thumbing through and cooking.

                              1. re: cristina

                                another thumbs up for Verde Blanco Rojo!

                              2. So would it be a good idea to buy both The Essential Cuisines and The Art of Mexican Cooking?