Approaching a new cuisine, whether it offers the easy familiarity of Italian or novelty of Indian or Thai, can be a daunting experience for home cooks. We may hunt down the requisite ingredients and go all in to prepare an elaborate meal, but the effort required often makes it a one-time performance that is rarely repeated.
In Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking, the first cookbook from Pati Jinich, Jinich is not looking for culinary tourists but converts. Host of the public television series of the same name and official chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute based in Washington, DC, Jinich shares her passion for the Mexican home-style cooking she grew up with in Mexico City.
“I’m hoping people who get the book will love these recipes so much that they will become theirs and staples in their own kitchens,” says Jinich.
To that end, Jinich includes helpful inserts throughout the book that cover basic techniques: how to char ingredients, how to bring out the sweetness in rustic salsas, and how to cure an olla de barro (Mexican clay cooking pot), to name a few. Not taking anything for granted, she also gives the why as well as the how, explaining the reason traditional Mexican recipes call for white versus yellow onions, the benefits of fresh epazote in bean dishes, and the difference between tequila and mezcal.
Passing on advice Jinich gathered from her own family and friends, “Mexican Cook’s Tricks” give readers special tips like the best way to clean squash blossoms, prepare homemade corn tortillas, or when to add rice to albóndigas con chiptole. Ingredient sections offer practical advice on selecting, storing, and using traditional items like chayote, achiote paste, and banana leaves; cooking hominy until it "blooms"; or finding new uses for the increasingly available tamarind pods and concentrates.
Beautifully photographed by Penny de los Santos, recipe headers include warm family anecdotes interspersed with fascinating historical detail and cultural context. And while there is no shortage of well known classics, like Pozole Blanco (white pozole) or Huevos Rabo de Mestiza (poached eggs in chunky poblano-tomato salsa), Jinich is not afraid to play with her food, including fresh takes like Watermelon and Tomatillo Salad with Feta. Exploding the myth that Mexican food is unhealthy, Jinich offers a wonderful selection of seasonal salads and vegetarian options.
Regional fare like Michoacán Sopa Tarasca (hearty pinto bean) with dried chile strips and Sinaloan Chilorio (shredded pork in ancho-orange sauce) is served up. Simple Plantain and Refried Bean Quesadillas are included as well chef Alfredo Solis’ Crab Cakes with Jalapeño Aioli - the dish Jinich would have offered to Moctezuma given the chance. Not forgetting the sweet side, Jinich recreates Garabatos (scribble cookies), the chocolate ganache filled butter cookies she seeks out on trips to Mexico City, and pulls off an Impossible Chocoflan layered with cajeta.
Pati’s Mexican Table is sure to become a favorite, drawing you back to the kitchen time and time again, armed with the tips and tricks you’ll need to make these wonderful dishes a part of your family’s every day.