On her popular public television series, Pati Jinich inspires viewers with her love for Mexican home cooking. This month, she releases her first cookbook, also named Pati’s Mexican Table which we reviewed earlier this week. As a time out from her busy schedule, Pati took a few moments to speak to The Latin Kitchen about what first drew her to kitchen and the basics every cook needs to know. Here's a peek into Pati's love of Mexican food.
TLK: In the book, you describe being newly married, living in Texas, and dreaming of the caldo de pollo you had growing up. How did that inspire you to start cooking?
Pati: The funny thing is that once I moved to the United States, the distance with my home country made me see it in a different light and I was very nostalgic - missing my family, my sisters, and mostly the food. The food was a gateway to connect and to make me feel homey and cared for. Even though I was on my own with my husband traveling, it made me feel nurtured. The caldo de pollo recipe is a staple. I produce my own every week. It’s something that makes my house for me feel like a home - the smell of chicken broth. I do it on Sunday or Monday so it marks the beginning of the week. Honestly, it was nothing but nostalgia and connected me to Mexico.
TLK: Finding the right ingredients to make traditional Mexican recipes can be a challenge in the United States and you address this in the book. How has that changed since you first arrived and how do you see it evolving?
Pati: Whenever I went back to visit Mexico, I would bring back my special spices, hibiscus flowers which I still couldn’t find, or the kind of beans that I liked to use. I’ve seen a dramatic and drastic change in the last 15 years. Now I would assert that you can find almost all the ingredients, except just a handful of specialty items. Now, however, the challenge is to help people bring these ingredients into their kitchens and see the value in them because they’re such incredible tools to make so many things.
TLK: If you’re new to Mexican home cooking and trying to build a pantry, what ingredients should you always have on hand?
Pati: Chipotles in adobo sauce. I didn’t include the recipe in the book because it’s time consuming but I love making my own. That being said, I love the adobo in chipotle sauce that you find in stores - for example the Goya chipotles are fabulous. I’ll pick-up like 10 or 20 cans because they’re like insurance. I cannot have no chipotles in my house because I use them for chicken tinga, quesadillas... For my youngest son, I’ll scramble eggs with ham, turkey, or cheese in the morning or make molletes and he’ll pool the chipotles on top.
TLK: What is the most underused spice or pantry item?
Pati: Allspice is overlooked and wonderful for savory dishes. People should really try to get piloncillo which is unprocessed cane sugar. It can be substituted for dark brown sugar but is less processed. It’s so fabulous, it’s better for you, and has a deeper, richer, and more wholesome flavor. It tastes like you’re out in the country eating the raw unprocessed ingredients you find in the provinces.
TLK: What technique should everyone master to make them a successful home cook?
Pati: The one thing people need is to have an open mind because everything else is super simple. We’re not asking people to kneel down at el molcajete and grind their own corn. I think we have so many fabulous ingredients that many things are just easy to make these days and you just need a chopping board and a knife. The great thing about Mexican food is that it’s not as fussy as the French food where you have to peel and perfectly dice and seed and core. Mexican food is very accommodating. It doesn’t matter if you chopped bigger or smaller. It’s a very forgiving cuisine.