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Cookbook Shelf: Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales

El Districto Federal, Mexico’s capital city, is a seemingly endless maze of brilliant color, stunning flavors, wonderful people, and a dizzying culinary scope.  Every street offers a different taco, atole or sweet tamal to keep a curious palate sated. Simple dishes are portrayed by the rich flavors that carry the traditions of an ancient indigenous culture.  This could easily overwhelm even the savviest culinary thrill seekers but Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales: Flavors from the Griddles, Pots, and Streetside Kitchens of Mexico by Roberto Santibañez with J.J. Goode, makes sense of it all.

Much like he did in his first book, Truly Mexican: Essential Recipes and Techniques for Authentic Mexican Cooking, Santibañez has set out to simplify the incredibly diverse Mexican culinary tradition by breaking it down into like-minded groupings. This time, he presents what Americans call ‘street food’ but Mexicans know as ‘everyday food’ in illustrious detail.  By focusing on dishes that are made in every home and restaurant, and on every street corner, the similarities create patterns which give us a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of the Mexican kitchen. Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales provides the keys to Mexican techniques, which can then be applied to local ingredients without sacrificing authenticity. 

Divided into sections tacos, tortas, tamales, salsas and condiments, drinks and desserts, each chapter begins with an overview of the function and variety the dish offers followed by recipes for classic combinations, as well as Santibanez’s own creations. He identifies the origin of the recipe, provides a glossary and a source list for ingredients, and then encourages variations and  substitutions without sacrificing the flavor aims of each dish.

The variety of recipes are inspiring without being daunting.  The basics, like how to make a tortilla, tamal or horchata, rest alongside the unexpected, like Duck Tacos in Habanero Cream Sauce or Mashed Sweet Potato with Pineapple and Cream Pecan Chipotle.  There are twists and turns like the Bologna Torta, the Coconut Tamales, and Peanut Limeade.  Simpler classics like Green Mole Cactus Tacos, Mango Cream with Berries, and Cajeta Banana Bread Pudding round out the book.

Flipping through the pages of Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales feels very much like walking through Mexico City's streets. Every page turn brings unexpected but comforting surprises. Concise and clear recipes are introduced by Santibañez with excitement.  And beyond the gorgeous pictures of prepared dishes are pictures of tortilla shops and taco stands populated by the men and women who run them - reminding us that Mexican food is a direct expression of these vibrant and loving people.

Grilled Hot Dog Tortas (Tortas de Salchicha)

  • 6 fully cooked beef hot dogs (2 ounces each, halved lengthwise)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 large softened rolls (teleras, Portuguese, kaiser or ciabatta)
  • 1/2 cup refried black beans
  • 8 slices yellow American cheese (thin)
  • 1/4 cup Mexican crema or crème fraîche
  • 4 teaspoons dijon or yellow mustard

Get the full recipe.


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