Truly Mexican: Essential Recipes and Techniques for Authentic Mexican Cooking

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Pros: beautiful pictures, delicious recipes
Cons: ingredients may be hard to find, spicy
Living in Texas, I eat a lot of Tex-Mex cuisine.  Guacamole, stuffed poblano peppers, and fajitas are found on almost every corner.  However, I think that many people mistake this anglicized food as true Mexican food, when it is in fact a US creation for the most part.  True Mexican cooking is much simpler, much tastier, and has much less fat, as the author shows us in this beautifully illustrated book.

Truly Mexican introduces the reader to Mexican cooking through its sauces.  It's a beginner course in the base of most of Mexican cooking, as just about any dish can be creatively altered once the sauces are truly understood.  With everything from guacamoles to salsas to moles, the author shows the reader how to craft these very complex-tasting sauces, and then gives lots of examples of how to use them.  While it may seem at first that there are no full recipes in the book, in fact, the sauces normally have multiple uses, and the author organizes them in "sauce families" instead of using traditional categorizations.

I made two of the recipes from the book: the simple pumpkin seed sauce and the beans with pork.  Both were amazingly complex, even considering the short ingredient lists.  The pumpkin sauce was perfect with the fresh shrimp I used for a light dinner, and the beans had a deep smokey flavor, almost as if they had spent the day on the grill.  I'm really looking forward to trying a mole and some guacamole from the book, but readers should also be warned that if you are sensitive to spicy dishes, you may want to add the various chili pastes in smaller doses than indicated.

Simple Pumpkin Seed Sauce

Makes 4 cups sauce

5 ounces hulled raw (green) pumpkin seeds (1 cup)

1/3 cup chopped white onion

3 fresh serrano or jalapeno chiles, coursely chopped, including seeds

1 small garlic clove, peeled

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon fine salt, or 1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 to 5 cups chicken stock, divided

2 tablespoons mild olive oil or vegetable oil

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Poached chicken, roasted pork, or 1 1/4 pounds raw fish or shrimp

Heat a skillet over medium heat and toast the pumpkin seeds, stirring and tossing constantly, until they're puffed and just slightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes.  Put the pumpkin seeds in the blender jar along with the onion, chiles, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, and 2 cups of the stock, and blend until the mixture is smooth, at least 3 minutes.

Heat the oil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot (this will give you enough room to add the meat or fish later; if you're making just the sauce, a 3- to 4-quart pot is fine) over medium heat until it simmers, and carefully pour in the blended mixture.  Cook (use a splatter screen so the sauce doesn't make a mess of the stove), stirring, until thickened, about 5 minutes.  Add just enough stock to thin the sauce to a velvety consistency that thickly coats a wooden spoon, but isn't gloppy.  Simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, adding more stock, as necessary, to maintain the velvety consistency.

Return some of the sauce, about 1 cup (or all if the sauce has broken and looks like scrambled eggs), to the blender, then add the cilantro and blend until smooth.  Be careful when you're blending hot ingredients: cover the top with a kitchen towel, and hold the top firmly in place with your hand.  Work in batches to avoid blending with a full jar.

Return the sauce to the pot and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes more.  As the sauce is simmering, swish a little liquid around in the blender and add it to the pot.  Season to taste with additional salt.

If you're using chicken or pork, add it to the sauce now, reduce the heat to low, and cook until it's just heated through, 15 to 20 minutes.  If you're using shrimp or fish, season it with salt, gently cook it in the sauce until just cooked through, about 10 minutes, and serve with lime wedges.
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