Mexican food is one of my absolutely favourite cuisines, but also one that I’m not great at cooking. Sure, I can rustle up some fajitas, but there’s a whole lot more than that!
This book isn’t just about Mexican food, but strongly leans into the ‘healthy’ part of the title. In fact, the first section is a lot of very familiar ‘swaps’ – wholemeal rice and pasta instead of white, for instance; lean meats; ‘good’ fats. And corn tortillas are better than flour! It talks about using beans and lentils for protein, which feels doubly relevant given current food inflation – less meat might be a huge help in budgeting, and it doesn’t have to be flavourless, as this book shows!
There’s also a section describing the differences between types of chilli, and mexican cheeses – very useful if you’re going to have to use substitutes. There’s also some pictures of useful tools, including my much-coveted tortilla press, and a list of common Mexican ingredients to keep in stock. Most of these were things I’d already have rather than anything ultra-exotic (specialist chillies aside!).
Sadly my review copy didn’t come with pictures, which is always one big joy of cookery books. However, the design is lovely: lots of Mexican tiles, and each section laid out like a tapas menu. We start with salsas – so many I would never have thought about! – followed by appetisers and sides, soups, salads, meat/fish, poultry, meatless, rice/beans, and desserts.
Most of the recipes seem really simple and achievable. Many have only a handful of ingredients, and other than a brief translation from ‘American’ (cilantro, zucchini, etc – but the measurements are given in cups and grams, phew!) aren’t at all complicated. Ingredients are usually very common – beans, tomatoes, spices, etc – with only one or two instances that seemed American-only.
One complaint would be quantities: I’d love to make the pinto bean salad, for instance, but the serving is for 8! Cutting that down for 1 or 2 is more difficult than, say, giving a 4-person recipe that can be halved or doubled relatively easily. Mind you, any time I’ve eaten Mexican food, it does seem like it goes very well for a big crowd, so maybe the flaw is more mine 😉
The recipes cover a great mix of what I – and I suspect the ‘average’ (esp. UK) punter – would think of as Mexican food, but as the intro discusses, Tex-Mex is huge in the States, and there’s a wide range of regional adaptations even across California to Texas, never mind the traditional dishes. Cooking methods, too, range from the griddle to the slow cooker.
My favourite section was probably the chicken. Enchiladas, tamales, slow cooker orange chicken – bring them all to me! The focus on both the poultry and meat sections is actually how little you need – it’s all about added vegetables and spices.
To be fair, I haven’t cooked much out of this (mainly a few of the rice and sides recipes) – yet! – and while things do sound simple I was often slightly put off by the nicheness of a few ingredients. Okay, mainly chilli: it’s not impossible, but not easy where I am, to source such a wide variety of chilli types. I was also much too lazy/scared/lacking a tortilla press to do my own dough, which sadly rules out tamales (so delicious!) until I overcome some of that! It’s no different to any cuisine, though: if your focus is Indian, Italian, or Mexican – each has need of a certain amount of set up to do right/easily.
Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of themes here – Mexican flavours, but still healthy – and I’m hugely looking forward to some braver experiments going forward.
NetGalley eARC: 274 pages / 13 sections
First published: 2021
Read: May 2022
My rating: 7/10