Bless Pati’s heart. She’s a wonderful cook and teacher, and her winsome personality shines in conversation and on the small screen. However, the design of her latest cookbook is maddening. Let me explain.
There are the expected beautiful pictures of food in the current informal, slightly messy food styling mode. There are engaging descriptions and reminiscences for most dishes, which make this an intensely personal and engaging cookbook. There are recipes that sound so good you want to rush right out, buy the ingredients, and cook them (providing you have access to a good mercado). There are many informative asides – and that’s where one of the problems crops up.
The “Cook’s Tips” and other little teaching moments, as well as many chapter introductions, are negative-printed on dark backgrounds with white type. Many use a very small typeface. Now, I may be showing my age here, but I find these very hard to read. And another thing: many recipes are continued on overleaf pages, so the cook has to flip the page mid-process to continue following the recipe. All of them could have been avoided with some thoughtful layout design.
But enough complaining. How do the recipes cook? Very well, actually, clear and precise, and the ones I tried, delicious. Pati’s version of the common Mexican street food Esquites (Simmered Shaved Corn with Chiles and Epazote) is not only easy and delicious, but gave me a chance to use my backyard epazote in something other than bean and egg dishes. It’s so good, it has already become a staple way to cook fresh corn in my repertoire.
Her chapter introduction story on tacos (fortunately printed in black on a light grey background) inspired me to fill warm corn tortillas with sliced avocados and avocado honey (which I happened to bring back as a souvenir from a trip to San Diego). The orchard ambiance, alas, was unavailable; imagination had to substitute picnic tables for my kitchen furniture. Even so, they were delicious with the Esquites.
The Open-Faced Mexican Gravlax Sandwiches (Sandwiches Abiertos con Gravlax Estilo Mexicano) appealed to me as a new twist on a personal favorite. I make gravlax as often as I can find salmon fillet at a reasonable price, so Pati’s spicing and sugar substitutions were intriguing. (But another annoying quirk surfaced: the prep time of 15 minutes could be accomplished only with the piloncillo already grated, the cilantro chopped, the cumin ground, the lime zested and squeezed, the salmon scaled and de-pin-boned, and the avocado chopped. Those of us without at least a sous chef will have to budget a little longer!)
But they were delicious. The gravlax seemed a little salty when sampled after it emerged from the brine, but in combination with the avocado crema and dark bread, it was sublime. Another keeper – if only I could get someone to grate that piloncillo for me!
I had a chance to sample the Morelia-Style Savory Fruit Salad (Gazpacho Moreliano), another popular Mexican dish, during the event at WAMU in June, so I know that recipe is also a winner. I look forward to exploring this book further. I just wish my eyesight was a little better!
Pati Jinich, Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, New York, 2016.