Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Mexican food in restaurants in this country has so often left me disappointed and I’m yet to find a Mexican cookbook that meets my expectations. I’ve begun to wonder whether my idea of Mexican food is just wrong, but how can that be so when ingredients such as fresh and vibrant avocado and tomatoes, umpteen varieties of chillies, corn tortillas and limes are typical of the cuisine?

The idea behind this month’s Cookery Book Supper Club book is a great one: Mexican Made Simple. What better than a book that makes an exotic cuisine accessible to the home cook written by someone, Thomasina Miers, who has lived in the country for some time gathering invaluable knowledge?

I had high hopes, thinking that maybe this would at last be a Mexican cookbook with which to expand my repertoire beyond chilli con carne, fajitas and Tex-Mex style tacos.

With much gusto, I worked my way through the recipes, trying far too many to mention. We ended up with a mixed bag of results; some lovely dishes, many mediocre and one was just odd!

We were disappointed by several dishes and struggled to understand how tasty ingredients like chorizo, thyme and cheese could result in something quite lacklustre. There were a few highlights; the sweet chipotle paste, refried beans (well worth the effort) and rice pudding flavoured with vanilla, cinnamon and the zest of orange and lime. Best of all though was the cucumber agua fresca. Seeing past the vibrant green colour, this is a fantastically refreshing and summery drink, great to cool the heat of chillies. The odd dish, in case you’re wondering, was meatballs de Mehico, containing capers, boiled egg, rice and milk!

I think of myself as an accomplished home cook, not afraid to try something new, experiment with unusual ingredients and happy to tackle a complex dish, but at times I was stumped by some of the recipes. I felt a little misled by the title of the book since, for a great part, this wasn’t Mexican made simple. A fair few of the recipes involved hours of preparation and several intensive and time-consuming steps. Others had long, off-putting ingredients lists I wouldn’t expect to see in a book like this without some kind of words of encouragement to persevere. Insufficient photographs made it difficult to know how unfamiliar dishes should look and a lack of clear and accurate instructions led to some puzzling and frustrating time in the kitchen.

I also found some ingredients, especially the varieties of chillies, tricky to source and ended up shopping online. Whilst I appreciated the message from the author that it’s not important to use all the correct ingredients, I was hoping for at least some level of authenticity. Why make a Mexican dish if it isn’t going to resemble the genuine article?

I have mixed feelings about the book. I wanted to like it, I tried my hardest to embrace it and whilst it has grown on me a little throughout the month, it’s never going to be one of those books I go back to time and time again.

Mexican Made Simple has all the building blocks for a good book. The range of recipes is interesting and enticing. Mexican dishes you’d expect to see are combined with ones many would never have come across had they not visited Mexico. What I feel is lacking is some care and attention to detail which would make this an unmissable and very usable cookery book for any home cook and lover of Mexican food.

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