Mexico: The Cookbook
is chef Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s comprehensive tour through authentic Mexican home cooking. With a staggering six hundred recipes and two hundred photographs spread over seven hundred pages, the book has gained a reputation as a Mexican recipe bible. Arronte, the owner of Turtux restaurant in Mexico City, hails from the border city of Ciudad Juarez and grew up watching her mother and grandmother cook homestyle Mexican favorites. Now, Arronte makes it her mission to elevate Mexican cuisine, correct common misconceptions about Mexican food, and spread the diverse traditions of regional Mexican fare to a wider audience. In 2010, she helped successfully campaign to add traditional Mexican cuisine to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Arronte divides the cookbook into sections by type and/or course: street food and snacks, salads and starters, eggs, soups, seafood, meat, vegetables, sauces, rice and beans, breads and pastries, drinks and desserts, a section for recipes from guest chefs, and a glossary of terms.
In her introduction, she discusses her love for Mexican food and the rich culinary diversity offered by each region. She encourages readers not to be daunted by this sometimes complex array. Most recipes take less than twenty minutes to cook, with instructions only about a paragraph long. These recipes are simpler than home chefs unused to Mexican food might anticipate. Arronte hopes to introduce them gently into Mexican fare. She suggests that readers start off with the simplest dishes to get their bearings, then to slowly explore more complicated dishes.
She notes that her recipes are true to the long history of Mexican and Mesoamerican cuisine: many recipes date back hundreds of years, such as the one for corn tortillas. The history of Mexican cuisine dates back to over 9,000 years, drawing influence from bygone Aztec and Mayan cultures. Her list of recipes reflects that history and strives to showcase those influences.
She battles misconceptions, such as that Mexican food is heavy and reliant on deep-frying dishes in lard or oil. On the contrary, Arronte points out that historical techniques center around boiling and steaming ingredients, or cooking them over hot stones or a firepit. The deep-frying Americans are familiar with comes from Spanish conquistadors—an early modern innovation that isn’t true to tradition.
Arronte also takes the time to explain traditional cooking techniques and terminology, such as the p’iib
, or underground ovens, used in the Yucatan province, and azrafan
as the word for Spanish saffron. She also explains the significance of corn to Mexican cuisine as a whole and describes the importance of the nixtamalization process—a way of preparing corn by soaking and cooking it in an alkaline solution. This process adds niacin to the corn. It’s an ancient technique dating back to at least 1200 BCE, which allowed corn to become a staple of Mesoamerican diets without becoming malnourished. Because corn alone lacks essential amino acids, it is traditionally eaten along with beans, which provide those missing aminos.
The recipe list is varied: readers will find more than forty types of salsa alone, along with popular favorites like guacamole and tacos al pastor. More off-the-beaten-path dishes include conchas, a kind of Mexican cookie, chiles in a cream & walnut sauce, Acapulco-style ceviche, and much more. A section on drinks offers an intro into Mexican alcohol. Arronte lists each recipe with estimated preparation time, cooking time, serving size, and the region of Mexico it originates from. Some ingredients may be difficult to find: there are recipes calling for “corn smut,” ants, and meats such as rabbit, ox, or venison that aren’t commonly found in American supermarkets.
Arronte’s book became a New York Times
best-seller, receiving rave reviews upon release. However, everyday reviewers are more critical. Reader reviews point out errors and inconsistencies in the cookbook that make it difficult to use as intended. They note that the book lacks sufficient organization for its size: there is an overall table of contents, but the subsections do not list each recipe and page number. There is an index, but some readers note that certain page numbers are incorrect.
Reviewers familiar with Mexican cuisine state that some translations are inaccurate, while others are missing, and that some recipes do not appear to be as authentic as claimed. Recipes call for “chiles” without specifying which variety, or misspell ingredients. Furthermore, the recipes do not appear to have been tested thoroughly: a guacamole recipe does not turn out like the picture and seems to call for an unusual amount of oil in addition to the typical avocados. The corn tortilla recipe, when prepared, requires too much masa harina and not enough water. Mexico: A Cookbook
has plenty of dazzle, but the average chef might want to take the recipes with a pinch of salt.