Pros: Delicious! Great layout
Cons: Some ingredients may be a little tough to find
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Review book (published 20011) provided by Chronicle Books.
Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee’s Quick & Easy Mexican Cooking: More Than 80 Everyday Recipes includes more than 80 recipes that won’t take all day to prepare. Ms. Lee’s parents bought a Mexican grocery store when she was young, and so began her education in Mexican foods. Neighborhood women would share recipes with her and her family, and once she graduated from college she lived in Mexico for a time.
Luckily for us it’s easier to find Mexican ingredients in a wide variety of stores now, but some ingredients still might not appear on your local supermarket shelves. However, I didn’t find that to be a huge problem when working with the book, just an occasional note. And of course, these days you can order many ingredients online.
Ms. Lee’s book includes notes on ingredients, cheeses and utensils; a chapter of salsas and tortillas; salads; soups; vegetables and side dishes; poultry and eggs; beef and pork; fish and shellfish; desserts and snacks; and beverages. It also includes some quick menus, mail-order sources, and a list of more books, as well as an index. There’s even a set of “pantry notes” that sets out three lists of ingredients, from most useful to have on hand to less necessary. The photos are absolutely gorgeous, and the layout is—as is usually the case for a Chronicle book—clean, clear, and easy to read while cooking.
Salsas: The salsas chapter includes all the usual suspects (Pico de Gallo, a smoky chipotle salsa, Salsa Verde, mango salsa, guacamole, and a few extras, such as an herbed pumpkin seed mole. It also includes instructions for homemade corn tortillas and baked tortilla chips.
Salads: Salads include more than you might expect, from a festive corn salad to cactus salad, jicama salad, chilled bean salad, and more. My favorite was the bean salad—not only is it colorful, but the taste is fresh, complex, and bright, despite the fact that the salad is, in fact, very quick & easy to make.
Soups: I really, really need to get around to making the chilled avocado-lime soup in here. And the lentil soup. And the tortilla soup. (If those aren’t enough for you, there’s a meatball soup and a beef stew—no matter what you’re in the mood for, you can probably find something in here that’ll scratch the itch!)
Vegetables and Side Dishes: Of course, a book like this wouldn’t be complete without both refried beans and black beans. Not to mention roasted poblanos. But you’ll find a handful of more unusual dishes as well, such as a vegetarian quesadilla recipe, a spicy corn on the cob recipe, and fried potatoes with poblano chiles. You’ll also find instructions for making great Queso Fundido—my favorite dip of cheese and chorizo.
Poultry and Eggs: Once again you’ll find a delightful combination of old favorites (Huevos Rancheros anyone?) and less-common recipes (such as “Lenten Eggs,” or Nopales con Huevos). The author explains in the introduction to her recipe for stuffed peppers (Chiles Rellenos) that they make a wonderful litmus test for Mexican restaurants, and how to tell whether you’re getting the good stuff. (My favorite Mexican restaurant definitely passed muster!)
Beef and Pork: I love the story that starts off the introduction to this chapter, explaining why Ms. Lee suddenly developed the urge to perfect her carne asada recipe one summer. As for me, I’m just thrilled she included a recipe for beef flautas. Oh yeah, and the one for shredded beef. You’ll also find recipes for beef enchiladas with red sauce, grilled Tampico-style steak, spicy pork rubbed with achiote paste, and more.
Fish and Shellfish: Ceviche (of course); grilled shrimp burritos; Baja-style fish tacos; tilapia with chipotle sauce. And that’s just the start. (Yes, that’s a happy sigh you hear in the distance.)
Desserts and Snacks: I have to say that I was actually surprised by the mango pudding included here. It’s just about the simplest recipe you can imagine, using 3 or 4 ingredients, involving a little peeling and cutting, and making use of a blender. And it’s so good I had trouble putting it away! You’ll also find recipes for rice pudding, sweet corn ice cream, plantains with vanilla and cinnamon ice cream, churros, and of course the wonderful Tres Leches cake. Even that cake is pretty simple.
Ms. Lee’s cookbook definitely lives up to its name—the recipes are simple and they’re easy. The layout is easy to use and the pictures are lovely. And best of all, everything we made from this book came out perfectly delightful and delicious. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one!