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Book Review: Fresh Mexico


I have this weird need to buy any book on Mexican cooking. It breaks my heart to think that there might be a gem somewhere I don't have. If the words "Lo-Fat" or "Easy" appear on the cover, I do manage to pass but in general, if it's in print, and sometimes even when it's not, I've got it.

Valladolid I only know of Marcela Valladolid's Fresh Mexico: 100 Simple Recipes for True Mexican Flavor from Amazon. I hated the title, I hated that she's on the cover (instead of food) and I hated the subtitle of "100 Simple Recipes for True Mexican Flavor". But I bought it anyway. The book arrived and the cringing began immediately when I read that Valladolid makes fun of gringo cheddar cheese, margaritas and chimichangas and then goes on to show photos of her food which include rosemary-skewered shrimp, a tamarind cocktail and some kind of burrito thing made with flour tortillas. From my experience, Valladolid's food is no more "authentic" than cheddar cheese, it's just different. Her introduction continues in this painful vein and is at odds with her cuisine. Along with he "authentic" Mexican dishes like Osso Buco, Game Hens with Apricot-Tequila-California Chile Sauce and Golden Beet Carpaccio, are many photos of the lovely Valladolid at play in her kitchen.

Getting over my disappointment, I gave the book another glance and in fact, there's a lot of good food to be made here. Some of her ideas are very good, they just don't have that much to do with Mexican food. At her best, she plays with indigenous ingredients and comes up with a fun new twist, like the Crab Cakes with Guacamole, the Surf and Turf Molcajete or the Chorizo-stuffed chayote squash. At her worst, she takes perfectly fine food and dumbs it down, like her bean instructions that include no lard or oil at all. I won't be bothering with her Easy Chicken Mole, either.

After absorbing the book, it dawns on me that Valladolid is positioned to be the Giada DeLaurentis of Mexican food. I would think that most Italians wouldn't recognize the food DeLaurentis prepares as Italian unless you told them. But she's pretty and she's not untalented, she's just not cooking particularly Italian food. I don't think Valladolid has the same weird grimace, but I bet she's personable and perhaps she's a good ambassador for Mexican foods for the Food TV set.

My problem with both ladies is the assumption that real Mexican (or Italian) food needs to be "lightened up" and modernized. Bad American versions of both cuisines can use some help but it's not the host cuisine's fault that we keep making a mess of things. Still, this book has something to offer and I think it's worth your attention if you love Mexican food.

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