Piglet Community Pick: Mexico

March  9, 2015

Read up on some of 2014’s most-loved cookbooks, tested and reviewed by the one and only Food52 community.

Today: On a hunt for a sweet tamales recipe, DR dives into Mexico: The Cookbook (spoiler alert: she finds it). 

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The bright pink color caught my attention first; then the title, Mexico: The Cookbook. Before I even checked the index, I wondered: Would this book contain what I had been looking for? I'd been long searching for a recipe for sweet tamales made with strawberries.

My obsession with this tamale comes from my yearly winter visits to Puerto Vallarta, a seaside town on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Ms. Vicky, the town’s tamale stand owner, has not had them on my previous five visits (sigh), and even the local food vendors at the Saturday market weren't selling them. Based on what I’d seen offered during my evening waterfront strolls, they were tempting locals with corn prepared in other ways: on a stick; kernels fried with various chillies; or in a cup, covered with queso, mayo, spices, or lime. 

But, bingo! There it was, on page 644 of my Mexico: The Cookbook: Tamales de Fresa, or strawberry tamales. On the opposite page was a picture of the rosy dough, wrapped in corn husk and set on a typical Mexican-style plate. Oh, how I wished I could have jumped into that picture and enjoyed them straight away. But, should I buy this book for just one recipe? I did buy the book, of course -- for that recipe, but also for the others that I was delighted to find inside.

Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s book is a tome on Mexican cuisine. Surpassing 700 pages, she provides any cook with a great reference guide to complement their cookbook collection. I already have several Mexican cookbooks, but this one has a wider scope of Mexican cuisine than some of the others I have -- and all in one place.

More: Find out what Arronte considers the 10 essential tools for Mexican cooking.

In her introduction, Arronte covers the history of Mexican cuisine and its influences. I wasn’t surprised to read that “without corn, we have no country” -- and no tamales, I might add. She divides her book into 11 sections -- from rice and beans to fish and seafood to sauces, drinks, and desserts. The first section, “Street Food and Snacks,” has over 100 pages, connecting readers with familiar Mexican favorites: guacamole, enchiladas, gorditas, quesadillas, tacos, and tostadas. And she makes these recipes easy to execute; whether you're a novice or an expert in Mexican cuisine, you're in good hands here. Everyone will like these early pages.

I didn’t make any of this section’s recipes, but I certainly appreciated Arronte’s description of where every one of the 700 recipes originated. She also provides you with the preparation time, cooking time, and serving sizes, which is always appreciated. However, a regional map of Mexico would have been a helpful addition, so that the reader could also locate the origin of these recipes geographically.

No matter your experience or knowledge of Mexican cuisine, you will soon discover that it isn’t always about moles, corn, or chiles. Arronte’s Shrimp with Chipotle Sauce includes grated ginger and is delicious served with her recipe for plain rice. I have never cooked chayote before, but I tackled her Pickled Chayote Salad with ease and made a note to put it on a summer barbecue menu. And while my chicken didn’t hit a grill but rather an oven, the recipe for Grilled Chicken with Cilantro and Lemon was a quick weeknight dinner. I also found many other recipes that I could easily make during the week, like Pork and Beans. Should you have more time, this cookbook also features the infamous spicy stew Birria from Jalisco and Cochinita Pibil, a well-known slow-roasted pork recipe from the Yucatan.

More: Thinking about picking up a copy of Mexico? Better get your hands on some dried Mexican chile peppers.

As a Canadian, our major grocery stores are just starting to carry typical Mexican cooking ingredients: Fresh poblanos, tomatillos, masa flour, and various dried chiles are all finding their way here. Many other ingredients used in Arronte’s book remain elusive, however: epazote, grasshoppers, nopalitos (cactus paddles), banana leaves, and some cheeses. 

No matter this challenge, the book is exhaustive in its recipes and scope and, like the other one-country subject books from Phaidon, is a one-stop, easy-to-read resource with great pictures and a clear index. If you are a collector of these books, like India, add this one to your collection, too. As for the tamales, I have already planned to devote a summer weekend to making them. Wish me luck!

First photo by Mark Weinberg; all others by James Ransom


The Piglet—inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books—is where the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year face off in a NCAA-style bracketed tournament. Watch the action and weigh in on the results!


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • dymnyno
  • Daniela
  • whitebreads
  • MM
  • Rosa

Written by: Dr


dymnyno March 9, 2015
I didn't mean to disparage this cookbook in any way. The "papel picado" cover is so attractive that I almost bought the book without reading any of its' contents! I have a collection of about 60+ Mexican cookbooks, including all of Diane Kennedy's. My new favorite is Hugh Carpenter's "Mexican Flavors". For a fantastic experience you can attend his cooking school in San Miguel de Allende (Sazons). I am in love with SM can't stop wondering what took me so long to find this World Heritage colonial city!
Daniela March 9, 2015
I'm also a bit puzzled by this review. I bought the book about 3 months ago and, frankly, it's a bit of a disappointment. Most of the recipes contain minimal instructions (about 5 lines), which makes it difficult to execute them well. I also feel that the author did not do a good job of describing the more "exotic" ingredients or of making suggestions for substitutions. If you are a beginner cook or even someone who has had some experience with authentic Mexican cuisine and wants to learn how to make some of the more "complicated" dishes, this book is not for you.
whitebreads March 9, 2015
I have this cookbook and everything I've made from it so far has been pretty good. Frankly I'm suprised by the negative feedback. Oh well. To each their own.
MM March 9, 2015
As a frequent traveler to Mexico and admirer of its regional cuisine, I had my eye on this book -- but was turned away by the critical reviews on Amazon mentioning the book's structural/editorial flaws. None of that was mentioned here... for that and a few other reasons, this review just seemed to miss the mark, and I'm not convinced I should buy this book.
dymnyno March 9, 2015
Who is Dr and why is he/she writing a review? A huge cookbook should have more than one recipe to convince me to buy it. The reviewer didn't describe the sweet tamales enough to make me want to try them either.
Rosa March 9, 2015
So sad to see this review. Not because of Dr but because of the book itself. Any Mexican cookbook that can't get corn tortillas right is one to stay away from. There were significant amounts of issues with many other recipes, as well. I am surprised, Food52.