Soul-Satisfying Regional Recipes
From Tamales to Tostados
By Jason Wyrick
Vegan Heritage Press, 2016
"My mom made the best enchiladas and tamales and Mexican red rice," he writes. "I still crave those childhood foods, so when I became a vegan chef in my thirties, I decided to explore my family's food heritage. I'm so glad I did."
He describes the food he grew up with in Arizona as "Mexicanish," Americanized versions of authentic Mexican food that was "laden with cheddar cheese and dull enchilada sauces." For Wyrick, the key to real Mexican foods is fresh ingredients and chiles.
After discussing the unique culinary characteristics of 10 regions of Mexico, the author focuses on Gear, Ingredients, and Techniques. Here he writes about traditional equipment like a tortilla press, an iron skillet, and cazuelas (earthenware stew pots). He also provides detailed information on dried and fresh chiles as well as herbs and spices. Throughout the book he gives the Mexican names as well as the English versions for the recipes and discusses unique fruits and vegetables that may be unfamiliar, such as nopales (cactus paddles), huitlacoche (corn fungus), and pozole (hominy).
"Corn, beans, rice, and chiles are the heart of Mexican cuisine. They form the basic starch, protein, and seasonings for most meals. It's hard to imagine a Mexican meal without at least one of these staples at the table," says Wyrick. That statement begins a section of the book that deals with those four ingredients.
Wyrick offers instruction in masa (corn dough) making and using the masa to create corn tortillas. He also discusses tostados and corn chips. Recipes are provided for Arroz Verde (Green Rice) and Arroz Rojo Mexicano (Mexican Red Rice) as well bean varieties. While Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans) are familiar to many Americans, recipes for Pintos Borrachos (Drunken Beans) and Morisqueta con Chorizo (Mexican Style Rice with Chorizo) will stir the curiosity of today's foodies who love to cook. Advice on chiles includes handling, roasting, frying, rehydrating, and drying.
Salsas and More features the traditional Salsa Mexicana (pico de gallo), but a half-dozen others including Salsa de Durazno y Chile Serrano (Peach Serrano Salsa) offer tasty variations.
Antojitos (little cravings) are served to the reader in Street Food, a chapter filled with informal dishes not usually served at normal meals. Dishes like empanadas, chalupas, quesadillas, and chimichangas fall into this category. Quesadillas de Flor de Calabaza y Quesadillas de Frijoles Negras (Quesadillas Two Ways), for example, describes how to prepare this informal delight with either black bean or squash-blossom filling.
Even though he has previously written an entire book on tacos, Wyrick includes a brief chapter with five recipes of this popular food. Many readers will be surprised to learn that authentic corn tortillas used in traditional tacos are only four inches in diameter and much smaller than those frequently found in this country.
Wyrick explains the meaning of enchilada by saying, "It's really just a corn tortilla enrobed in chile sauce. In fact, 'enchilada' literally means 'in chile sauce'." In this chapter that includes half-dozen recipes with different fillings, he explains that enchiladas can be flat, folded, or rolled.
Tamales receive special treatment from this chef. He mentions they are perceived as labor intensive and admits they take time to prepare. He details the process of preparing the masa and suggests a simple filling. Cornhusks are the most common wrapper, but banana leaves are another option that comes from tropical Mexico. He describes how to wrap both varieties. Recipes for both sweet and savory tamales grace this chapter.
Main Dishes is the most extensive chapter in the book. Most of these dishes are served with soup or salad, a tortilla, and side serving of beans. Chilaquile Two Ways features two versions, one for breakfast, another for a late-night snack. Most appealing is Albondigas en Salsa Ranchera (Mexican Meatballs in Serrano Sauce), and there's a colorful photo to prove it.
For those who want to fire up the barbecue, there are suggested recipes, while Small Bites and Snacks present some quick and easy ideas. Some people may consider Breads a misnomer for a chapter that features sweet breads, fritters, and shortbread cookies. Some of those delights might have appeared in Sweets along with Arroz con Leche de Coco (Coconut Rice Pudding), Paletas (Mexican Ice Pops), and Churros de Cacao y Pistachos (Cocoa-Pistachio Churros. Calaveras de Az'car (Sugar Skulls) are popular on the Day of the Dead.
Wyrick gives special attention to beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Aguas Frescas are usually made with fresh fruit or melons, while cucumbers are the lone vegetable exception in Agua Fresca de Pepino (Cucumber Agua Fresca). Michelada (Salted Beer and Tomato Lime Juice) was one drink Wyrick hesitated to even taste, but, fortunately for his followers, he did and now provides a recipe for the drink.
Masa, used to thicken a beverage, sounds inconceivable, but this adventurous chef presents different variations of Atoles (Masa Thickened Drinks) including Xocolatl (Aztec Chocolate). Anyone expecting a sweet hot chocolate will be surprised by this bitter and spicy Aztec creation they called "bitter water." No collection of Mexican drinks would be complete without a margarita, which Wyrick delivers in grand Mexican style with Margarita de Salvia (Muddled Sage Margarita).
The book concludes with a page of Resources, a Glossary, and a page of Metric Conversions and Equivalents. Informative sidebars appear throughout the book.
In Vegan Mexico Jason Wyrick makes Mexican food extremely accessible to vegans. The book is a visual delight and lavishly illustrated with numerous full-page photos of the recipes provided by the author. He not only offers recipes for numerous tasty dishes, but he also relates those recipes to a discussion about cultures of various regions of the country. Any vegan interested in cooking unique Mexican dishes Must Have this book. Those not interested in making the recipes will find it a fascinating read and appreciate the research the author has undertaken to deliver a comprehensive look at Mexican cuisine.