I took my time choosing a cookbook for this Larderie box. There’s such an array of amazing cookbooks covering the varied and diverse world of Mexican cooking, from those rooted in simple, approachable recipes, to the ones born out of beloved restaurants. I even went and read the old Diana Kennedy books (she’s like the Julia Child of Mexican cooking). Throughout my research, I struggled with a couple things…
First, it's tough to choose a cookbook whose repertoire came out of restaurant-style cooking. We’re largely here to make food for our families and the organization and approach in those cookbooks doesn’t always fit in with that goal.
Second, I thought that I wanted something "easy" and "approachable," but I found that there was a depth of flavor lacking in a lot of the “simple” recipes. They sometimes cut corners on ingredients or missed important tips on techniques.
And then I read Mi Cocina…
In addition to being beautifully organized and well-written, the flavors are fantastic. But more importantly, as the author Rick Martinez points out, reducing a cuisine to "easy" and "simple" is where "marketing and racism intersect... when you call something authentic, you're necessarily saying that everything else is not."
I've been struck by the way that authors like Andrea Nguyen and Martinez talk about their experiences as immigrants and in immigrant families, reconciling their various influences and identities. On the topic of authenticity, Nguyen writes, "...what’s actually hard is being thoughtful. In the kitchen, that means being khéo — cooking with intention, thought, and care. That means developing a personal culinary authenticity that reflects heritage, culture, and personal experience."
I'm most interested in the way that people cook in their daily lives and in their unique circumstances. What techniques do they use? What flavors do they bring together? Cultures and cuisines are not static. They are fluid and evolve over time and geography. As Martinez puts so succinctly, "some of the most iconic and delicious dishes exist because of immigration and because of immigrants."
In Mi Cocina, Martinez highlights how Spanish colonialism has merged with indigenous foodways, where Lebanese immigrants have influenced "Tacos Arabes," and how Chinese immigrants who constructed railways layered soy sauce into the Mexican culinary lexicon. Just as Mexican food has evolved in Mexico, it has evolved in the United States, morphed by countless Mexican Americans and those who have enjoyed their cooking and meals at their tables.
I think a lot about how we have transformative food experiences - whether “a ha!” moments in cooking or restaurants, or experiences with other people around a meal. So many of my favorite food memories center around Mexican food and flavors: eating my weight in guacamole made with avocados fresh off the tree in my grandparents backyard; the first time I had a tortilla fresh off the press in Puerto Vallarta with a sprinkle of salt; toasting my now-husband with little copitas of Mezcal over barbacoa tacos at a little bar in Boston…
It pains me to think about kids being made fun of in school for the lunch that they bring. Or the judgment of an entire cuisine as “not healthy” because there’s corn or lard or some ingredient that’s foreign and misunderstood. I hope that, as we cook and learn, we also bring love, joy, and understanding to our tables.
To leave you with one last quote, I was moved to tears reading Chef Gabriela Camara's "My Mexico City Kitchen" when she wrote, "I learned early on that food isn't just what you feed your family. Sharing it is what makes people family."
I hope you enjoy this cookbook and collection of ingredients and use this opportunity to spread love through food.