In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Review - Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen

Written by Chef Donna Desfor | May 1, 2017 9:00 AM
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Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen, by Gonzalo Guzmán with Stacy Adimando. Copyright © 2017.  Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.  Photographs Copyright © 2017 by Eva Kolenko

Our Summary:

It's never easy to convince someone to try a cultural cuisine, let alone cook it.  But if you were to consider Nopalito as California-style fresh cuisine with regional Mexican flavors and ingredients woven in perhaps just maybe you'd give this book more than a passing glance.  Inspired by his familial roots in Mexico and then his professional career in San Francisco, California , chef and Nopalito owner Gonzalo Guzmán takes you thoughtfully his family-style recipes that he cooks and serves in his restaurants.  Fresh and vibrant like the market foods they are prepared from, and wistfully nostalgic for the land and memories that inspire them.  You will cook and delight in it all.  And add a healthy dose of cultural cuisine to your kitchen repertoire.

Read (and hear!) more about this cookbook and some of the recipes within on WITF's podcast Now That's a Mouthful.

What you need to know:

Get it:  Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen, by Gonzalo Guzmán with Stacy Adimando. Photographs by Eva Kolenko. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, April 11, 2017 Hardcover $30.00 (Amazon: $19.49; Kindle: $15.99)

See it:  256 pages with richly colored photographs of finished dishes, fresh ingredients and in-process photos; there are also candid black and white photos of Chef Guzmán and restaurant staff.  Contents list both the Spanish name and the English translation; chapters include the standard progression from pantry staples through small- then big- plates, sweets and beverages and a colossal chapter on salsa.  Thoughtful introductory materials help identify and understand Mexican cuisine ingredients and specialty kitchen equipment (like tortilla press, molcajete, and deep fat thermometer).

Make it:  100 recipes with variations for regional Mexican home-style dishes, including pantry staples, salsas and beverages.

Our Review:

Welcome to Nopalito, where between the richly colored photographs of recipes and ingredients are pages of regional Mexican dishes created and cooked through the lens of California's farmers markets.  If you've never traveled through Mexico, not only do you get a feel for chef owner Gonzalo Guzmán's life in Veracruz, you also get a taste for regional dishes from Mexico City, Puebla, the Yucatan and beyond.  Always surprisingly fresh, these dishes are sometimes simple, as with the Ensalata de Frutas, the Garbanzos con Chile, or the Frijoles Puercos con Huevos (Pork Braised Butter Beans with Scrambled Eggs).  Or, they can be deliciously complex (in flavor, not necessarily in cooking methods), in dishes such as Cemita Poblana De Milanesa (Breaded Chicken Sandwiches with Sesame Rolls), or Enchiladas Rojas de Camaron (Red Shrimp Enchiladas).

When it comes to finding the chiles, or prickly pear cactus (nopalitos) paddles, or even banana leaves, corn husks, pepitas or agave nectar, do not fear.  Many large, well-stocked grocers carry all of these in the produce section or in their ethnic aisles.  Mexican grocery stores, too, are abundant.  Armed with your recipe, especially in a Mexican grocery store, you'll feel confident and find everything you need.  Even if you never choose to make your own masa, Nopalito gives you excellent instructions for transforming store bought masa harina, which is always available in the ethnic aisle.  Toss your fear aside and dive in.  These ingredients are as familiar as what you cook with.  They just happen to come from a region you may not be so familiar with.

Even if you're not a fan of Mexican restaurants, this book is worth a look and a read.  Guzmán translates what you may stereotypically think of Mexican food into fresh, California-style cuisine.  Only you're adding chile peppers and spices that combine to create the flavors of central Mexico.  And while the biggest hurdle you may find is to just try the recipes, once you do you'll be delighted by some of the exciting new ingredients, tastes and textures Nopalito introduces.  Most of all, you'll be comfortable as you cook because the methods and processes of cooking this food is what you know.

Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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