2015 Holiday Gift Guide: Cookbooks

12 days of gift giving ideas.

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Day4We’re turning the spotlight on food-centric gifts over the next 12 days leading up to Christmas.

These recently-published culinary finds tap into Dallas’ love affair with Mexico. You’re covered, whether you’re buying for the food nerd or the home cook.

Tacopedia: The Taco Encyclopedia by Deborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena (Phaidon, $29.95)

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Cover image courtesy Phaidon.
Chris McGathey

Think there’s nothing simpler than a taco? Think again. Originally published in Mexico—and an immediate bestseller—Tacopedia is newly translated into English and published by Phaidon press, long a purveyor of hefty, drool-worthy, design-forward culinary tomes (I covet their international cookbook collection as much as their art books). It should be required reading for any Dallasite who claims credit as a taco fiend.

In the 300-plus colorful, newsprint pages of this encyclopedia of all things taco-related, Deborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena have lovingly documented the rich culture and complexity of this ostensibly simple food. Facing a highly ambitious topic, they deliver something both thorough and rollickingly fun.

You can dip in for a browse or spend days going down the rabbit-hole. The clever design gives you plenty to chew on without overwhelming. No blocks of grey text, yet you’re absorbing lessons in history, culture, geography. With lists, cartoony graphics, maps, recipes, photos, the pages feel alive with juicy tidbits.

Murals by Diego Rivera accompany discussion of Aztec origins and the process of nixtamalization, the marvel that makes it all possible. A family tree of maize sorts out tamales, polenta and pozole; chilaquiles, quesadillas, and gorditas. A map of Mexico, the “tacography,” charts the landscape from Baja’s lobster tacos to Jalisco’s birria tacos and Mexico City’s al pastor and suadero. Taco loteria cards—a mischievous wink—are funky and fun. The bulk of the chapters explores individual taco styles, from familiar tacos al pastor to barbacoa, carnitas, deep-fried tacos, head-meat tacos … and yes, even insect tacos or basket tacos, the movable feast of beans, potatoes, adobo beef and pork rinds found in tightly packed quarters on the back (often) of a bicycle.

The book is a cultural tour of Mexico as well as of tacos. Most of all, Tacopedia makes you want to jump up and head to your nearest taco stand. Thankfully that’s not far—whether Fuel City, El Si Hai, or Velvet. You’ll feel infinitely more like an expert.

 

Eat Mexico: Recipes from Mexico City’s Streets, Markets, and Fondas by Lesley Tellez (Kyle Books, $24.95)

Cover EatMexico final
Cover image courtesy Kyle Books.
Chris McGathey

Here’s a collection explicitly for the home cook. Author Lesley Tellez was a reporter for the Dallas Morning News before she moved to Mexico City and began a full-boar investigation of its vibrant food culture. The result, gleaned over four years, is a cookbook full of recipes that allow you to bring the casual street food into your own kitchen.

Tellez’s writing is lyrical and personal, and recipe headers are laced with stories and anecdotes about vendors she met and from whom many of the recipes are adapted.

Photography by Penny de Los Santos takes you deep into markets where chickens hang from butchers’ stalls, stacks of chiles crown burlap sacks, fresh masa puffs on a comal, and esquites (street corn) is piled into Styrofoam cups. But the home cook will also appreciate the gorgeous shots of dishes and practical visual how-to sequences on the process of wrapping a corn-husk tamale, using a tortilla press to make a homemade corn tortilla, or cutting the flesh from a prickly pear.

Chapters offer recipes such as fried chorizo and potato sandwiches, squash blossom burritos, slow-cooked carnitas, and tlacoyos, masa patties stuffed with beans and cheese and cooked on a griddle. There’s a fabulous recipe for enchiladas verdes, and it’s easy to imagine yourself making Tellez’s thick Mexican hot chocolate, cinnamon-spiked café de olla, or cactus-paddle salad with crumbled queso fresco and cherry tomatoes. Your next roasted chicken could be swathed in a homemade adobo that uses a quarto of chiles: morita, arbol, quajillo, and chipotle. Other recipes, drawn from the countryside, include more idiosyncratic items like pickled cactus or fried plantain served with condensed milk and jam—things you wouldn’t find in the average Mexican compendium cookbook.

Part of the collection’s authenticity comes from the fact that it’s so rooted in place. We’re lucky that we can easily find all the ingredients in Dallas. At Fiesta Mart or La Michoacana market, you can load up on epazote leaves, cotija cheese, cactus paddle, and a big bag of fresh masa. Do your home-cooking friends a favor and give them this playground to romp around in.

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