Book Review – Mexican Modern

Mexican Modern: New Food From Mexico by Fiona Dunlop

Photographs by Jean-Blaise Hall

Interlink Books 2009

 I am always a little leery of cookbooks that are merely collections of recipes from various restaurant chefs all tied together by some common theme.  These types of books usually are just a hodgepodge of recipes with so many different styles of cooking that there is no clear concept of what the finished dishes are supposed to be representative of.  I was pleased with the recipes contained in Modern Mexican, though I do have some issues with the arrangement of the book.

 Fiona Dunlop traveled through the various regions of Mexico interviewing many of the young, creative chefs that ply their trade at award winning restaurants.  The goal, which was beautifully achieved, was to showcase modern cooking and trends in Mexican restaurants and not just print the typical Tex-Mex chain restaurant style of tacos and burritos.  Each chef has their own dedicated page, with a biography and an in depth interview.  With over 15 chefs contributing many of their signature dishes, the book contains many excellent, cutting edge recipes that a casual observer would be surprised to see served at a Mexican restaurant.  The photographs appear like an episode on the Travel Channel rather than a cookbook and provide the reader with a beautiful image of Mexico.  The pictures of the street scenes are amazing shots showing brilliant colors and provide a real view of the daily rhythm of the market place.

 All the recipes are written using both ounces and grams systems.  This is an excellent format to use to present recipes, as many cooks have been switching to the more accurate and exact method of weighing ingredients.  My wish is that more cookbook authors would use both systems of measurement when presenting recipes.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were very few unusual ingredients called for, could not be readily purchased at a typical American grocery, that needed long descriptions of their origin or a list of specialty shops were they could be located.

 The arrangement of the chapters makes it difficult, if not nearly impossible, for a reader to locate a specific recipe or course where that dish could be served.  The chapters are arranged by City or Region which makes it hard to find a recipe that you want to cook.  If I wanted to make the recipe for Cream of Cilantro Soup, since there is no Soup or Appetizer chapter, I would be forced to thumb through every page in the book until I came across the recipe I was looking for.  In the index the soup is not listed by name or even under cream.  This structure makes a book very frustrating for a cook to use.

 Within each chapter the recipes are not arranged by course or main ingredient i.e. Appetizer or Fish.  Each chapter has an interview with a specific chef then presents the chef’s recipes, which could be from anywhere on the menu, then moves on to the next chef.  This form of presentation is confusing and the book and chapters seem to skip around from dish to dish. If the book was presented in a more traditional format, print all the recipes of a similar type or course together, then the chef interviews could have been sprinkled throughout the book with a reference to their recipes and the page number where they could be located.

 There are many excellent recipes that are easily prepared in a home kitchen.  The Eggplant and Goat’s Cheese Mosaic layers fried eggplant with goat’s cheese and red pepper into a dish that is both tasty and makes a beautiful presentation at the table.  The Fried Squid Rings with Capers and Potatoes is not a Mexican version of fried squid but here the lightly fried rings are served in a broth of potatoes, crushed chilies, capers and white wine.  Sweet Potato and Pineapple Puree was easy to make and was very popular with the kids at Thanksgiving.  The Morelian Cheesecake with Guava uses packaged cookies to make a crust that is then covered in purchased guava paste.  The base is then topped with a condensed milk and cream cheese filling mixture.  If you have never tasted guava before then this dessert would be an eye opening introduction.

 The Morelian Gaspacho is not the typical tomato base gazpacho with fresh vegetables that most people are familiar with.  Here fresh mangoes, pineapple and jicama are flavored with lime juice, orange juice, chili powder and topped with white cheddar cheese.  I am not sure that I would have called this dish gazpacho but no matter what you decide to call it, the words refreshing and delicious belong in the title.  A traditional dish with a modern twist is the Tacos with Shredded Duck and Orange.  In this dish shredded duck meat is cooked in a sauce of garlic, chilies and tomatoes that is finished with white wine vinegar and fresh orange juice.  I was a little skeptical of the mixture of ingredients but the sweetness of the fresh juice offered a nice contract to the bite from the garlic and chilies.

 This book helps to demolish the common belief that all Mexican food is rolled in a tortilla and topped with chili sauce.  The dishes were bright and original while being composed of easy to find ingredients.  Mexican Modern will serve to expand a home cook’s international food experience without being too unusual or difficult.  The main reason that I would rate this book as three spatulas is the method that was used to arrange the recipes within the chapters.  But if you don’t mind an occasional treasure hunt then this book would be a welcome addition to your bookshelf.

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