I first began my love affair with Roberto Santibañez’ cookbooks five years ago (click here for my 2010 cookbook review) when I was looking for Mexican food that I remembered from Los Angeles, and was unable to find it here in Brooklyn. Roberto’s previous cookbook, Truly Mexican, concentrates on sauces, the key to Mexican cooking, whereas Taco’s Torta’s and Tamales covers the everyday delicious foods of Mexico. From those signature dishes you would find in the puestos of the street vendors, tacos suados, quesadillas, and atole’s, to those you would find in your Abuela’s kitchen such as Tamales from Chiapas, Roberto patiently walks the reader through the recipes, and the stories behind them.

As an allergic family, if there is only one cuisine that we can all agree on, and eat with few substitutions, it is Mexican cuisine. We all agree that the array of foods available to use, from the cactus, to potatoes, to the mushrooms, are always flavorful and all the ingredients are available at the bodegas in our neighborhood. Additionally my vegan friends find Roberto’s recipes to be full of flavor and very satiating. Which is why for a recent dinner party I chose to make the Tamales from Chiapas as well as Spinach & Mushroom Enchiladas (from Truly Mexican).

I had been looking for a good tamale recipe for the past twelve years, but had not come upon it until now. Of this recipe Roberto says in his book,

Lucero Macal, whose family is from the state of Chiapas…prepares these unusual wonderful tamales for friends as gifts and was kind enough to share her recipe with me…with a Middle Eastern influence on Mexican cuisine on full display

And it did not disappoint. The tamales are steamed in banana leaves which are toasted over the open flame of my gas stove. Each Tamale is wrapped with the most flavorful Masa, and filled with a wonderful blend of chicken made ahead with the most interesting spices and chiles. The tamales are then steamed for an hour in a steamer on the stove. The presentation was beautiful and, as Roberto says, upon opening each banana leaf (note: although we manage banana allergies, the leaf is fine as it is not ingested) it as if there’s a little present inside. In this case, this recipe resulted in a large gem – the fabulous tamale recipe itself. That evening everyone was in the clean plate club. Even our child!

The Tomatillo-Chipotle Salsa is delicious as well as quick and easy to prepare. I had the opportunity to speak with Roberto last weekend at his Brooklyn restaurant FONDA (www.fondarestaurant.com) in Park Slope, and he highly recommends that I try the recipe for Strawberry Tamales next. The pages are loaded with beautiful color photographs by Todd Coleman of Saveur magazine they range from pictures of Tortilleria’s in Mexico to his wonderful signature staged photography of the Hibiscus Margarita. Roberto’s narrative is full of stories from his youth in Mexico City, as well as his search for the flavors of Mexico while in culinary school in Paris. This is a fantastic book for everyone, those who have had experience cooking Mexican, as well as those who have never cooked it before. I’m hoping to be able to post one of his recipes from the book for you dear readers, stay tuned!

TACOS, TORTAS, AND TAMALES: Flavors from the Griddles, Post, and Streetside Kitchens of Mexico

©2012 Roberto Santibañez with JJ Goode

Published by John Wiley & Sons

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