Every lover of books longs to have a few “reading friends” who know their book tastes well enough to recommend great new reads, especially books outside of their normal genres. I have been fortunate to have a few such friends in my life. The book I’m going to share with you today is probably the book that I was the most skeptical about when it was given to me by a trusted reading friend. I am an avid fiction reader; I love stories of all kinds – historical fiction, comedy, romance, fantasy. I love ’em. Every once in a while, I enjoy a good non-fiction biography. Even less often, I’ll read a non-fiction self-help or Christian living book, not because I don’t like what they have to say but because I just don’t learn that way. But if someone I trust recommends it, I’ll usually give it a go.
But this time, my friend brought me a cookbook and said, “I think you’ll really enjoy reading this.” Huh? A cookbook? I’m going to enjoy reading a cookbook? Really? But she meant it. She didn’t give it to me for the recipes; she gave it to me to read.
The book was an old dog-eared copy of The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed reading it. The author is an American who married a Mexican diplomat and spent the beginning of her married life in Mexico. The book has a long introduction in which she describes how she would go to the market and ask the old ladies to teach her how to cook for her husband. She describes in detail the methods they taught her. This part of the book has completely and truly revolutionized the way I cook just about every meal! Whereas I used to dread chopping the onion and garlic that I use to start just about every meal, this book taught me to just peel them and throw them in the blender with the other seasonings and make a paste that is then the base of whatever I’m cooking. This makes the BEST taco meat ever!!! This is same method I use in my curries, including my ayam kapitan and my Jamaican curry with mango and coconut, as well as in my Moroccan tomato sauce. Like I said, completely revolutionized my cooking!
The author is a good story teller, and so the extended intro to this book really does make a fun read. My friend was right. I also particularly enjoyed the section where the author and her husband are moved by the Mexican government to Thailand and she has to learn all over again how to cook for her husband and the other Mexicans at the embassy. This part of the book helped me immensely in learning how to make delicious Mexican food with the chilis and spices I can get in Southeast Asia! It was truly a treasure trove for me.
I then proceeded to read through each and every recipe because they often included fun stories of where she learned or first tried them. There are also beautiful illustrations scattered here and there.
In this book, you learn how to make tortillas and tamales as well as soups and sauces, all sorts of meat, salads, desserts, and drinks. If you, like I did, think of Mexican food as simply tacos and burritos, this book will open your eyes to the amazing variety of real Mexican cuisine!
I want to share one of the recipes that we love from this book. It’s called pollo en salsa de nuez de castilla, or chicken in walnut sauce. I’ve adapted it to my lazier cooking style, and we call it Mexican walnut chicken. The pureed walnuts create a sauce the consistency of heavy cream that is a real treat for those of us who can’t tolerate dairy anymore, and you get all the brain-boosting nutrients from the walnuts as a bonus! We like it over rice as well as in tortillas, and we like to add lots of fresh cilantro or coriander. The kids like it because I’m able to control the spiciness; Daddynificent usually adds more in the form of tabasco. For grain-free, Paleo, and Trim Healthy Mama folk, this works as a thick and hearty stew with no grains. Feel free to serve veggies on the side or to add them to the sauce/stew as you like.
- ½ kilo or 1 pound of chicken (I prefer boneless but it works both ways)
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 red chili (add more if you like)
- ½ cup walnuts
- 3 sprigs fresh cilantro or coriander
- ⅛ tsp cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp ground cloves
- black pepper
- more fresh cilantro or coriander for garnish
- If you have time, chop the onions enough to caramelize them a bit in the coconut oil. Caramelize them and put them in the blender. (If you are rushed, skip this step, chop the onions big and throw them in the blender without caramelizing.)
- Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and begin to cook it in the coconut oil.
- While the chicken is cooking, de-seed the chili, and put it in the blender with the stock, the onion, the garlic - peeled and smashed, the walnuts, cilantro, cinnamon, and cloves. Blend it to a smooth puree and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add the puree to the chicken, which should be mostly cooked. Simmer until the sauce is hot and the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
- Serve over rice or tortillas or as a thick soup. The sauce can be thinned with more broth if you like a thinner sauce or soup. Garnish generously with cilantro.
If you’ve gotten tired of chicken dishes, including Mexican chicken dishes, give this one a try; it is a really unique blend of flavors that I think you’ll really enjoy! I also think you’ll love the cookbook. The dog-eared edition my friend gave me is out of print, but it has been re-issued a few times and you can purchase it through Amazon.