Admitting Bay Area Mexican food even exists — or is even decent — can be a bitter pill for Angelenos to swallow, but Sara Deseran makes an awesome case for San Francisco with her new cookbook, Tacolicious: Festive Recipes for Tacos, Snacks, Cocktails, and Morereleased Sept. 2 by Ten Speed Press.

Co-owner of the San Francisco restaurants Tacolicious and Chino with her husband, Joe Hargrave, it’s hard to resist Deseran’s way with healthful Mexican fare. While many of the recipes included sound traditional (tomatillo-avocado salsa and Telmo’s taco de lengua), Deseran brings an updated, personal twist to many of the dishes, making them her own.

Some of the best recipes, like roasted-tomato mint salsa, are quite simple and easily prepared at home. Deseran’s addition of rice vinegar and mint tarts up a simple condiment with otherwise familiar ingredients, like cilantro and jalapeno. The book also provides guidance for further pairings of the condiment, like the three-chile bistec adobado and achiote-rubbed grilled chicken.


a summer's night shrimp cocktail from Tacolicious; Credit: Alex Farnum

a summer's night shrimp cocktail from Tacolicious; Credit: Alex Farnum

The photographs in the cookbook, by Alex Farnum, are bright and colorful, highlighting the book’s emphasis on fruits and vegetables. Limes, pineapple, watermelon, pickled red onion, mango and grapefruit all find homes in one of the many produce-laden recipes.

The cookbook and Tacolicious restaurants are fearless in blending classic Mexican dishes with dishes featuring a more California twist.

As Deseran writes, “Tacolicious is a place where a chopped kale salad with quinoa shares menu space with a very traditional rendition of a carnitas taco. We have margaritas, of course, but we also have a drink called El Sangre, made with mescal and blood orange and a hint of cinnamon.”

The book delves into the details of preparing flavorful food, with tips for toasting whole spices, heightening the flavors, soaking dried chiles and specific instructions on cooking vegetables — getting a good char can make or break a dish. As Deseran puts it, “Part of the rationale is to cook the vegetables, but this step also imparts a smoky flavor.”

A great mixture of sides, main dishes and drinks, Tacolicious can be used to create a full evening’s menu — it would be great dinner party chow — or the recipes can be used individually to spice up a lackluster sandwich. The lime-cured cucumber, habanero and onion “concoction” is good enough to eat on its own or on top of simple tacos. Drink recipes, like mango agua fresca, blend mangos, sugar, lemon, ice and water for an easy, special treat.

While Los Angeles may still lay claim to the throne as far as American tacos go, Tacolicious keeps it simple and flavorful, translating favorites and adding to the ever-growing canon of diverse Mexican cuisine.

roasted tomato-mint salsa from Tacolicious; Credit: Alex Farnum

roasted tomato-mint salsa from Tacolicious; Credit: Alex Farnum

Roasted tomato–mint salsa
From: Tacolicious, by Sara Deseran
Makes: about 21/2 cups

6 small Roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 small jalapeño chile,
Stemmed 1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup packed chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons packed chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon kosher salt

1. Position a rack on the top level of the oven, about 4 inches from the broiler.

2. Turn on the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the tomato halves, cut side down; the onion slices; and the chile on the prepared baking sheet and broil for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and a bit charred. Let cool to room temperature.

3. In a food processor, combine the roasted vegetables and any juices from the pan with the vinegar, cilantro, mint, and salt and pulse until the mixture is almost, but not quite, smooth. If necessary, add up to 1/4 cup water to achieve a consistency similar to that of a thick soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

4. Serve now or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Reprinted with permission from Tacolicious, by Sara Deseran and Joe Hargrave, copyright © 2014, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC. Photographs copyright © 2014 by Alex Farnum.

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