Mexico City-born (now New York City based) chef Roberto Santibañez's latest cookbook. Truly Mexican: Essential Recipes and Techniques for Authentic Mexican Cooking with JJ Goode is truly exactly what the subtitle describes -- something that is not as common in the cookbook world as it should be.
Though intended as an introduction to Mexican cuisine, the recipes appeal to a broad skill level. This is neither an intro book that is dumbed down to Food Network levels, nor is it so complicated that a true novice on the mole scene would have trouble. Truly Mexican is the sort of book that you can set on your kitchen counter and pretend you are in a culinary classroom at this very moment, the chef giving you pointers on how to make the most of those cherry tomatoes now appearing at farmers markets (roast them, pound some garlic and jalapeños to a paste in a mortar, add a squeeze of lime juice and some salt).
But it is the stunning photos by Romulo Yanes that keep us flipping the pages.
The book is divided into seven chapters by the type of dish. Things like those mole sauces, adobo sauces, and salsas (you know it's going to be good if it's subtitled "Igniting the Fire of Flavor"). Along the way, there is a handy two-page chart detailing various dried chile peppers (the difference between chipotle mora and chipotle meco, for instance) and a multi-page spread of lore and recipes devoted solely to guacamole that includes recipes for classic, pineapple-cucumber-avocado, and apple-tequila-avocado versions. As Santibañez explains: "Guacamole is the culmination of the Mexican love affair with the avocado...."
The recipes are relatively simple in terms of execution, but hardly your average taco stand flavor pairings. Many emphasize traditional ingredients: A chipotle black bean recipe uses fresh or dried avocado leaves to "add a real depth of flavor," a pipián verde (green pumpkin seed sauce) made with pumpkin seeds, serrano peppers, cilantro and chicken stock is, we are told, a quick but flavorful sauce for shrimp or chicken that Santibañez serves "if my mother or any other sophisticated eater tells me that he or she is dropping by for dinner with a few friends."
There are fun surprises, too, like a blackberry mole (for duck or chicken), spicy peach salsa with epazote and habanero chiles, and Santibañez's take on classics like chicken enchiladas (a you-choose-the-sauce enchilada with toasted sesame seeds for garnish). But tonight, we will be starting with that mom-approved pipián verde sauce.
Pipián Verde (Green Pumpkin Seed Sauce)
From: Truly Mexican
Makes: 4 cups sauce (enough for 4 or 5 servings)
Note: Per Santibañez, "This pipián tastes best the day it's made. Serve it with corn tortillas, rice, beans, or any other side you like. Or turn it into enchiladas. If you're serving it with seafood, don't forget to squeeze on some lime juice."
5 ounces hulled raw (green) pumpkin seeds (1 cup)
1/3 cup chopped white onion
3 fresh serrano or jalapeño chiles, coarsely chopped, including seeds
1 small garlic clove, peeled
½ teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon fine salt, or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 to 5 cups chicken stock, divided
2 tablespoons mild olive oil or vegetable oil
½ cup chopped cilantro
1¼ pounds raw shrimp or fish fillets
1. Heat a skillet over medium heat and toast the pumpkin seeds, stirring and tossing constantly, until they're puffed and just slightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes.
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Put the pumpkin seeds in the blender jar along with the onion, chiles, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, and 2 cups of the stock, and blend until the mixture is smooth, at least 3 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot (this will give you enough room to add the fish later; if you're making just the sauce, a 3- to 4-quart pot is fine) over medium heat until it simmers, and carefully pour in the blended mixture. Cook (use a splatter screen so the sauce doesn't make a mess of the stove), stirring, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add just enough stock to thin the sauce to a velvety consistency that thickly coats a wooden spoon, but isn't gloppy. Simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, adding more stock, as necessary, to maintain the velvety consistency.
3. Return some of the sauce, about 1 cup (or all if the sauce has broken and looks like scrambled eggs), to the blender, then add the cilantro and blend until smooth. Be careful when you're blending hot ingredients: Cover the top with a kitchen towel, and hold the top firmly in place with your hand. Work in batches to avoid blending with a full jar. Return the sauce to the pot and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes more. As the sauce is simmering, swish a little liquid around in the blender and add it to the pot. Season to taste with additional salt.
4. Season the shrimp or fish with salt, gently cook it in the sauce until just cooked through, about 10 minutes, and serve with lime wedges.