Nopalito chef offers recipes for authentic, hand-made Mexican

Read this cookbook: “Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen” By Gonzalo Guzman with Stacy Adimando (Ten Speed Press, $30)

By Wendell Brock

Gonzalo Guzman is the chef and soul of San Francisco’s Nopalito restaurants. For people who may never dine at either of the Veracruz native’s hotspots, his first cookbook is a primer on from-scratch Mexican classics.

A good number of the seminal books on south-of-the-border cuisine have been authored by non-natives like Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy.

Happily, “Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen,” despite being put together by a West Coast chef and a Brooklyn co-author, feels as wholly authentic as the masa and salsas that are so lovingly annotated within.

This is not a collection of gone-in-a-minute, flash-in-the-pan recipes that will be outdated before the first corn of spring. It’s more a kitchen workhorse that I will turn to again and again, should I want to concoct chilaquiles or birria or tamales.

Many is the cook  (myself included) who reaches for a can of chipotles in adobo; Guzman makes his own, not to mention his own corn flour, queso fresco, chorizo and other staples.

I always thought the way to cook carnitas was to boil the butt, slice it into chunks and fry. That’s not Guzman’s method. He boils a five-pound shoulder in four pounds of lard, then adds a little milk, a little beer, a little brown sugar -- for a braise that renders the pork golden brown, crunchy, gently sweet.

Having just researched a story on tortillas and crafted my first salsa macha (stay tuned!), I’m intrigued by the authoritative chapters on the intricacies of the iconic, unleavened flatbread of Mexico and the multitude of chiles and salsas for adding complexity and flavor.

I’m also smitten by Guzman’s Oaxacan Horchata, which calls for drizzling the almond-and-rice elixir with fresh strawberry syrup. Ay caramba! That’s quite a pretty drink, perfect for spring and Cinco de Mayo.

Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock) .


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