Cookbook review: Discover the unique flavors of Mexico’s multi-layered foodscape

"Treasures of the Mexican Table: Classic Recipes, Local Secrets" by Pati Jinich (Mariner Books, $35)

Credit: Handout

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"Treasures of the Mexican Table: Classic Recipes, Local Secrets" by Pati Jinich (Mariner Books, $35)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘Treasures of the Mexican Table: Classic Recipes, Local Secrets’ by Pati Jinich (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)

Growing up in the multicultural culinary mecca of Mexico City, Pati Jinich got to experience the broad wealth of her native country’s diverse foodscape early on. As host of the longtime PBS series “Pati’s Mexican Table,” the Maryland-based chef, historian and mother of three has made it her life’s work to translate Mexico’s best dishes for American home cooks.

The research for her latest cookbook, “Treasures of the Mexican Table: Classic Recipes, Local Secrets” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35), takes her from the cattle ranches of Chihuahua to the tropics of the Yucatan peninsula in search of the heirloom dishes that have connected families and communities for generations.

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Some of the recipes are instantly recognizable: Beef Brisket in Colorado Chile Sauce, for instance, or Classic Creamy Flan. Others are scarcely known beyond the region or micro-region where they originated: Pinto Bean Soup with Masa Dumplings from the tiny Sinaloan mountain town of Jinetes de Machado, Drowned Carnitas Tortas from Guadalajara, and Double-Stacked Shrimp and Cheese Tacos “very much in the Sonoran tradition of super-dressed, super-sauced, and super-cheesy shellfish dishes.”

Oaxacan Oregano Roast Chicken, an uncomplicated departure from the state’s famously laborious moles, is made by roasting chicken pieces rubbed in a garlicky, pesto-like paste, and was my entree of choice for a small get-together. Rice with Lentils and Caramelized Onions, found in Middle Eastern communities throughout Mexico, along with a bright Avocado, Watercress, and Pecan Salad rounded out the dinner. My neighbor, who travels frequently to Mexico, recognized the flavors and gave the entire meal a thumbs up.

Evocative descriptions, lively storytelling and enticing photography tempt me to try others. None appear too intimidating or use ingredients that require a special search.

The goal of these recipes, Jinich explains, is to help the reader achieve buen sazón. That’s what Mexicans say “when somebody has a knack for getting the flavor of a dish just right, so that you want to come back for more.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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