PBS cooking show personality Patricia Jinich.

PBS cooking show personality Patricia Jinich. (Photo/Courtesy Cade Martin)

Cookbooks we love: “Pati’s Mexican Table”

The popularity of Mexican food is an all-time high and there’s a book (or two) for nearly every type of variation on the cuisine imaginable, whether it’s regional fare, haute cuisine or chef-driven interpretations of classic meals. But more often than not, home cooks want a volume that will help them make everyday meals taste a little better – or in the case of “Pati’s Mexican Table,” a lot like the Mexican meals that immediately remind one of home and family.

“Pati’s Mexican Table” – the newest released by noted PBS television show host Pati Jinich – is a compilation of simple, home-style Mexican recipes. You won’t find greasy nachos or overstuffed quesadillas here; instead, Jinich focuses on the use of simple staples like soft corn tortillas, eggs, basic cuts of meat and lush produce, transforming them with fragrant spices, magical salsas and traditional Mexican cooking techniques to yield deeply flavorful, south-of-the-border-inspired meals that are right at home in any American kitchen. In short, this is home cooking for the people who really do cook at home.

book cover“For me, it’s the everyday food I feed my family; the dishes I hanker for, the ones that make me feel at home and that ironically, I mostly learned how to make while living away from the country where I grew up eating them,” writes Jinich in her book. “Our food is abundant, accommodating, and much more simple than you might think.”

Her recipes range from straightforward, uncomplicated riffs on classic Mexican dishes (like melt-in-your-mouth carne enchilada or arroz verde, studded with poblano chiles and fragrant cilantro), to the absolutely traditional (tiny albondigas simmered in tomato sauce flavored with mint and chipotle; yellow mole with tender masa dumplings) and even flavorful variations on American favorites, including burgers spiked with chiles and lime aioli and pork ribs basted with spicy-sweet honey chipotle sauce.

And the volume, divided into chapters on flavorful condiments, crunchy and beautiful salads, warming soups, different proteins, sides, desserts and drinks doesn’t stop there; if you’re absolutely clueless about how to char a tomato on the comal for salsa roja or have questions about which ethnic ingredients to stock in your pantry, there’s plenty of straightforward advice from Jinich on how to get started. And there’s no better place to begin your foray into Mexican home cooking than with Jinich’s recipe for arroz rojo, which takes all of the mystery out of creating this classic rice dish with tender carrots, spicy jalapeño slices and sweet corn. It’s a dish often in demand by Jinich’s three boys and will soon be a favorite in your home too.

Jinich's recipe for flavorful arroz rojo.

Jinich’s recipe for flavorful arroz rojo.

Red Rice (Arroz Rojo)

From “Pati’s Mexican Table” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Serves 6 to 8

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes, plus resting time

Can be made up to 2 days ahead, covered, and refrigerated

Ingredients

2 cups long or extra-long grain white rice or jasmine rice

1 pound ripe tomatoes, quartered, or one 14½-ounce can of tomatoes

1/3 cup coarsely chopped white onion

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste

About 3 cups broth; either canned chicken or vegetable broth is fine

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 fresh Italian parsley sprigs

¾ cup peeled and diced carrots (optional)

½ cup fresh or frozen green peas (optional)

½ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (optional)

1–2 jalapeño or serrano chiles, left whole (optional)

2 tablespoons water, if needed

1. Soak the rice in a bowl of enough hot water to cover for about 5 minutes. Drain in a sieve and rinse under cold running water until the water runs clear; drain well.

2. In a blender or food processor, puree the tomatoes with the onion, garlic, and salt until smooth. Pass the puree through a strainer into a large liquid measuring cup; note the amount and reserve. Pour enough chicken broth into another liquid measuring cup to make 4 cups liquid total—you want to keep the two liquids separate, since you will add the puree first.

3. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the rice and cook, stirring often, until the rice becomes milky white, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour in the tomato puree, mix gently, and cook until the puree darkens, thickens, and has mostly been absorbed by the rice, about 3 minutes.

4. Stir in the chicken broth and add the parsley, carrots, peas, corn, and chiles, if using. Bring to a rolling boil, cover, and reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed but there is still some moisture in the pan. The rice should be cooked and tender; if it is not but all the liquid has been absorbed, add the 2 tablespoons water, cover again, and cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from the heat and let the rice rest, covered, for at least 5 minutes.

5. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.

MEXICAN COOK’S TRICK: Mexican cooks often soak rice in hot water to get rid of excess starch, any dirt, and the talc that is sometimes used as a milling aid, as well as to soften and relax the rice. Removing the excess starch helps keep the grains separate, so the cooked rice is fluffier and less sticky.

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