From My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients

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Diana Kennedy has been called the “ultimate authority, the high priestess” of Mexican cooking, and with good reason. For more than forty years she has traveled through her beloved adoptive country, researching and recording its truly extraordinary cuisine. Now Diana turns her attention to the book she readily admits “should have been written years ago.”

Diana’s objective in From My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients is simple: to provide a guide to better understanding ...

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Diana Kennedy has been called the “ultimate authority, the high priestess” of Mexican cooking, and with good reason. For more than forty years she has traveled through her beloved adoptive country, researching and recording its truly extraordinary cuisine. Now Diana turns her attention to the book she readily admits “should have been written years ago.”

Diana’s objective in From My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients is simple: to provide a guide to better understanding the ingredients Mexico has to offer and how best to prepare them. Her execution is little short of brilliant.

The book is invaluable to the novice eager for an introduction to Mexican cooking, but it is equally important for the aficionados interested in refining and expanding their knowledge and skills.

From My Mexican Kitchen takes readers and cooks on a tour of the primary ingredients of the cuisine, from achiote and avocado leaves to hoja santa, huauzontle, and the sour tunas called xoconostles—which are increasingly available in the United States. Diana unravels the dizzying array of fresh and dried chiles, explaining their uses and preparation; vibrant color photographs at last take the guesswork out of identifying them!

Step-by-step photographs and Diana’s trademark instructions (peppered with her over-the-shoulder asides) lead us through the proper techniques for making moles, tamales, tortillas, and much more. Some highlights: chiles rellenos, frijoles de olla, salsa de jitomate, fresh corn tamales from Michoacán, and bolillos (Mexican bread rolls). These recipes provide a solid grounding for the new Mexican cook, and Diana then sends readers to her earlier work for more advanced regional recipes.

Brilliantly photographed, with a text at once lively and authoritative, Diana Kennedy’s From My Mexican Kitchen is the one book anyone interested in this food cannot afford to be without.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kennedy has often been termed the Julia Child of Mexican cuisine, and the comparison is almost inescapable in this competent, humorous and balanced guide to the techniques needed to create foods indigenous to Mexico. Kennedy, acclaimed author of three other standard-setting Mexican cookbooks, has been studying the country's food since 1957 and now lives there for much of the year. In the first part, the book focuses on ingredients, while the second part focuses on techniques, and both have recipes interspersed throughout. One of the fine qualities that Child and Kennedy share is a judicious outlook on fat: Kennedy instructs readers to "forget about cholesterol when you are next having breakfast in a Mexican market" and indulge in natas, a form of clotted cream. A comprehensive chapter on the many types of chiles could almost stand alone as a primer on the topic, and another on beans offers recipes for several types of refried beans, including Yucatecan Sieved Beans. In the introduction to a chapter on mole in the techniques section, Kennedy corrects the misperception that it's a kind of "chocolate sauce," and then she goes on to provide instructions for Mole Poblano and Mole Verde. The more complicated recipes are accompanied by useful step-by-step photographs, but it's Kennedy's no-nonsense tone that makes her both a trusted guide and a delight to read. This volume is encyclopedic in the sense that it is fantastically complete, but it is also utterly reader-friendly because it is so highly personal and helpfully detailed. (Sept.) Forecast: Kennedy is the doyenne of Mexican cooking, and deservedly so. This should become an instant classic. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Kennedy, the preeminent authority on Mexican cooking (The Essential Cuisines of Mexico), says, "this book should have been written years ago," but she was too excited then about all the recipes that she was discovering throughout the country to put together a book on ingredients and techniques. And, of course, until relatively recently, many of the ingredients essential to authentic Mexican cooking were difficult or impossible to find beyond their native regions. Here, then, is the "distillation" of Kennedy's vast knowledge about ingredients from chiles and Mexican cheeses to herbs, vegetables, and fruits, followed by step-by-step minitutorials on making tamales and tortillas, moles and table sauces, antojitos (the savory tidbits that she translates as "little whims"), and more. Dozens of color photographs provide a visual guide to the ingredients, and many more illuminate the techniques. Preparation notes and classic recipes such as guacamole accompany the ingredients, and the technique sections include recipes for traditional favorites and other regional specialties. Essential. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609607008
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony
  • Publication date: 9/9/2003
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 524,406
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 10.35 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

DIANA SOUTHWOOD KENNEDY went to Mexico in 1957 to marry Paul P. Kennedy, the foreign correspondent for the New York Times. In 1969, at the suggestion of Craig Claiborne, she began teaching Mexican cooking classes and in 1972 published her first cookbook. She has been decorated with the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor bestowed on foreigners by the Mexican government. She lives much of the year in her ecological adobe house in Michoacán, Mexico, which also serves as a research center for Mexican cuisine.

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Read an Excerpt


Guacamole is one of those popular Mexican foods that is easy to make and very nutritious. There are many versions in Mexico itself, like a delicious one with tomatillos and avocado leaf, as well as many distortions that find their way back to Mexico (like the version in My Mexico from Zacatecas with of all things sour cream!). Guacamole is often served alone or as part of a botana with totopos, to accompany tacos, or as part of that extravaganza of a dish, Carne Asada a la Tampiqueña (The Art, page 287).

There is a lot of advice about how to keep guacamole from turning brown if it is not eaten when freshly made: by adding lime juice (which is not always appropriate), leaving the pits immersed in the mashed flesh, keeping it in an airtight container, and the latest foolproof one of pressing plastic wrap over the surface. (I shudder to think of the action of the fat off the avocados on the plastic!) My advice is don't make it in advance. Have everything already chopped, crush the base ahead of time, and mash the avocados at the last minute in front of guests. Why not? But be sure you have a nice-size molcajete (see page 298) to do your show in style. Of course, the perfect guacamole has to be made in a molcajete so the flavors are intensified by the crushing of the ingredients—cutting them just isn't the same. But if you don't have one, you can blend the base of onion, chile, cilantro, and salt and then mash in the avocados to a rough texture; don't blend to a smooth consistency—texture means flavor!

The recipe that follows is one that I first came across when I went to Mexico in 1957, and it seems to me to be a classic. One of the simpler northern versions with little wild chiles, onion, and lime juice is delicious, as well as the guacamole with the surprising combination of fruit, chiles, and avocado from Guanajuato (My Mexico, page 106). See the advice about buying avocados in advance on page 95, and no sweet onions, please!

Makes about 2 1/2 cups (625ml)

2 heaped tablespoons finely chopped white onion
4 serrano chiles, finely chopped (yes, seeds and all), or to taste
3 heaped tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
Sea salt to taste
3 avocados (about 1 pound/450g)
About 1/2 cup (125ml) finely chopped, unskinned tomatoes

The toppings:
1/4 cup (63ml) finely chopped tomatoes
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped white onion
2 heaped tablespoons finely (but not too finely, just prettily) chopped cilantro

Put the onion, chiles, cilantro, and salt into a molcajete (see note above) and crush to a paste. Cut the avocados in half and, without peeling, remove the pit and squeeze out the flesh. Mash the avocado roughly into the base and mix well. Stir in the tomatoes and sprinkle the surface of the guacamole with the toppings. Serve immediately.

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First Chapter

Queso Fresco

It is always difficult to generalize, but in my experience the most ubiquitous cheese in Mexican food is queso fresco, a fresh cheese as its name indicates. Of course, there are other local names: queso de metate, queso molido, queso ranchero. While there are many inferior commercial brands, and the odd good one, the best are made in small quantities. On small farms, the extra milk left over from breakfast or supper is clabbered, cut, and drained overnight. The dryish curds are then ground on the metate and pressed into small circular molds. The cheeses are then removed and left to drain once more. They are used fresh as a botana, crumbled to top many types of antojitos, or sliced for stuffing chiles or quesadillas.

Queso fresco has a pleasant acidity and creaminess-if made with whole milk-and it melts well. Occasionally you can see the cheese oreado, or air-dried, which gives it a more concentrated taste and deeper color.

There are some passable and downright bad copies of queso fresco in the United States. The quality suffers because they are made of skimmed or semi-skimmed highly pasteurized milk with lots of rennet, which makes for a very tough curd. They have very little acidity and do not melt well. Of course, there are a very few well-made queso frescos, like those of The Mozzarella Company (see Sources), for instance, and I am sure there are others hidden somewhere. You will have to use what is available. But here is a recipe for true aficionados:

To make queso fresco
Makes just over 1 pound (500g)

4 quarts (4L) raw milk
Liquid rennet (follow instructions on the bottle)
2 rounded teaspoons finely ground seasalt, to taste

Heat the milk to 110_F (50_C) in a pan at least 4 inches (10cm) deep. Stir the rennet in thoroughly, cover the pan, and set aside in a warm place to set for at least 1 hour. The curds should be slightly firm to the touch, and should not adhere to your finger.

Cut the curds into squares of about 1 inch (2.5cm), making sure you cut to the bottom. Leave for about 2 hours for the curds to separate as much as possible from the whey. Transfer the curds with a slotted spoon to a cheesecloth bag and hang up with a bowl underneath to catch the drips. Leave hanging until the curds are well drained and fairly firm-12 to 24 hours, depending on the humidity in your kitchen.

Tip the curds out into the bowl of a food processor, add the salt, and process until you have a fine, crumbly mixture. Scrape into a mold about 2 inches (5cm) deep and press down firmly. Leave to drain for about 3 hours, preferably in a basket or bamboo (not on a metal) rack. Turn over once.

As soon as the cheese feels a little firm, carefully press it out of the mold and let it sit in an airy place to dry a little and season. It should acquire a pleasant acidity.

For requeson (ricotta), don't discard the whey, unless, of course, you have a pig in the back yard. Make requeson. Put the pan over low heat and let it simmer until a layer of curds forms on the surface of the liquid. Cook until the texture of the curds is a little firm. Drain in a cheesecloth bag until the curds are moist but not juicy, about 12 hours.

Queso Panela

Queso panela is the simplest cheese to make, but much depends on the quality of the milk, which of course should be whole and unpasteurized. One summer years ago, when traveling up the Pacific coast of Mexico, and when little settlements like San Patricio were virtually undiscovered, I saw in simple family kitchens the ever-present basket of dripping curds hanging up. The excess milk from the evening's milking-practically each family had a cow sheltered in the back yard-was clabbered for the next day's panela cheese.

For aficionados, follow the steps for clabbering the milk for queso fresco (see page 25), but instead of cutting the curds up, transfer large portions of them with a slotted spoon into a round shallow basket. The curds should be lavishly salted and left to drip overnight. The shape and textured surface will be formed by the basket.

This cheese is best eaten as fresh as possible. It is often served as a botana, or sliced on top of a cold dish or salad. There are available many unremarkable so- called panelas of many brands on both sides of the border. You can also substitute a slightly acidy mozzarella-type cheese.

Copyright© 2003 by Diana Kennedy Photographs by Michael Calderwood
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 22, 2012

    Wonderful book

    Being a mexican cook, I find the description of ingredients and techniques very accurate and varied.
    Diana Kennedy is certainly a connosseur of mexican cuisine!!

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  • Posted January 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This is NOT a cookbook!

    This is a "foodie" masterpiece with a complete chilli and spice directory and wonderful full color photos of "common" Mexican kitchen tools-some of which the author freely admits she has not seen 'north of the border'. Actually, many of these 'common' tools are antiques- you could not buy a new one in Mexico if you tried.<BR/><BR/> I was expecting more recipies. I like to cook.<BR/><BR/> This book has an entire chapter titled "How to make Tamales". Great! Uhm, no wait, what's this? She expects YOU to GRIND dried corn kernels at home- that's how you get the 'best' mesa....[And of course, in her illustrative photos, she doesn't use a food processor-she uses an ancient hand grinder!]<BR/><BR/> Many of the spices that she details are available only in Mexico, and only in certain regions of Mexico at that.So how does this knowledge help me cook a delicios meal tonight? It doesn't.<BR/><BR/> If you are some blowhard 'foodie' who has all granite countertops and Viking appliances in your 1200 sq foot kitchen where you cook something with your very own hands[!] apprx. two times a month-then yeah, this book will look impressive on your fancy built in above the kitchen 'desk' shelves....And you can make ridiculous observations about the 'haunting qualities of poblano chillis vs. ancho' when you are eating out at some upscale mexican restaurant with your friends. But trust me-no one is impressed that you can name 23 different small red chillis by sight alone.<BR/>And I didn't buy this book so that I could gain such knowledge either. I bought it so that I could make something yummy to eat.With ingredients and tools that I can actually BUY here in my very racially diverse and Mexican influenced Northern CA. It looks like I'll have to have my mother in law in Jalisco Fed Ex me a box of goodies if I want to try a recipie out of this book.But Jalisco is definately NOT one of this authors favored regions, so I doubt mi Mama Esther could find any of these ridiculous things for me either.<BR/><BR/>Not a cookbook, not a cookbook, not a cookbook! More of a coffee table 'old timey kitchen tools in primative Mexico during the days of Pancho Villa deal... Interesting, but nearly useless.<BR/><BR/> Ooh, ooh, I have an idea! Buy this for any snobby relative you have whom you don't particullary like but you have to buy something 'nice' for. If they are a foodie, they can't complain-it's perfect.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2004


    This book is a great help. This is easy to follow and this food tastes great. This book takes me to the next level in cooking and understanding these ingredients. Buy her book even if she doesn't enjoy appearing on tv shows promoting herself. Would you get upset if Jacques Pepin said he didn't care for white castle? This is the real deal.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2004

    Kennedy Fan ~

    Having lived in Mexico, I learned to cook from housekeepers,as did Senora Kennedy when she first moved to Mexico. Diana's books are very accurate and informative. I visited Senora Kennedy while she was in Sacramento ~ she is lovely, spirited and interested in people. Diana cooked at Paraguay's Centro Cocina and showed her audience how to prepare tapas. I have admired Sra. Kennedy for years and have all her books...when in doubt, I check her book for valuable information about recipe.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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