Mix the passion chef Rick Bayless has for the cuisines of Mexico with his enthusiasm for serving it up at his many restaurants and on his TV series “Mexico: One Plate at a Time,” and it’s easy to see how that could never be contained in a handful of books.
It should come as no surprise then that he’s written a ninth cookbook, “More Mexican Everyday: Simple, Seasonal, Celebratory” (W.W. Norton & Co., $35, pages) in his engaging style, with recipes and meal-time ideas for the home cook, whether they cook every day for their families or for recreation.
“This is a book for people who love to cook,” Bayless told us. “Not for people who feel cooking is somehow a drudgery, but for people who enjoy the act of cooking as much as they enjoy eating.”
Bayless is quick to note, though, that “in this day and age, most of us have such rich lives that even if we’re the avocational cook for the weekend, you’re probably not going to spend 10 hours in the kitchen making one meal. My goal is to offer people recipes that are not dumbed down, that are smart recipes utilizing ingredients and cookware and techniques to be the most efficient,” he says, including some recipes that use a slow cooker or rice cooker.
“More Mexican” arrives 10 years after “Mexican Everyday: Easy, Full-Flavored, Tradition-Packed,” and, as with the earlier volume, it was written with his wife, Deann Groen Bayless. It picks up, Bayless says, where “Mexican Everyday” left off, so there’s an emphasis on ingredients that have become more accessible over the past 10 years.
“One of the great joys for me is to go to the store and the farmers market and buy things I think are really beautiful, and that’s sort of the focus of this book,” he says.
Which means, in the Bayless kitchen, those things might be transformed into a mustard greens soup with poblanos and almonds. Or sweet-sour pickled tomatillos may share a salad plate with Little Gem lettuce and pumpkin seeds. And poached eggs go bold when set atop a mix of ancho chili, kale, potato and fresh cheese. They are among the 30 vegetable dishes in the book.
He does not ignore meat and fish, of course, nor desserts – such as farmers market fruit with warm tequila-lime espuma (foam). But especially helpful are his “secret weapon” flavorings: two marinade-type adobos, a spicy-sweet chipotle mix and a roasted garlic mojo. They are used in several recipes and designed for improvising to suit your tastes and the ingredients you have on hand.
Improvisation is at the heart of this book. “I have really worked to help people understand why a recipe is the way that it is. And that hopefully, will release people from their ties to the recipe as something to slavishly follow,” he says. “I want people to understand how to cook so that you can read my recipe, get your idea, then go to the kitchen and make something that’s just exactly right for you.”
The chapter titled “How to Win a Top Chef Quickfire Challenge,” says Bayless, who won the first season of “Top Chef Masters,” “is really the essence of getting people away from recipes because it teaches you how to cook and how to think like a chef. And to tell you the truth, almost everybody who is cooking dinner on a weeknight is doing a Quickfire challenge. You don’t have very much time. You just have to get dinner on the table but you want it to be delicious.” Among keys to Quickfire success: understanding of flavor, texture and how to balance them.
Since opening Frontera Grill in the mid ’80s, Bayless has watched and adapted as our appetites for spice have evolved.
He credits millennials for the increased heat in their eats. “We used to put spicy dishes on (the menu) every once in a while. Now we have a whole bunch of spicy dishes on the menu because those are the things that sell the most,” he says. “Maybe their grandparents would come in with them, they would shy away from the spice. But the kids don’t shy away from the spice at all.”
And their understanding of authenticity is completely different than their parents and grandparents. “They think about authenticity as something that tastes like it’s right,” he says. “If it’s supposed to be spicy, it’s spicy. If it’s supposed to be acidic, it’s acidic. … It doesn’t matter if you’ve taken Korean spices and thrown them on a taco because if it’s done well, it’s authentic to them.”
And their grandparents? Something is authentic if the ingredients came from Mexico and it was cooked in a clay pot like the grandmothers do there. “For the millennial cook, the idea of authenticity if you love Mexican flavors and you’re going to make a quick pasta dish, is to use that green chili adobo in there and throw in some chicken from last night and maybe some herbs you’ve got in your refrigerator and you’re going to have an amazing meal.”
Roasted garlic mojo
Ready to improvise? In “More Mexican Everyday,” Rick Bayless suggests using the oil in this recipe to sauté shrimp or chicken, then finish the dish with some of the garlic. Or toss the oil and garlic with pasta, chili flakes, some arugula and grated Parmesan. Or skim off some oil for sautéeing potatoes or basting grilled vegetables.
Separate 4 heads of garlic into cloves. Lay unpeeled garlic cloves in a 12-inch skillet. Over medium heat, roast garlic, turning regularly, until soft and browned in spots, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
When cool enough to handle, peel, then place in a food processor. Pulse until garlic is roughly chopped.
With the machine running, pour 1 1/2 to 2 cups olive oil through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream. Stop the machine; add 1 / 4 cup fresh lime juice and 1 teaspoon salt. Pulse to incorporate.
Transfer mixture to a jar. Store, covered, in the refrigerator. It will last for several months.