While Cinco de Mayo may be one of the most misunderstood holidays in the U.S.—it’s often confused with Mexico’s Independence Day—it’s the perfect occasion to delve into the traditional cuisine of our closest neighbor south of the border. Sure, you could stick with the most obvious choices: guacamole, tacos, ceviche, and margaritas. But Mexican food is much more varied and nuanced than you may realize, and each region of the country has its own specialties that are well worth exploring.
Instead of serving the same old salsa, why not whip up a mole sauce that will make your guests go weak in the knees, stir up a cocktail that highlights the earthiness of mezcal, or mix up some masa to make tamales from scratch? Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, paleo, keto, or a true omnivore, there are thousands of recipes to make this holiday más delicioso.
To help you narrow it down, we’ve put together a list of the best Mexican cookbooks for Cinco de Mayo (or, really, any occasion).
Don’t let the name fool you. Although Diana Kennedy was born and raised in the UK, she is widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts on Mexican cuisine. She’s also the recipient of numerous awards, including the James Beard Award for Cookbook Hall of Fame. So if you’re looking to learn from one of the greats, this particular collection of recipes, which also covers history, cultural traditions, social customs, and techniques by region, is your best bet. In fact, “The Essential Cuisines of Mexico” is actually three of her bestselling cookbooks (“The Cuisines of Mexico,” “Mexican Regional Cooking,” and “The Tortilla Book”) combined, with some newly-added recipes. Buy Now
Speaking of James Beard Awards, Nopalito was the winner for Best International Cookbook in 2018. Gonzalo Guzmán, who grew up in the small village of Catemaco in Veracruz, Mexico, is the co-owner and chef of celebrated restaurant Nopalito, which has two locations in San Francisco. As you may expect, many of the dishes included here come straight off the menu, including Ceviche Verde de Pescado y Calamari, Quesadillas de Espárragos con Salsa de Cilantro, Pozole Rojo, and Carnitas. Recipes for snack foods, salsas, drinks, and desserts are also included.Buy Now
“Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas” by Fany Gerson, $13.99 on Amazon
Born and raised in Mexico, Fany Gerson is a CIA-trained pastry chef and creator of La Newyorkina.While she focuses more on pastries in “My Sweet Mexico,” this collection of recipes is an homage to the paleterías of her childhood. Think cool, refreshing, fruity, and thirst-quenching. With just a few ingredients and the right instructions (courtesy of Gerson, of course), you could be turning out simple yet satisfying treats such as Quick Coconut Ice Pops, Strawberry-Horchata Shaved Ice, and Cucumber-Lime Cooler to beat the heat all summer long.Buy Now
“Decolonize Your Diet: Plant-Based Mexican-American Recipes for Health and Healing” by Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel, $18.32 on Amazon
For college professors and life partners Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel, what began as a personal exploration of vegetarianism focused on indigenous Mexican cuisine turned into a movement to reclaim Mesoamerican traditions. But you don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to appreciate a plant-based diet, and these recipes are anything but boring. Cauliflower Ceviche, Chipotle Pumpkin Soup Alchemy, Sweet Potato Tacos with Red Cabbage Slaw, and Red Enchiladas Stuffed With Potatoes, Greens, and Pumpkin Seeds are just a few of the offerings. You’ll also find numerous options for making tortillas, salsas, tacos, and beans. Plus, there’s a whole section just on breakfast foods.Buy Now
Winner of several awards, including Best Cookbook of the Year and Best International Cookbook by the James Beard Foundation in 2015, this cookbook is a celebration of cuisine from Yucatán, Mexico’s Southeastern region, where chef and author David Sterling runs Los Dos, a cooking school based in Mérida. Whether you’re looking to impress your guests with an elaborate five-course feast or simply throw something together for a one-pot meal, there’s something for everyone here. Along with the colorful photos, you’ll also appreciate learning a bit about this area’s history and culture.Buy Now
“Mezcal: The History, Craft & Cocktails of the World’s Ultimate Artisanal Spirit” by Emma Janzen, $17 on Amazon
Rooted in indigenous Nahuatl culture, mezcal is made from the agave plant—like tequila—but has a very different flavor profile. It’s less sweet, more smoky, and often made in small batches by hand. Emma Janzen’s book, which was nominated for a James Beard award in 2018, explores every aspect of this (until recently) underappreciated Mexican liquor, from its history to how it’s produced. She not only breaks it down by region, terroir, variety, and maker, but also provides recipes for her favorite mezcal cocktails. Buy Now
“The Mexican Slow Cooker: Recipes for Mole, Enchiladas, Carnitas, Chile Verde Pork, and More Favorites” by Deborah Schneider, $15.99 on Amazon
Mexican cuisine—like many others—often requires a ton of prep work and many different steps. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find “set it and forget it” recipes, like this comprehensive collection of classics from Deborah Schneider. The contents are separated into five main sections: soups; mains and guisados (aka stews); street food favorites; basics; rice, beans, and other sides; and desserts. From menudo to enchiladas to flan with caramel, you’ll be surprised and delighted by how many dishes from south of the border you can make in your slow cooker.Buy Now
“My Mexico City Kitchen: Recipes and Convictions” by Gabriela Cámara with Malena Watrous, $22.48 on Amazon
Hot off the presses, this new cookbook by restaurateur and chef Gabriela Cámara boasts lush photographs and enticing recipes based on reliable techniques and fresh ingredients. She provides detailed instructions on how to make your own tortillas and stories about her own family favorites, plus some of the most popular dishes (see her recipe for Pescado a la Talla) to be found at her Mexico City seafood restaurant, Contramar, and Cala in San Francisco. While Cámara covers everything from basics to breakfast to dessert, seafood-loving home cooks will especially appreciate what she has to offer.Buy Now
Whether you’re planning a small gathering or a huge shindig, Marcela Valladolid has got you covered with this cookbook full of advice on entertaining and recipes for cocktails and finger foods. She knows how to put a modern twist on classic dishes to keep things interesting. With options like Picadillo Lettuce Cups, Chickpea Ceviche Tostadas, White Peach Sangria, Orange-Cinnamon Sours, Coconut-Lime Cheesecake Bites, and Dulce de Leche Cream Puffs, your guests will definitely be impressed.Buy Now
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