Food for Cinco de Mayo and more

The Baltimore Sun

Simply Delicioso

By Ingrid Hoffmann

The Art of Mexican Cooking

By Diana Kennedy

Clarkson Potter / 2008 / $30

This bible of authentic Mexican cooking, originally published in 1989, is not for the casual cook. My husband, who knows and loves traditional Mexican food, was excited when he heard the book was back in print. Then he asked if we could "set aside some time" to test Diana Kennedy's mole. Like an entire weekend.

Not all of the 200 recipes take that much time, of course, but Kennedy, who has lived and cooked in Mexico for 50 years, is devoted to classical techniques and ingredients. She bemoans the decline of the true corn tortilla and the importation of lesser chiles. Some items in her recipes may require a visit to a Latin market or an Internet order.

But the trouble is more than worth it for those with an abiding interest in Mexico and its rich regional traditions. And some dishes can actually be accomplished on a weeknight. Kennedy's Picadillo Para Chiles Rellenos, a kind of piquant meat hash, can be made on its own in about an hour. You can use it to stuff into chiles or tamales, but we rolled it into large flour tortillas with Ingrid Hoffmann's beans and some rice to make burritos. Delicious.

Crema de Aguacate (Avocado Soup)

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup chopped white onion

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup tomato, charred, then chopped

1 or 2 serrano, yellow hot, New Mexico green or jalapeno chiles, well-charred and seeded

4 cloves garlic, roasted and peeled, or 1 clove, raw and minced

1/4 teaspoon toasted and ground anise seed

3 1/2 cups chicken broth

3 large ripe avocados (Hass is preferred)

1/3 cup light cream or half-and-half

1 tablespoon lime juice

salt and pepper to taste

garnish suggestions: chopped cilantro, thinly sliced radishes, tortilla chips, crumbled bacon, lime slices and sour cream

Saute the onion in the oil until soft, clear and just beginning to brown. Add the chopped tomato and fry for 2 minutes more. (If you are using raw garlic, add it with the tomato and cook, being careful not to let it burn.) Add the chile, roasted garlic (if using) and anise seed along with the chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Peel, pit and coarsely chop the avocados and add to the broth with the cream and lime juice. Puree in a blender, adjust for salt and pepper and serve warm with your choice of garnishes or chill to serve cold later.

Note: After chilling, reheat the soup gently to serve it warm. It will burn easily and may separate with extended cooking.

Adapted from "Mayan Cuisine"

Per serving (based on 6 servings, without garnishes): 242 calories, 6 grams protein, 20 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 12 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams fiber, 9 milligrams cholesterol, 467 milligrams sodium

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