Accent is on the accessible with Jinich's 'Mexican Table'

04/09/2013 11:44 PM

04/10/2013 12:39 AM

With the publication of “Pati’s Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking,” the circle is complete.

Former bookworm policy analyst turned cooking instructor, food blogger, chef and public television culinary host Pati Jinich directs her research, experience, love of country and personal journey onto the printed page.

It’s a tall order, capturing the spirit and energy of this 40-year-old D.C. area mother of three, whose career path has been carved step by step with kitchen utensils.

Jinich’s secrets are revealed through notes called “Mexican Cook’s Tricks” on many of the 115 recipes in the book. She rubs the ends of cucumbers to fend off bitterness. White onions are preferred because they contain less sulfur than yellow.

The edges of the first handmade corn tortilla on the griddle will tell you whether there’s enough water in the dough. When you’re making enchiladas, pass those tortillas through hot oil or subject them to the heat of a dry skillet beforehand: That will keep them from cracking.

Pre-mix the cocoa powder with a little of the liquid when making her sister’s marbled pound cake, and you’ll avoid a dusty brown countertop.

Few of the dishes will send cooks off to Latin markets, as Jinich knows that so many of her go-to ingredients have achieved mainstream status. Instead of recommending specific brands, she’s careful to identify the best qualities of, say, dried beans or a rich piloncillo sugar.

Not to be missed are her pork tenderloins, marinated ever so briefly, then glazed with a sweet citrus sauce. They could not be simpler.

Jinich’s voluptuous corn torte, another keeper, survives when halved from 12 servings — large sigh heaved, as it would be all too easy to consume an entire 9-by-13-inch pan of it.

Blissful corn torte

Serves 6 to 9


8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the baking dish

6¼ tablespoons rice flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

2 cups fresh or frozen/defrosted corn kernels

½ cup whole milk

6 tablespoons sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated into yolks and whites

¼ cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a little butter to grease an 8½- or 9-inch square baking dish.

Combine the rice flour and baking powder in a bowl or on a sheet of waxed paper. Combine the corn kernels and milk in a blender or food processor; pulse to form a coarse purée.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer on high speed until creamy and lightened. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the sugar. Beat on medium speed until well incorporated and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low; add the egg yolks one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition. On low speed, gradually and alternately add the rice flour mixture and the heavy cream, beating until well incorporated.

Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the corn-milk purée and beat on low speed.

Beat the egg whites and salt in a separate, clean bowl on medium and then high speed to form stiff peaks.

Gently fold about a fifth of the egg whites into corn batter until no trace of white remains, then fold in the remaining egg whites, taking care not to deflate them; some white streaks may remain.

Gently transfer to the baking dish, spreading the mixture evenly. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until springy to the touch and lightly browned.

Serve warm, cold or at room temperature.

Here, we've cut the original recipe in half. This recipe is adapted from "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking," by Pati Jinich (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $30).

Per serving (based on 9): 250 calories; 5 grams protein; 24 grams carbohydrates; 16 grams fat (9 saturated); 130 milligrams cholesterol; 230 milligrams sodium; 1 gram fiber; 11 grams sugar.

Pickled chayote salad

Makes 6½ to 7 cups, enough to serve 6

Chayote squash, also called mirliton or vegetable pear, tastes like a combination of zucchini and cucumber. Its slight sweetness and firmness make this a light, bright salad to serve alongside chicken. Choose chayote with smooth, unwrinkled skin.


3 pounds whole chayote

3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

¾ teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

½ teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican (may substitute 1½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano)

Pinch sugar

¼ cup vegetable oil

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup thinly sliced red onion


Place the chayote in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until the chayote can be pierced with a knife yet are still firm (al dente). Drain and cool.

Peel the cooled chayote and cut them in half lengthwise. Discard the seeds (or reserve to toast and snack on, like pumpkin seeds). Cut the flesh crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices or sticks.

Combine the vinegar, salt, black pepper, oregano and sugar in a large bowl. Whisk in the oils in a slow, steady stream to form an emulsified vinaigrette. Stir in the onion; let stand for at least 10 minutes. Add the chayote and toss to coat evenly. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Let the salad sit for at least 10 minutes. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature; or cover and refrigerate for up to 12 hours, and serve chilled.

This recipe is adapted from "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking," by Pati Jinich (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $30).

Per serving: 180 calories; 2 grams protein; 10 grams carbohydrates; 16 grams fat (2 saturated); 0 milligrams cholesterol; 250 milligrams sodium; 4 grams fiber; 5 grams sugar.

Pork tenderloin in sweet citrus sauce

Serves 8 to 10

Aluminum foil can be used instead of banana leaves and dark brown sugar can replace piloncillo, a kind of hard, dark sugar with a strong molasses flavor.


Marinade: 1 cup fresh orange juice

¼ cup fresh lime juice

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup packed grated piloncillo

5 cloves garlic

5 bay leaves

Pork: 3 banana leaves

4 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed of silver skin and excess fat

1½ teaspoons coarse salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil


Marinade: Combine the orange and lime juices, the vinegar, piloncillo, garlic and bay leaves in a liquid measuring cup. Stir to dissolve the piloncillo.

For the pork: If using the banana leaves, lay one of them in the long side of a deep baking dish large enough to hold all of the pork. Layer the remaining banana leaves so that all sides of the baking dish have an overhang of banana leaves, which will be used to fold over the meat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Season the tenderloins all over with the salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add half of the pork and sear for about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to the lined baking dish. Add the remaining pork to the skillet and repeat the cooking process.

Once all of the pork is arranged in the dish, pour the marinade over the meat. Use tongs to turn the meat over so it is evenly coated. Fold the banana leaves over the meat to cover it completely. If you're not using banana leaves, seal the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes; uncover carefully (to avoid the steam). The meat should be tender, with an internal temperature of no more than 145 degrees. Use tongs to transfer the meat to a cutting board to rest while you reduce the marinade; cover loosely to keep warm (use a banana leaf or foil).

Discard the bay leaves. Pour the marinade into a medium saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until reduced by half.

Cut the meat crosswise into ½-inch slices. Serve with some sauce drizzled over the top, and pass the remaining sauce at the table.

This recipe is adapted from "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking," by Pati Jinich (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $30).

Per serving, based on 10: 340 calories; 38 grams protein; 23 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams fat (3 saturated); 120 milligrams cholesterol; 380 milligrams sodium; 0 grams fiber; 21 grams sugar.

Chicken à la Trash

Serves 6


1 pound whole poblano peppers

¼ cup vegetable oil

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (total of 3 to 3½ pounds, tenderloin pieces reserved for another use)

1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed

Ground black pepper

1½ to 2 medium white onions, chopped (2 cups)

1½ pounds red potatoes, peeled and cut into ½- to ¾-inch pieces (about 4 cups)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2/3 cup coarsely chopped pitted prunes

1/3 cup water

¼ cup hulled raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

¼ cup raw sunflower seeds


Position an oven rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler element; preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Arrange the peppers on the sheet. Broil for a total of 6 to 9 minutes, using tongs to turn the peppers over every 2 or 3 minutes so they are charred on all sides.

Immediately transfer the charred peppers to a food-safe plastic bag or bowl. Seal or cover and let the peppers sweat for 10 to 20 minutes. If desired, wrap the bag in a clean kitchen towel.

Hold each sweated pepper under a thin stream of cool running water; discard the charred pepper skin and the seeds and membranes.

(At this point, if you are making these in advance or a double batch, the peppers can be frozen in a freezer-safe zip-top bag.) For this recipe, cut the peppers into strips ½ inch wide and 1 inch long.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat.

Season the chicken with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the black pepper to taste. Add to the pot, working in batches as needed; brown the first side for 2 to 3 minutes, then turn the chicken over and cook for about 3 minutes on the second side. (The chicken will not be cooked through.) Transfer to a plate.

Add the onions to the pot, using a wooden spoon to dislodge any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring often, until the onions have softened and started picking up color.

Add a generous pinch of salt to the boiling water, then add the potatoes. Cook for 4 or 5 minutes; the potatoes should still be somewhat firm. Drain.

Stir the garlic into the onions and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant, then add the strips of poblano and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in the drained potatoes, the prunes, the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and the 1/3 cup of water.

Cut the chicken into large chunks or thick slices, if desired. Return all of the chicken to the pot and stir to coat. Cover and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice; the mixture will be stewlike. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Meanwhile, combine the pumpkin and sunflower seeds in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat. Cook for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring often, until you hear slight popping sounds and the sunflower seeds have begun to lightly brown. Remove from heat.

Just before serving, uncover the skillet and scatter the seed mixture over the chicken and vegetables. Divide among individual plates; serve hot.

Note: The heat of poblanos can vary quite a bit. To tame them, dissolve a tablespoon of brown sugar in a medium bowl of warm water. Add the charred/peeled/rinsed flesh of the peppers and soak for 10 to 30 minutes, then drain before using for this recipe.

This recipe is adapted from "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking," by Pati Jinich (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $30).

Per serving: 570 calories; 59 grams protein; 44 grams carbohydrates; 18 grams fat (3 saturated); 130 milligrams cholesterol; 640 milligrams sodium; 5 grams fiber; 5 grams sugar.

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