The host of a highly popular PBS series, Pati’s Mexican Table, and a self-described “overloaded soccer mom with three kids and a powerful blender,” Pati Jinich has a mission. She’s out to prove that Mexican home cooking is quicker and far easier than most Americans think.
Pati’s dishes are not blanketed with cheese, or heavy and fried, or based on complex sauces. Nor are they necessarily highly spicy. Surprising in their simplicity and freshness, they incorporate produce and grains. Most important, they fit perfectly into an everyday family cooking schedule and use just a handful of ingredients, most of which are already in your pantry. Many are homey specialties that Pati learned from her mother and grandmother, some are creative spins on classics, while others are not well known outside of Mexico.
Dishes like Chicken à la Trash (it’s delicious!), a one-pot meal that Pati gleaned from a Mexican restaurant cook; Mexican Meatballs with Mint and Chipotle; Sweet and Salty Salmon; and Mexican-Style Pasta can revitalize your daily repertoire. You’ll find plenty of vegetarian fare, from Classic Avocado Soup, to Divorced Eggs (with red and green salsa), to Oaxaca-Style Mushroom and Cheese Quesadillas.
Your friends and family will enjoy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad with Pickled Ancho Chile Vinaigrette; Crab Cakes with Jalapeño Aioli; and Chicken Tinga — (you can use rotisserie chicken), which makes a tasty filling for tortas and tostadas. Pati also shares exciting dishes for the holidays and other special occasions, including Mexican Thanksgiving Turkey with Chorizo, Pecan, Apple, and Corn Bread Stuffing; Spiral-Cut Beef Tenderloin; and Red Pozole (“a Mexican party in a bowl”), which she served on her wedding day.Desserts like Triple Orange Mexican Wedding Cookies, Scribble Cookies
(sandwich cookies filled with chocolate), and little Apricot-Lime Glazed Mini Pound Cakes are sophisticated yet simple to make.
Despite being in the middle of creating the third season of her PBS show, Pati’s Mexican Table, Pati Jinich was able to answer a few questions we had.
Do you come from a family of cooks?
Yes, I come from a long line of accomplished cooks and we all love to eat! My mother’s home-cooked meals were a continuous source of WOW and excitement when I was growing up in Mexico City, and my father is very passionate about food and cooking as well. I know of no one who derives so much pleasure from eating! My mother passed down her kitchen skills and cooking tricks, from generations that came before her, to my three sisters and me. All of my sisters dove into the cooking world early on. Having pursued an education and career in social sciences, I was actually the last one to latch on to cooking as a profession. After moving to the US it was mostly nostalgia for my home country’s cooking, and the nurturing comfort it provided that lured me into the kitchen.
You’ve had an interesting career path. How does one transfer from working in a policy research center to cooking?
I had always been involved in the culinary world in my spare time, but I struggled with the decision to switch career paths for a long time. I had studied so many years for a career as an academic and was determined to finish a Master’s degree in Latin American Studies at Georgetown, when we moved to Washington. I ended up taking a job as a policy analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue, which I thought would be my dream job. But I kept thinking about food obsessively… Ironically, all those years of studying my home country’s history have given me such a thorough background from where to understand and experience its food. Eventually, after what you could call an existential crisis of sorts, I resigned and jumped into what seemed at the time, the culinary abyss.
What do you want people to know about Mexican food/cooking?
I would love to dispel the myth that Mexican food is unhealthy and full of cheese and grease, very laborious or always spicy. The cuisine of Mexico is mostly wholesome and healthy, very regionally diverse and nuanced. Mexican home cooking is beautiful in its simplicity, with lots of fruits, vegetables and grains. I also like to break down stereotypes of Mexicans in the US and help build bridges: we have more in common than meets the eye.
What was the writing process like for this book?
It was fun. It was long. It was very challenging. There are many Mexican cookbooks out there, my editor and I worked hard at offering something that we hoped would be different, entertaining and useful.
This first book is the culmination of years of research adventures both in my homeland and my DC based kitchen. It shares traditional recipes that have been passed down generation to generation, some of which may not be known so well in the US, as well as some more modern and creative takes in using Mexican ingredients. Yet all the recipes have the common thread of being home cooking fit for a home kitchen, recipes I hope will become staples in other people’s homes.
For these who are unfamiliar with it can you tell us a little about your show?
My show is also called “Pati’s Mexican Table,” the same as the cookbook, and you can watch it on your local public television station. I like to focus on the simple wholesome dishes that are cooked and enjoyed regularly in Mexican homes, but I also share traditional iconic recipes like the moles, and I occasionally create modern dishes using Mexican ingredients. However, the dish and recipe are just the start! As I cook, I love to share the stories behind the ingredients, the techniques, and the dishes themselves. Mexico is so culturally diverse, with such a rich history that continues to evolve, that I never tire of researching, tasting, testing, experiencing. What’s more, it continues to evolve inside and outside of Mexico.
I’m working on the third season of my show “Pati’s Mexican Table” which I am so excited about! I also have my ongoing program of cooking demonstrations, dinners and workshops at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, DC, which I love so dearly and enjoy so much.
“The book is filled with bright, fresh flavors and dishes that are wonderful in their simplicity.”
“Pati Jinich is a breath of fresh air in the food world. She’s warm, beyond smart, she’s funny and a generous and gifted cook. She knows Mexican food as her heritage and as a scholar, but knows, too, the realities of being a working mother. She never gave up on the tastes she grew up with, but she’s got an uncanny way of streamlining how she recreates them. This is one of those books you’ll be cooking and learning from for a long time.”
—Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Splendid Table host
“Pati Jinich has created the most delicious guidebook to the magnificent market-driven home cooking of Mexico that I’ve ever seen. This book makes it simple to create fresh and tasty Mexican food and inspires me to make soft fresh torillas, pickle my own jalapeños, and delight in Chicken Tinga with my family. This book will become a family heirloom at my house forever.”
— Mario Batali