Tacolicious by Sara Deseran

Tacolicious is a compilation of recipes from around Mexico (Yucatan to Guadalajara to Califa) as well as California, including many from the authors’ San Francisco restaurant of the same name.  The recipes are diverse, from basics to more exotic fair, and there are many. The authors are careful to tread a line between ‘traditional’ and unabashedly Americanized dishes.  This book isn’t really about recreating authentic recipes from South of the border so much as creating really good dishes that can easily be made at home. I am not a purist and was looking for friendly dishes to make for my family and friends.

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The book is broken down as follows: Salas, Pickles + More; Snacks and Sides; Tacos; and Cocktails. Recipes include Cal-Mex corn salsa, classic guacamole, spicy tamarind glazed pork ribs with jicama salad, frijoles borrachos, cochinita pibil taco, lone star breakfast taco, agave syrup, flor de jamaica, el sangre, cantaloupe ginger agua fresca, homemade horchata, and many more.  At the end of the books is an ingredient glossary, mail order sources, index, and restaurant recommendations.

As much as I enjoyed the recipes and made quite a few, there were a few frustrations with the book. For one, the recipes are in small, block paragraph form and not numbered. So there are a lot of steps in each paragraph and this makes the book frustrating to use as a cookbook. Sure, it looks nicer in small nearly unreadable paragraphs that format so neatly – but then we are sacrificing usability for looks – and I want a friendly to use recipe book, not one that’s pretty. I’d rather make the food than show the book’s pictures to people.

Another problem that frustrated me is that there are too few pictures of the recipes themselves. I had no idea what the final product was supposed to look like for several – which is fine if you know what you are cooking but I do not  – that’s why I buy the cookbook in the first place. That isn’t to say that there aren’t photographs; there are quite a few. But we get many shots of their restaurant patrons enjoying their food, a group of Mexican beer cans, a spice rack, a guy pouring tequila into shots, or a chopping block with some roasted green onions on them….even a stock photo of a set of lobsters.  Pretty – and pretty useless. It felt like the book was trying too hard and forgot the utilitarian aspect/purpose of the recipes in the first place: so we can learn to cook them. I know publishers need to limit the amount of photographs – and if that was the case here, the wrong decisions were made on which to include. Make the book user-friendly by adding a picture to each recipe.

What I really liked include a section on giving a Mexican-themed party menu (12 items) and step by step instructions on making a tamale (which really needs it!). There are also tips within on items like how to cook beans, background on corn tortillas (including choosing the best prepacked), and making your own chile powder. Tips for mail ordering to get some of the rarer ingredients also helps.

In all, I like the book a lot to peruse – but actually using it was a bit frustrating. I do have several Mexican cookbooks and wanted this one for the author’s unique take on recipes. But it is so frustrating to use/read, that I have too often found myself going back to other, better presented cookbooks. So yes, 4 stars for some excellent recipes that I enjoyed. 1 star less for frustration formatting and lack of images of the actual recipes.

Reviewed from an ARC.

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