Book Club Tuesday: Mamacita

I recently had a conversation about cookbooks with a friend – we both agreed that the best cookbooks are the ones with soul. With so many cookbooks being published, I find myself drawn to the books that demonstrate the passion for the recipes as well as the passion behind the recipes. Which is why I’m excited to share Mamacita, a recently published cookbook written by Andrea Pons. In this cookbook, she shows the crucial role that food plays in constructing identity as well as how food gives meaning to our lives. For Pons, she says in the essay, Embracing My Roots: An Immigrant’s Story, at the beginning of the book: “I know it sounds dramatic, but cooking saved my life. Making these dishes helped me crawl out of a dark place of hiding and provide space where I could finally show up as my whole self. By immortalizing the recipes I grew up eating as a kid in Mexico, I reconnected with the part of myself I never meant to forget. As a Mexican immigrant, I want to voice my story by sharing my food with you.” (20) And, it is throughout Mamacita that home cooks see the power and community that food can offer. Reading about the journey of the Pons family to the United States shows the incredible amount of courage, tenacity, resilience, and love it takes to start anew. Through years of uncertainty and racism which chipped away at Pons’ sense of self, she proudly reclaims her heritage. “Mamacita, titled after my father’s nickname for my mother, is my family’s legacy. The recipes in this book were developed by women who are hardworking, brave, and always ready to assert themselves.” (18) When faced with possible deportation, Mamacita was originally written and self-published so that the funds could go towards her family’s significant legal bills. Newly republished by Princeton Architectural Press, Pons’ book continues to raise awareness about what immigrants face while showcasing her family’s heritage and delicious recipes.

Pico de Gallo (Mexican Salsa), p. 29

The recipes are organized into 9 chapters: 1) Salsas, 2) Ensaladas y Verduras, 3) Sopas, 4) Arroz, 5) Harinas, 6) Where Are the Tacos?, 7) Carnes, 8) Maricos, and 9) Postres. Her recipe head notes provide a wealth of information on the recipe origins as well as illustrating the connection between her family and the food they enjoy together.  One of my favourite recipes from the book is for the Plátanos con Crema (Bananas in Cream)  — a snack or dessert that Pons would enjoy for merienda (as she tells us, “Merienda in Mexico is considered an afternoon or evening snack.”) The dish consists of Mexican crema (or sour cream), a bit of sugar, cinnamon, sliced banana, and granola. Each luscious bite feels supremely comforting, with the perfect balance of sweet and tangy.

Plátanos con Crema (Bananas in Cream), p. 164

My daughter adores the Molletes (Open-Faced Bean Sandwiches), which are something that Pons says is a typical breakfast for students and kids. The molletes are sliced rolls topped with butter, refried beans, and cheese, then placed under the broiler to warm the toppings and melt the cheese. Served with a spoonful of Pico de Gallo, the molletes have become a popular request in my home. When making the molletes from Mamacita, I also made the recipes for Pico de Gallo as well as for Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans). Using dried black beans, I purchase through Flourist, making the frijoles refritos was much easier than I thought. The dried beans are boiled in a large pot of water along with garlic and a sprig of epazote (or fresh oregano) until tender, then, they’re mashed into a paste and added to cooked onion. The frijoles refritos can be enjoyed as a dip or as part of another dish – in this case, as part of the molletes. Pons also mentions in the recipe notes that once the beans are cooked, they can be served in their liquid and enjoyed as frijoles aguados (another traditional way of eating beans in Mexico).

Molletes (Open-Faced Bean Sandwich), p. 111

People who know me, understand my deep love for Bundt cakes. Can there be anything more satisfying than baking a cake in an intricately designed pan, then unmolding to reveal that splendor?? So, when I saw her Titita’s recipe for Rosca de Naranja (Orange Bundt Cake) I was keen to try it. A treasured family recipe, Pons explains in the notes: this “is my Titita’s legacy: it’s all the years of love and labor that she poured into her children and grandchildren. Her story is what inspired me to write this cookbook…” This is such a moist, bright cake! The batter is full of two oranges which have been semi-puréed, and then the cake is coated in an orange glaze once the cake has cooled. A flavourful cake that we enjoyed both for breakfast and as an afternoon snack with coffee (or, in my daughter’s case, milk).

In the forward written by Hetty Lui McKinnon, she says “Food is sustenance, nourishment, and enjoyment, but for many, it is freedom.” (9) and, while Pons shares the wonderful Mexican recipes of her heritage, she reminds us to be ourselves and, to trust ourselves. It’s through the context of food that she reclaimed her identity while sharing her family’s immigration story. Mamacita is a beautiful ode to her homeland of Mexico, and in this book, Pons shares the recipes and techniques that have been with her family for generations.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Raincoast Books and Princeton Architectural Press for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans), p. 51/52

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