by Robb Walsh
"Tex-Mex is the ugly duckling of American regional cuisines," begins the introduction of The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos. Tex-Mex isn't Mexican food, the book explains, it's something much more interesting.
From summer's indispensable frozen margarita to winter's warming bowl of chili con carne, Tex-Mex dishes are icons of mainstream American culture. And yet, because it was always called "Mexican food," little is known about Tex-Mex's history. That oversight is at last rectified in this astonishing tour de force by award-winning Texas food writer Robb Walsh. In over 150 photos and more than 100 recipes, The Tex-Mex Cookbook takes readers on an illustrated journey of the borderlands. From the Mexican pioneers of the sixteenth century, who first brought horses and cattle to Texas, to the Spanish missions of the eighteenth century where the native Americans learned the European system of agriculture, The Tex-Mex Cookbook celebrates the vibrant social history of the early Tejanos and their unique cuisine.
In connect-the-dot fashion, the book explains how the cowboy culture of the Tejano vaqueros begat such beef-lovers' dishes as barbacoa, chili con carne and beef fajitas. We learn that the flirtatious Chili Queens of the 1880s, women who set up outdoor food stands at night in the public squares of San Antonio, invented the combination plate and inspired the menu of the Original Mexican Restaurant of San Antonio, a gringo-run establishment that first brought "Mexican food" to the Anglo side of town.
From 1910 through 1930, the flood of Mexican immigrants fleeing the political uncertainty of the revolution, "re-Mexicanized" the Tejano community and broadened Mexican-American cuisine with new dishes from the interior, according to historians. And we see how the immigrants also inspired a lasting fondness for Mexican food in cities from Chicago to New Orleans feeding depression-era Americans cheap, spicy and satisfying homemade tamales and enchiladas from countless pushcarts and roadside stands.
In interviews, restaurant owners explain how in the post-war 1950s inexpensive Tex-Mex tacos proved perfectly suited to the drive-ins and casual eateries that were part of the newly emerging automotive culture. And by the 1960s, highly advertised corn chips and bean dip entered the mainstream in such quantities that the Tex-Mex flavor profile began to be imprinted on the American palate at an exceedingly tender age. Hilarious eye-witness anecdotes bring us up to date on such later-day spin-offs as Paris Tex-Mex, hippy Tex-Mex, nuevo Tex-Mex and 21st Century Tex-Mex.
The Tex-Mex Cookbook celebrates each milestone in the history of "America's Oldest Regional Cuisine" with rare archival photographs, oral histories, and great recipes. There's Tex-Mex restaurant crowd-pleasers like Puffy Tacos from Henry's in San Antonio and American Cheese Enchiladas from Larry's in Richmond. And then there's home-style Tex-Mex creations like 7 Layer Dip, Chili Mac and Tamale Pie. There's also modern Tex-Mex standards like Mango Margaritas, grilled Steak Fajitas with Smoked Tomato Salsa and gooey Chocolate-Cajeta Flan Cake.
Best of all, many of the recipes are presented by the people who made them famous. The Tex-Mex Cookbook puts the characters of Tex-Mex, past and present, with their favorite dishes and their most vivid memories on the page. The result is a sometimes funny, often touching tribute to the ugly duckling bicultural border cuisine that became an all-American classic.
About the Author
Robb Walsh is the author of the acclaimed Legends of the Texas Barbecue Cookbook and is the restaurant critic for the Houston Press. Winner of two James Beard Awards, he has written for Saveur, Gourmet , and is a commentator on National Public Radio. His other books include Are You Really Going to Eat That? A Cowboy in the Kitchen and Nuevo Tex-Mex. (More info at robbwalsh.com)
The Tex-Mex Cookbook
A History in Recipes and Photos
by Robb Walsh
Trade Paperback Original
Price: U.S. $17.95 / $25.95 Canada
Information provided by the publisher.
This page created September 2004
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