I submitted this cookbook review for the Food52 2016 Piglet, which is a tournament for cookbooks. Although my review was not selected, I sill enjoyed the process and The Piglet. I love cookbooks and have to restrain myself from buying everyone I read. Thank goodness for the public library system.
Tacos, Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman
Immediately, Tacos, Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman caught my attention. Alex’s opening declaration of love for the “Old El Paso” taco of his youth is not a typical opening line. It is a statement that I, and probably most readers, could relate to. However, what becomes clear about this familiarity is how quickly it ends. Alex Stupak has taken the road less traveled using tacos and Mexican cuisine as his road map. Tacos carries the reader along Alex Stupak’s culinary journey and how he uses the taco as an instrument to create new and noteworthy food, while respecting its Mexican traditions.
Even though Tacos is co-authored, it reads as one compelling and authoritative voice. To read Tacos for its own sake, is a good read; to cook from it is a novel experience. Sometimes, it is OK to rant and Alex delivers a few provocations scattered throughout the book. These declarations help personalize his story and defend his attitude, passion, and motivation to change his career path and open his Empellón restaurants. It is very evident Mexican food and tacos grabbed his curiosity. Ultimately, learning about it pushed Stupak into action.
Alex Stupak states in his introduction, “In Spanish Empellón means to push”. Within the pages of his book he reveals the results of his pushing to get to the “…good stuff on the other side”.
“Talking about tacos give us a chance to talk about cultural exchange, about idea appropriations and about the way we value – or undervalue – ethnic cuisines. That’s really what’s happening in these pages: We’re using the taco as a Trojan Horse. And it is time to open the gates.”
A primary purpose of Tacos is to get people inspired and make fresh tortillas. Alex firmly believes tortillas are an essential ingredient of a taco and should be respected as such. Ultimately, a taco is only as good as the tortilla it is made with. He hopes the detailed directions in his book will motivate the reader to cast aside any reluctance and make fresh tortillas. Because, serving any taco with grocery store tortillas would be like eating savory taco filling wrapped in a paper napkin – a tasteless and pasty, disintegrating mess.
The tortilla instructions are precise with photographs illustrating each step . The recipe does not shy away from false hopes and mentions that mastering homemade tortillas will take practice. I have made the corn tortillas on three occasions and flour tortillas once. The corn tortilla flavor is slightly sweet with a warm and distinctive corn taste that wakes you up. The challenging part of making tortillas is to get the thickness just right so it cooks through and is not too heavy. Once you have mastered the traditional corn tortilla there are recipes for tortillas with additives like, saffron, beets, and chorizo. If the chorizo tortilla is anything like the green chorizo gravy, they will be addictive. Alex Stupak has succeeded in converting me to serve my tacos with a fresh homemade tortilla.
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