Rick Bayless holds a special place as our best-known passionate advocate for real Mexican cooking, serving up both casual and more intricate dishes at his beloved Chicago restaurants while evangelizing in his own genial way to the TV public. He has written several cookbooks, but this—his second, written in the mid-1990s—is a classic.
This is serious, handcrafted food, requiring lots of ingredients supplied by the good Mexican groceries that every American city seems to have. Bayless has layered his book to make it brilliantly useful: first with 15 "essential" sauces, salsas, and pastes; then with traditional recipes. Tacked on to the end of many recipes are adaptations, "simple ideas from my American home" (like Crusty Chipotle-Beef Sandwich). And he sprinkles variations and improvisations throughout.
GIVE THIS TO: Cooks of all skill levels who want to dive more deeply into Mexican cooking. —J.G.