Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen, written by Gonzalo Guzmán with Stacy Adimando, features regional Mexican cooking from the beloved San Francisco restaurant Nopalito. Highlights include Queso Flameado con Chorizo y Nopales (Hot Oaxacan and Jack Cheese Dip with Chorizo and Cactus), Quesadillas de Esparagos con Salsa de Cilantro (Asparagus Quesadillas with Salsa Cilantro), Frijoles Puercos con Huevos (Pork-Braised Butter Beans with Scrambled Eggs), Enchiladas Rojas de Camarón (Red Shrimp Enchiladas), and Camote Enmielado (Candied Sweet Potatoes). I will also be sharing Gonzalo’s recipe for Oaxacan-Style Horchata following the review.
Disclosure: I received this book from Ten Speed Press in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Gonzalo Guzmán grew up in the small village of Catemaco in Veracruz, Mexico. He came to the United States as a young child and started his career as a dishwasher at Kokkari restaurant in San Francisco. He partnered with Laurence and Allyson Jossel in 2009 to open Nopalito and is now the chef for both locations.
Chapters are divided according to the following: Background and Basics: From Mexico to Your Kitchen, Platillos Pequeńos (Small Plates), Platillos Fuertes (Big Plates), Bebidas y Postres (Drinks & Desserts), and Nopalito Salsas.
One of my favorite parts of Nopalito is the focus on the basics. Gonzalo features many foundation recipes including an assortment of fresh salsas, homemade Queso Fresco, Masa, Teleras (Mexican Sandwich Rolls), Cemitas (Sesame Sandwich Rolls), Chipotles Adobados, and Chorizo Oaxaqueño. He states: “to me, it is far too rare to see a restaurant or a home cook go the extra mile to transform simple ingredients, and that is why I felt inspired to open Nopalito- and to write this book.” You will even learn how to use a tortilla press with step-by-step photos and other tools that will make the job easier. For those new to Mexican cooking, there is also a guide to pantry staples with descriptions of different types of dried chiles, cheese, herbs, lard, chocolate, tomatillos, and more.
The striking photography is provided by Eva Kolenko. Most of the recipes are accompanied by a full page photo, generally of the finished dish. There are also a few step-by-step photos for techniques such as folding tamales and filling Panuchos de Pollo (Black-Bean Stuffed Tortillas with Shredded Chicken). The names of the dishes are written in Spanish and English. Measurements are listed in US Customary. Each recipe includes a headnote with background information, tips, and serving ideas.
This book is a wonderful pick for those interested in Mexican cuisine or have had the opportunity to visit Nopalito in person. Recipes range from easy weeknight meals to more intricate, detailed dishes for beginners and experienced cooks alike. Extra tips are scattered throughout the book including how to prepare Dungeness crab and fry your own tortilla chips. I especially love the variety of refreshing drinks, cocktails, and salsas. Having a store nearby that stocks Mexican ingredients will be helpful for locating items such as dried chiles, tomatillos, pork belly skin, epazote, allspice berries, Cotija cheese, saffron, nopales, agave nectar, dried hibiscus flowers, mezcal, and piloncillo.
I have been a longtime fan of Horchata and especially love this Oaxacan-Style Horchata for summer. The horchata base incorporates organic brown rice, raw almonds, and agave nectar with a pinch of cinnamon for a rich and creamy Agua Fresca. Similar in style to the Oaxacan Horchata con Tuna (not to be confused with the fish- horchata topped with a bright pink sweet fruit from the prickly-pear cactus), Gonzalo’s version uses fresh strawberries pureed with agave nectar and lime for a brilliant and delicious constant between the berry puree and the milky white horchata.
This drink comes together easily, but does take a little planning. The horchata needs time to refrigerate overnight to allow the rice and almonds to soak. It is then blended and strained through a fine-mesh strainer. The strawberry puree doesn’t take much effort at all to make and can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated for a day or so until needed. Don’t combine the two until right before serving.
I also made Guacamole, Tacos de Cochinita (Marinated Shredded Pork Tacos), Chilaquiles Rojos con Huevos (Red Chilaquiles with Scrambled Eggs), and Paletas de Chocolate (Chocolate-Cinnamon Popsicles).
This light and fresh Guacamole combines mashed avocados with jalapeño, onion, lime juice, cilantro, fresh tomatillos, and an optional drizzle of olive oil. It is especially delicious paired with homemade tortilla chips. Gonzalo also includes tips on selecting the perfect avocado.
Tacos de Cochinita (Marinated Shredded Pork Tacos) are inspired by the Yucatán favorite- Cochinita Pibil. Boneless pork shoulder is marinated overnight with Recado Rojo before braising in the oven wrapped in a banana leaf and paired with tomatoes, orange juice, lime juice, onion, garlic, and bay leaves. The resulting tender pork is arranged in the tortillas with cilantro, onions, and a spicy homemade habanero salsa.
Chilaquiles Rojos con Huevos (Red Chilaquiles with Scrambled Eggs) is a delicious breakfast dish perfect for using up leftover tortillas. The tortillas are cut into pieces, pan-fried, then combined with scrambled eggs and a homemade guajillo ancho salsa. It is served with a drizzle of crema, queso fresco, cilantro, and green onions.
The Paletas de Chocolate (Chocolate-Cinnamon Popsicles) were a huge hit with the kids. With a mixture of cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate, it is sure to be a favorite with chocolate lovers. Paletas fans will also find other flavors such as Café con Leche (Coffee and Milk), Limón con Crema (Lime Sherbet), and Mango con Chile (Spicy Mango).
Oaxacan-Style Horchata Recipe
Excerpt from Nopalito
- 1 3/4 cups cooked long-grain brown rice, preferably organic
- 1 cup raw almonds
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons agave nectar
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
- 1 cup cleaned and stemmed strawberries
- 1/2 cup agave nectar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Pour 3 cups of water into the bowl of a blender or a large mixing bowl and add the brown rice, almonds, agave nectar, and cinnamon. Let soak overnight. Blend in a high-powered blender until smooth, then mix with an additional 6 cups water. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer.
In a blender, combine the strawberries, agave nectar, lime juice, and salt; blend this syrup until smooth.
For each serving, fill up a 12-ounce glass with ice and fill three-quarters of the way with horchata. Pour 2 ounces Oaxacan-style syrup on top.