Home Food Diana Kennedy’s Cookbooks Changed the Arc of Mexican Cooking in the U.S

Diana Kennedy’s Cookbooks Changed the Arc of Mexican Cooking in the U.S

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Diana Kennedy, one of the biggest influences on the English-speaking world’s understanding and appreciation of Mexican food, died on Sunday at 99, the Associated Press reports. She was esteemed for her cookbooks, which exposed generations of new audiences to regional Mexican cooking.

While Kennedy was born in England, she became famous for her knowledge of the food of her beloved adopted home. Kennedy moved to Mexico in 1957 and learned its cuisine by way of traveling, cooking, and eating in every Mexican state. With her cookbooks she made hundreds of regional recipes accessible to home cooks outside of Mexico at a time when many knew little or nothing about Mexican cuisine. As Gabriela Cámara, a celebrated Mexican chef and friend of Kennedy’s, told the Los Angeles Times, Kennedy “was the first person to write in English about the diversity of Mexican food, so she deserves that honor.”

She published her first book, The Cuisines of Mexico, in 1972, with regional versions of popular fare like tamales along with dishes lesser known outside of Mexico like duck in pumpkin seed mole. It was her view that Mexican cooking was equal to any other highly respected cuisine.

Since Kennedy published her first cookbook so much has changed in the American perception of Mexican food. Mexican fine dining restaurants like New York’s Cosme and Chicago’s Topolobambo and cookbooks exploring the cuisine like Cámara’s My Mexico City Kitchen: Recipes and Convictions have exploded in popularity. Still, her work continues to inspire both home cooks and restaurant chefs alike. In 2020 the documentary “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy,” featured Kennedy at home in Michoacán in western Mexico as she visited markets, cooked, and gave lectures and masterclasses in Mexican cooking. The New York Times reviewed, “Kennedy may be pushing her centenary, but her words are as sharp as her flavor profiles.”

If you want to experience the recipes and teachings that played a part in changing how cooks around the world thought about Mexican food, here are four of Kennedy’s most influential cookbooks:

Via Amazon

My Mexico is Kennedy’s most personal book, as it dives into how she fell in love with Mexico and its cuisine, sharing the recipes and stories behind her travels. She shares the stories behind how she became familiar with each dish, like estafado de raya from Coahuila. “For the fairly inexperienced cook,” as she describes in her introduction, she shares simple recipes like guacamole and her take on chiltatis, a seed-and-nut-based spice mix.

Via Amazon

In this collection Kennedy combines three of her early best-selling cookbooks, The Cuisines of Mexico, Mexican Regional Cooking, and The Tortilla Book. Without losing the spirit of each book, she refreshes some of her classic recipes, like sikil p’ak and chilaquiles verdes, and adds more than 30 new ones from her continued culinary odyssey of Mexico.

Via Amazon

This book guides the reader to better understand the Mexican ingredients within Kennedy’s recipes. It tours ingredients from achiote to avocado leaves to fresh and dried chiles, explaining their uses and preparations. Recipe highlights include fresh corn tamales from Michoacán and chiles rellenos from Puebla.

Via Amazon

In Oaxaca al Gusto, Kennedy takes readers on a journey through the state of Oaxaca, which boasts one of the most diverse and colorful cuisines of Mexico. She describes the different cultural and linguistic groups of Oaxaca and how each has its own distinctive cuisine. After years of traveling the breadth of Oaxaca to record its cuisines in words and photos, Kennedy presented this book as the culmination of her life’s work.

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