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Books for cooks: Help for your fiestas

Three salsa tips

1. Salt is key. “Use it liberally, but add it gradually.”

2. Go on — make it ahead. Salsa can be made a few hours ahead, and some cooked ones up to a few days in advance. The chiles lose their punch over time, though, so add extra if you’re waiting to serve the salsa.

3. Think of temperature. Serve salsa at room temperature — it tastes best the way.

From Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibanez

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

If the desire to hone your salsa-making skills and wrap tortillas around tasty bits of meat has kicked in for Cinco de Mayo, let Truly Mexican by Robert Santibanez (Wiley, $35) and Latin Grilling by Lourdes Castro (Ten Speed Press, $22) be your guides. You’d be wise to keep these around as reference for the summer grilling season, too.

Santibanez, the chef of Fonda in Brooklyn, takes a comprehensive look at the salsas, guacamoles, adobos and other sauces that define and distinguish Mexican cuisine.

Much of what makes Mexican food taste “recognizably Mexican,” he writes, is in the technique — roasting chiles and vegetables in a dry pan until their skins blister and blacken, recognizing that texture in sauces is key (and that a blender is indispensable).

The book explains the various types of sauces within each category — raw and cooked salsas, thin and thick moles — and offers recipes and ideas for how to use each.

Castro’s book uses Mexico as a starting point to traverse the varied and complex cuisines of Latin America, but in a pared down fashion.

Each chapter takes on a different Latin American region, briefly explaining the characteristics and key ingredients of each cuisine, then offering themed menus (Yucatecan barbecue, Cuban cookout) from drinks to dessert, and detailed plans for how to get it all done.

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