Cinco de Mayo is months away, but if you start working your way through two new cookbooks that serve up a super selection of south-of-the-border delights, you’ll be a Master of Margaritas and the Toast of Taco Makers by fiesta time (and getting there is half the fun). Rick Bayless, that renowned maven of Mexican cuisine, has dedicated his latest book, Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks, to this quintessential, pre-prandial, Mexican trifecta. With Rick as bartender, you’ll find: every margarita recipe you’ll ever need, from classics to seasonal fruit and herb variations; a meditation on making mezcal the mainstay instead of tequila (as a fan of mezcal, I can testify to its sublime effect); and a rico roster of other kinds of tequila cocktails, including divine dulce dessert drinks. Now, you’ll need some nibbles to go along with your bebidas. No problema, there’s a year’s worth of extraordinary guacamoles and a surprising selection of bright, boldly flavored veggies, fruits and spiced nuts and seeds. ¡Salud!

Mexican street food is among the world’s best, a culinary bazaar of sizzling bits of pork, charcoal-scented beef, juicy slices of chorizo, fresh crispy spears of jicama and cucumber sprinkled with chile, sweet fried plantains drizzled with creamy condensed milk, grilled ears of corn smeared with mayonnaise, cheese and spices and so much more. In his new book, Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales, Roberto SantibaƱez, a fabulous Mexican chef who’s an aficionado, student and practitioner of Mexican street food, takes us on a walk through the griddles, pots and street-side kitchens to spotlight tacos, tortas (best translated as sandwiches) and tamales, the tri-part heart of everyday Mexican food. Each of these portable pleasures gets a chapter of its own, with an in-depth discussion of how to make them, how to vary the fillings, which lively salsas and condiments to spice them up with and the easy-to-follow, authentic recipes for everything, plus a cooling array of aguas frescas (fresh fruit drinks) and a few everyday sweets. ¡Buen provecho!

TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS
Sometimes being obsessive is a plus. When Deb Perelman, creator of the wildly popular, award-winning blog SmittenKitchen.com, calls herself “obsessive,” it means that you’re in the hands of a hands-on, passionate home cook, without professional training or a professional kitchen, who knows how she wants her food to taste and will fine-tune, twiddle and tweak until it’s just right, then share her culinary insights and inspirations with you. If you’re already a Deb devotee, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, her first cookbook (with food photos to die for), will confirm your zeal. If Deb is an unknown quantity, her chatty, reassuring style, her practical take on what to serve when and her irrepressible enthusiasm will win you over. Just a quick perusal of the more than 100 recipes will have you racing to the kitchen to whip up Apricot Breakfast Crisp, Mushroom Bourguignon, Leek Fritters, Harvest Roast Chicken with Grapes, Olives and Rosemary, S’more Layer Cake and the best and easiest lemon bars (made with whole lemons pureed in a food processor) I’ve ever tasted.

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