I’ve started trying to have a new cookbook at the beginning of the year and try to work my way through all or most of it; there’s a bit of a backlog on this and I’m finally getting into a Mexican vegan book I got (and reviewed) last year. Before starting into it, I saw Masa: Techniques, Recipes, and Reflections on a Timeless Staple on some ‘top books of …’ lists, and I figured that might be a good accompaniment to really get into some experimenting in the new year. It kind of is but also is not.
To be clear, this book is mostly for serious nerds who want not only the how to but also the history and chemistry behind making masa from scratch, more chemistry than history though, and those who might already have some know-how. I am neither of these things. The author does set up the book with the intention that it’s going to be this detailed, and that’s not the trouble part for me. The first half of the book is the modern history, botanical, chemical, culinary, and cultural, of masa. I’d have liked a little more detail about the ancient history and variety personally, but that’s ok.
The second half of the book is supposedly recipes. This is really only half true. Most recipes are for the masa base (tortillas, empanadas, bollos, pupusas, etc.) No fillings. There’s a small chart on one page, but it’s mostly basics (herbs, cheeses) and premade options (like hummus or salsas). Same for the pictures, which to their credit are plentiful and pretty. The other problem is that the recipes are not presented in step form; they are in paragraphs, and it’s not always clear what’s instruction and what’s background or commentary. I’m guessing actual cooks were not involved in the actual writing; probably in the research, which must have been extensive, but not so much the actual writing. This is not an easy book to use for the actual cooking part.
The last part is pretty interesting though; it’s stuff you can do with masa that is more than just preparing masa in a shape to be a vessel. There’s a drink recipe, gnocchi, sourdough, tempura, and the highly suspicious (at least to me) “Shrimp and (Masa) Grits”. I’m not a native Southerner (US) but I do live there. I have a feeling this one might cause some consternation among some of my neighbors. Besides assuming I figure out my own fillings (which I could given that I have another book that does include such things), this one also assumes I know what something like an aji amarillo is and can access them (yes to the first, nope to the second).