Ixta's latest book has us mixing things up.
The most uncommon tools this book asks it's readers to use are a blender, mandoline and blowtorch (but that last one was optional)
The most difficult skills asked to perform are julienning and butterflying some shrimp, and maybe charring onions.
The most difficult ingredients to find were Piri Piri seasoning, ‘nduja, scotch bonnet chilies, dried habanero chiles, and pul biber, but Ixta and her team did a great job of offering alternatives for almost all of these - with the exception of ’nduja (which I don’t think there are really good alts for anyway). I suspect most of these are much easier to find in London than they are where we're located, in LA.
We had two main gripes: 1. the text is set in a very small, thin font which can make reading the prose a little difficult, and 2. the recipe layout itself deprioritizes some of the helpful sidenotes — occasionally moving them to the bottom of the second page of a recipe. Those placements are especially disappointing because she hides really good tips in the side-notes and prefaces for her recipes! Photos — as expected if you’re familiar with Ixta’s Instagram — are bright, punchy and very aesthetic.
The book is divided into two big sections: “Everyday Meals” and “Entertaining Meals." I ended up making 6 Everyday dishes and 5 Entertaining dishes.
The Everyday dishes were pretty quick to get to the table as you’d expect (about 45-60 minutes), but the flavors were pretty underwhelming and there was an over-reliance on using only one pan to the detriment of the dish (and, surprisingly, the cleanup). They looked beautiful, but the flavors didn’t live up to the presentation.
While the Entertaining dishes took longer (2-3.5hrs), most of that time was hands-off and the flavors were fantastic. Pretty much every recipe I’d recommend would be from this section of the book.
Regardless of section, we found that the uglier the dish was, the better it tasted — for whatever that’s worth.
We consider a typical cookbook like this to be worth the cover price if you can get 2-3 smashes out of it, and this week gave us 6 smashes out of the 11 recipes we tested. So, for value, we gave it a 9.
The beautiful presentation of the dishes in this book sometimes write checks their flavors can’t cash, but if you’re interested in exploring fusion cuisine in general — and love Brazilian, Italian and/or Mexican flavors — Mezcla is well worth the price of admission.
The recipes in this book are very much giving Alison Roman meets Yotam Ottolenghi vibes. They’re built around trendy ingredients with a few curveballs here and there. The prose is kept short and sweet — mostly focused on connecting dishes to personal experiences. There are some great tips and subs slipped in here and there, but the typeface honestly makes them hard to notice.
In the intro, Ixta calls out that she measures anything over 3Tbsp in grams, and that might be the most frustrating aspect of all because if it was all in grams, the recipes would be so much nicer to work from!
I'd first learned about Ixta through Instagram, and between her infectious smile, vibrant dishes, and background working alongside Yotam Ottelenghi - I had to review her solo cookbook when it came out.
Cracking open the book and reading about Ixta's experience living in Italy and Brazil combined with frequent visits to family in Mexico made me all the more excited to jump in and test drive some of these fusion recipes.
Because the book is divided into two sections - "Everyday" and "Entertaining" — I split my week up to cover at least 5 from each section. I kicked everything off with the "Piri Piri tofu over crispy rice", and with the exception of needing to google around for a Piri Piri seasoning recipe, and breaking my silken tofu, the process was quick and easy. The outcome, however, tasted pretty bitter, and left me thinking of ways to improve it. Mostly in the form of using a firmer tofu, or at least cooking everything longer so the flavors had more of a chance to meld.
That feeling continued through the rest of the "Everyday" dishes. I wanted to cook most of the ingredients separately, and then combine and let them simmer for much longer than written.
Her "Entertaining" dishes on the flip side were just as easy to make, but took a little more time. The outcomes in this section were flavorful, bright, and balanced. The hit of this entire week being the "Mole short ribs com agrião" paired with "Creamy yuca gratin with onion and caraway farofa" AND, hear me out... "Sweet and sour celery salad". Sounds wild, but it was the perfect counterbalance to the hearty mole and yuca.
All-in-all, the recipes in this book are creative, exciting, easy to follow, and more than half of what we tested were a smash.
If you're interested in making Brazilian-, Italian-, or Mexican-inspired dishes at home and need a place to start, I recommend getting a copy of this book.
P.s. The best recipes are the uglier looking ones