Laura Esquivel's novel is an exercise in magical realism. In this genre of fiction, everyday objects can be fantastical or fantastical objects can be found in the every day world.
The recipes in Like Water for Chocolate are the vehicle for the author's magical realism. Each recipe is designed to bring about some particular emotion. Here is an excerpt from the chapter "April" for mole, concocted to stoke Pedro's sexual passion for Tita:
Pedro couldn't resist the smells from the kitchen and was heading toward them. But he stopped stock-still in the doorway, transfixed by the sight of Tita in that erotic posture.
Consider the recipe in "July" for Ox-Tail soup, which finally allows Tita to release her pent up emotions:
...John blessed Chencha and her ox-tail soup for having accomplished what none of his medicines had been able to do -- making Tita weep.
Each month, each recipe, has a corresponding task. Is it magic or not? The characters believe in the power of food; like a placebo, it hardly matters whether it is "real" or not as long as one believes that it is.