Cooking up a storm


Words by Amalia

In our family we are all foodies, so in Oaxaca – the food capital of Mexico – we went to a cooking course. It was a restaurant and a cafe that held regular classes for anyone who signed up. It was called Casa Crespo and our teacher’s name was Oscar. There were 12 people. To begin with we sat at a table, drank Oaxacan hot chocolate and he told us what types of meals we were going to make. We would make: three types of tortillas, a soup, an entree, a mole (a type of sauce pronounced MOH-LAY), a drink, four types of salsas and a dessert.

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Just a tad excited to be in the Casa Crespo kitchen

 

Before we started cooking we walked to the markets to buy our produce. We picked out fruit, veggies and other things. When we got back to Casa Crespo a big table had been set up in the main area.

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An assortment of chillies at the local food markets

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Buying fresh zucchini flowers for our tortillas

We all stood around it and we started to make the tortillas. We needed the dough which takes 12 hours to make because it needs to sit but Oscar already had made it the night before. He told us how to make it anyway. The ingredients are:

2 lbs of dried corn

2 tablespoons of lime stone (calcium hydroside / powdered lime)

2 liters of water

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Ruby learns the art of tortilla making

You first put the corn in half of the water. Then you let it boil on the stove for about 5 minutes, stir slowly. Cover it with a lid and let it cool overnight. The next day rinse the corn with the remaining water and rub the skin of them. Keep rinsing them out until the water is clear. Grind them until it becomes a fine texture. Now it’s ready to create the tortillas.

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Ingredients for tortillas

The three tortillas we made were plain, banana and grated vegetables. We picked up some of the dough with the mixture inside and we rolled them into little golf ball sized spheres. Then we placed them on a special flattening machine. Then we carried them to the oven and placed them on the hotplate. We waited 10 seconds then we flipped them. We then waited for 1 minute and flipped them one last time. If they rise and puffed up then you have made them successfully. We took them off the stove after 15-30 seconds. A bit of brown colour should show on them. We wrapped them in a thick cloth and left them.

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The master and the apprentices

While we were cooking them Oscar told us that you cut them into pieces, they become chilaquiles; folded in half, quesadillas or empanadas; with formed edges and asiento, memelas; fried crisp they are tostadas; rolled they are tacos. And according to the sauce you put on them, they can be turned into enmoladas, entomatadas, enfrijoladas or enchiladas. He had us all confused.

Next we started making a drink called Horchata. The H is silent.

½ cup (3 oz/92 g) rice

2 cups (16 fl oz/500 ml) water

½ cup (2.5 oz/70 g) peeled almonds

2 in (5 cm) cinnamon stick

½ cup (3.5 oz/110 g) sugar

3 cups (24 fl oz/750 ml) water

½ cup (4 oz/120 g) diced cantaloupe

2 tablespoons chopped pecans

Wash the rice and soak it in 2 cups of water for an hour.

Place the rice and its soaking water in a blender. Add the almonds, cinnamon

stick and ½ cup of sugar. Blend well.

Strain the mixture into a pitcher. Add 3 cups of water, the diced cantaloupe and

pecans. Stir well. Serve with ice.

In my opinion, the Horchata was not very good. We made another drink which tastes a lot better.

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Masterchefs in action

The drink we made was called Jamaica (pronounced HA-MY-KA). Jamaica is made from hibiscus flowers. Actually, it is made from dried hibiscus flowers. You sit the flowers in some water, quantity of your choice. You leave it to soak for an hour. After an hour drain it and add some sugar, the sweetness depends on how much sugar you put in. I enjoyed making the Jamaica because I like the taste.

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Preparing to make lentil soup

After the drinks we made a lentil soup. I didn’t enjoy the taste of the lentil soup so I’m not going to write how to make it but I will put down the ingredients. They are:

4 cups of water

1 cup of dried lentils

2 garlic cloves

½ medium onion

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

6 slices of bacon cut in half

½ medium onion, diced

3 tomatoes, diced

1 banana cut in 1 cm wide slices

1/3 cup of fresh peeled pineapple cut in 2.5 cm chunks

1 jalapeño chili pepper

5 cilantro sprigs

Salt to taste

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Hmmm. Check out the ingredients in this soup

As you can see, the ingredient choices were a bit funny. If I got to choose I wouldn’t have chosen this soup.

After the soup we went to the mole. A Mole (MOH-LAY) is a sauce. Moles can be dark, light, brown, green, red and nearly anything. We made 2 moles, a green and a fiesta (translated to party). The fiesta mole was dark brown. Personally, I liked the green mole because the fiesta mole was a bit strong.

The ingredients for the green mole are:

2 whole cloves

¼ teaspoon cumin seeds

1 jalapeño chiles

6 large tomatillos, husks removed

1 small onion, cut into chunks

2 garlic cloves

2 fresh thyme sprigs

2 fresh marjoram sprigs

6 cups chicken or pork stock

1/3 cup fresh masa, or 6 tablespoons masa harina mixed to a smooth paste

with 1 cup water

1 medium-size bunch flat-leaf parsley

Eight 6-inch sprigs of fresh epazote or 1/4 cup crumbled dried epazote

3 large or 5 medium fresh hoja santa leaves, or 5 dried leaves

 

The method for the green mole is is:

In an electric coffee grinder or spice mill, or in a mortar, grind the whole cloves and cumin together. In a blender combine the ground spices with the chiles, tomatillos, onion, garlic, thyme, marjoram, and 1/2 cup of the stock. Blend on high until smooth, about 2 minutes. Put the remaining stock in a large saucepan and bring to a boil; adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Add the puréed mixture to the hot stock and cook for 3 minutes. Thin the masa by mixing it with 1 cup water. Whisk the thinned masa into the sauce and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes, whisking occasionally. If lumps form, strain the sauce through a medium-mesh sieve, pushing with a spoon to force the lumpy bits through. The sauce should thicken to the consistency of whipping cream; if necessary, raise the heat slightly to reduce and thicken it. Put the parsley, epazote and hoja santa in a blender or food processor; if using a blender, add a few tablespoons of water to facilitate blending. Process until smooth. Add the puree to the sauce and bring back to a simmer. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes.

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Ingredients for one of our mole recipes

The ingredients for the fiesta mole are:

turkey, washed and cut in pieces

16 cups (128 fl oz/4 l) water

5 garlic cloves

½ onion

1 tablespoon salt

13 Mexican pasilla chilies (4.5 oz/125 g)

8 mulato chilies (4.5 oz/125 g)

Cooking oil

¾ cup (4.5 oz/125 g) raisins

½ cup (3.5 oz/100 g) almonds

½ cup (1.8 oz/50 g) pecans

2 tablespoons (.9 oz/25 g) shelled pumpkin seeds

¾ cup (4.5 oz/125 g) sesame seeds

2 sliced plantains (17.7 oz/500 g)

3 medium tomatoes (10.6 oz/300 g)

4 garlic cloves

½ medium onion, roughly chopped (3 oz/85 g)

4 peppercorns

2 cloves

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon thyme

2 in (5 cm) cinnamon stick

1 cup (½ lb/¼ k) pork lard

2 cups (10.5 oz/300 g) shaved Oaxacan chocolate

The method is:

Boil the turkey in a large stockpot with the onion half, 5 garlic cloves and salt for an hour or until the meat is tender. Remove the turkey and save the broth. Cut the chilies lengthwise with scissors; devein and seed them; remove the stems. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry each chili individually. Remove them once they blister, being careful not to burn them. Fry the raisins until they plump, then put them in some water to avoid hardening. Fry the almonds, then the pecans, and finally the pumpkin seeds. Fry the sesame seeds with just a little oil and a bit of salt so they do not splatter. Clean the pan, then fry the sliced plantains and remove. Fry the tomatoes, garlic and onion. Grind the chilies first. Then grind all the other ingredients: the raisins, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, tomatoes, garlic, onion and spices. If you are grinding with a blender, add some turkey broth. If using a mill, add a little water. Fry the ground ingredients in the lard, using a large pot. Stir constantly for over an hour until the mixture takes on a dark colour and turns into a paste. Add the chocolate and stir until it melts. Add the turkey broth until the mole has the consistency of a thick sauce. Bring to a boil; check the taste. Cover each turkey piece with mole and serve with white rice.

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Mole is not the most visually appealing sauce I must say

Tamales is another meal we made. It is an entree wrapped in corn husks. Tamales consists of:

250 g rendered pork fat

1 kg tamal corn dough

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon salt

½ cup chicken broth

1 cup cooked and diced chicken meat

1 cup crumbled fresh cheese

3 cups diced squash blossoms

½ cups fresh-diced “epazote” leaves

1 cup baby squash cut in small cubes

½ cup corn kernels

2 grilled poblanos chilies diced, without seeds or veins

18 corn husks for tamales, soaked in warm water

 

In a mixer, beat rendered pork fat on high speed until it whitens and fluffs.  Add the tamales corn dough, baking powder, salt and chicken broth; mix until all ingredients are completely blended.  Add alternately the meat, cheese, squash blossoms, epazote, squash, corn kernels and poblano chilies, mix again until all the ingredients are well mixed.  Spread two tablespoons of prepared dough in the center of the cornhusk and close the husk, overlapping its sides in the center, folding the crease under the tamal. Repeat this process with all of the tamales. Place the tamales vertically in a steam pot with boiling water. Place two coins in the bottom of the pot, these coins will make noise as long as the pot has water.  When you no longer hear the noise, it´s time to add more water to the pot.  Cover the tamales with a cloth dishtowel and close the lid.  Cook on low heat for one hour or until the dough separates easily from the cornhusk.

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You’ll find corn in nearly every Mexican meal

Tamales isn’t my favourite dish but it tasted great with the salsa we made. We made 4 types of salsa. They all had the same base. The ingredients were:

2 medium tomatoes

1 serrano chili

1 garlic clove

Salt to taste

First you peel the tomatoes then you roast them. Add all the ingredients in a blender and blend for 1 minute. This is the first type of salsa and the base to the rest. The next salsa has extra ingredient, Worm salt. It sounds really disgusting, salt from worms, ugh. What we do is we get dried worms and we cover them in salt. The school had them prepared. Don’t worry, the worms were clean. We then add them into the original salsa and blend them together. Now the salsa tastes salty and wormy. If I didn’t know that the salsa had worm salt in it then I might have liked it but because I knew what I was eating I didn’t like it.  The next salsa we made was not much better than the last one. The secret ingredient was Grasshoppers. Yuck! We put some dried grasshoppers in the salsa base and blended them. This salsa was definitely the worst. Our last salsa was at least normal. It was avocado leaves. We blended them and tried them. My favourite was still the first one.

The last thing we made was chocolate ice cream. We put:

2 cans (23 fl oz/712 ml) evaporated milk

3 cups (13 oz/375 g) shaved Oaxacan chocolate

½ cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) crema

¼ teaspoon vanilla

We mixed everything in a saucepan on a medium heat. If you have an icecream maker then you put the mixture in the maker and follow the instructions. If you don’t, then put it in the freezer for 8 hours.

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Grasshoppers and Oaxaca cheese for extra flavour!

After we did all the cooking, we got to eat everything. My favourite was the salsa. I really enjoyed the cooking course. We had heaps of fun and I learnt lots of new techniques.

Casa Crespo website

 

Categories: Colonial Inland, Mexico

1 comment

  1. Thank you Amalia for this incredibly detailed account of your cookery class. Sounds like it was very adventurous! I think my favourite would have been making the tortillas and the ice cream. Not sure about the salty worms though! We all love reading about your adventures so keep writing. All our love. Susan, Lydia and Alice.

    Like

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