Today I had a group of four serious cooks from Seattle upstairs for a class I wound up calling Colonial Classics. It wasn’t a long list of dishes (there were only two), but these classics from Puebla, Mexico’s colonial crown jewel, each merit their own annual festival in that lively city known for culinary excellence and creativity.
We started with a quick guacamole — avocados are in season and irresistably priced — and a roasted cherry tomato salsa served up with chips to tide everyone over while the serious cooking took place.
After a brief introduction to a range of dried chiles, we dove right into one of Mexico’s premiere dishes: Mole Poblano, a world renowned classic that dates back to the seventeenth century.
The word mole comes from Nahuatl, the language of the ancient Aztecs still spoken as a first language by many Mexicans. It means sauce, so naturally there are many moles made throughout Mexico. Oaxaca is legendary as the Land of Seven Moles which range in color from yellow to green to light red, dark red and arguably the finest (and certainly my favorite), Oaxacan Black Mole.
The finished Mole Poblano yields a beautiful, velvety, deep red, fragrant sauce redolent of four different dried chiles, fresh and dried fruits, nuts, seeds and spices. Four dedicated cooks turned 20 exotic ingredients into a ball of concentrated mole paste which must be thinned to the consistency of heavy cream with homemade stock to sauce poached chicken or turkey, or made into enchiladas. The paste is complex, and it does take time to make. The good news is that it freezes beautifully for up to a year so you can enjoy a very special Mexican meal at the drop of a hat.
Leaving the paste to cook down and concentrate its flavors, we moved on to Picadillo, or minced meat. This is one of my favorite Mexican dishes, and I never miss the chance to order it in a market fonda or five star restaurant. I marvel at the flexibility of this interesting dish which may be served as a hearty stew made of ground beef and vegetables in a simple broth, then turn up as a completely different Moroccan-spiced concoction made with shredded pork or beef, or a combination of both, thick as porridge with toasted almonds, raisins, green olives and capers.
We made a version of the latter as a stuffing for Mexico’s national dish, Chiles en Nogada. Fire roasted poblanos are stuffed with this spicy-sweet meat mixture, enrobed in a white walnut cream sauce, and decorated with fresh pomegranate seeds and parsley to resemble the Mexican flag. Sound simple? Ah, that’s the beauty of it!
We finished with a corn flan. Flan is Mexico’s national dessert, if you can imagine such a thing. Many times after a fine meal in a traditional Mexican restaurant you ask… what’s for dessert? Often the answer is simple: Flan! Flan is like creme brulee, but instead of a crisp sugar crust the custard is baked in a caramelized sugar-lined mold which results in a liquid gold caramel topping as you invert the custard for serving.
It is a simple thing, and like all simple things it can be incredibly good or pretty bad, depending upon the cook’s sympathy with the delicate custard. If the flan has been baked in a hot water bath to protect it from the heat, and not overbaked — remembering that it will continue to cook for about 20 minutes after it is removed from the oven — a flan is a real delicacy, and the perfect finish to a spicy Mexican meal.
We lunched on Chiles en Nogada, then sampled the Mole Poblano as traditional triangle-folded enmoladas, and with shredded chicken on thick masa bases called sopes, which we made from fresh masa we picked up at an artesanal tortilleria on the way to class. Then of course there was the flan…
The cooks from Seattle took a big bag of food home to their villa to experiment with during the remainder of their Cabo vacation. They left me feeling much the same way I do when I leave the gym after a good workout — satisfied that I have accomplished my mission, that I am doing what I should be doing. What more could I ask?
Anyhow… wish you had been here too! If you have not already subscribed to my blog I invite you, so that you will automatically receive new articles by e-mail. It’s not the same as having you here, but I am constantly amazed at the world of blogging which brings groups like this one to my Cabo kitchen from Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas… and places I’ve never even heard of! The power of the Internet is truly awesome.
So until next time,
¡Muchos saludos, y buen provecho!
Mexico’s Christmas season kicks off on December 16, with nine days of Posadas, candlelight processions and fiestas celebrating the birth of the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Every Posada is followed by a Piñata, a gaudily decorated papier maché container filled with candy and toys hung from a handy tree or ceiling rafter. One at a time, blindfolded children take turns trying to smash the Piñata open so they can all dive in, screaming with pleasure and scooping up as much loot as possible.
At midnight on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena), the birth of Christ is proclaimed with fire works, church bells and all manner of noisemakers. Then Mexican families get down to the business of a lavish Christmas feast includingdishes like tamales, chiles rellenos, menudo, roast pork or turkey in mole, served with hot fruit punch and other spirited beverages such as rompope. The evening ends with the opening of gifts, and perhaps even another Piñata and sparklers for the kids. Christmas Day is celebrated as a day of well-deserved rest!
I invite you to celebrate your holidays with a traditional Mexican Feast. Here is a recipe for Rompope, Mexican rum eggnog:
Bring 3 c. milk and 1-1/2 c. sugar to a boil in a large saucepan. Continue to cook and stir over medium heat about ½ hour until reduced to about 2-1/2 cups. Remove from heat and allow to cool. In a small bowl, beat 6 egg yolks until thick and lemon colored. Beat into the cooled milk mixture and return to medium heat, stirring constantly until ALMOST to the boiling point. IMMEDIATELY remove from the heat (don’t allow it to boil) and stir in 1 t. real vanilla extract. Beat in 6 oz. good quality golden rum and chill in a covered glass container until ready to serve in small glasses. Makes about 3 cups, and of course you can double the recipe!
¡Buen provecho y Feliz Navidad a todos!
Some of you may be wondering where I have been hiding for the past month… I am attaching just a few of the pictures of the Los Cabos event of the 2010 World Tour of the Tibetan Monks from Gashar Tawon Khangsten Monastery who live in exile in the south of India. The Dalai Lama sends them out every year to support the growing Tibetan population in exile through this amazing tour.
My great guy Manuel came from Mexico City to participate, and my mom got to attend the opening blessing of the environment. Manuel and I were major volunteers, transporting monks and participating in blessings and other events throughout the month of November, Manuel carrying the pumba filled with holy water tinted with saffron flowers, believed to bloom in the gardens of the Gods…
These photos give you just a small idea of the beauty and versatility of these beautiful people, the spiritual heavies of our planet who dedicate themselves completely to inner peace and harmony in a spiritual rather than a religious manner. They invite all sentient beings of the universe (!) to participate in their blessings, rituals and initiations regardless of religion or denomination. They say we must look in all places for the truth.
Yes, that is Jampa, a fully fledged Tibetan monk RUNNING a pool table after a house blessing (the guy he played never got a chance–“I am very good at this!” said a very happy Jampa). He swims like a happy fish… hanging by the pool I explained about the Titanic disaster, which he had heard about but didn’t know the details. He offered a blessing on the spot to those lost, just as he did when we happened upon a hummingbird nest when leaving a house blessing… No occasion is too small or too large for a blessing from these guys! It’s what they do.
Jampa is also a genuine executive chef specializing in Tibetan, Indian and Chinese cuisines, and a professional baker who turns out perfect French and American breads and pastries. It was my great honor and pleasure to work as a kitchen grunt producing a traditional Tibetan dinner for 50 under Jampa’s direction, working with another monk, Lobsang, and three Mexican kitchen ladies. The knives and mountains of ingredients were flying for several hours, and when I showed up again an hour before the dinner I wound up in full regalia rolling out 100 turmeric fry breads (like a yellow crispy fried flour tortilla) and shaping 100 beautiful herb steamed buns like Chinese dimsum… Jampa made the whole production look easy, and I know he could have produced the same dinner for many times that number with no problem.
In addition to the breads we produced a number of Tibetan dishes… it fell to me to quarter (lengthwise) a not-so-small mountain of serrano, jalapeño and HABANERO chiles which Jampa enrobed in a delicate cream sauce to make an astonishinglyincendiary side dish (or main dish for some of those crazy Tibetans, who kept wandering through the kitchen grabbing raw chiles and munching them like grapes). Everyone went away well fed and highly impressed… not to mention blessed!
This final shot was taken at our farewell dinner, in which the Master presented volunteers and supporters with beautiful white silk scarves woven with many Tibetan blessings and specially blessed prayer beads which you see around all our necks…
It was a lot of work, but at no time did Manuel and I want to miss a minute of our time with the Tibetans. They are 100% spiritually nutritional, and we will miss them and await their return with great anticipation.
LIFE IS GOOD!