While we vacationed in the Mexican state of Oaxaca a few weeks ago, we signed up for a cooking class at Casa Crespo Bed and Breakfast in Oaxaca City — it was a handy hop, skip and jump from our accommodations at The Hotel Aitana. While I don’t typically associate “cooking” with “vacation” (it just doesn’t sound as good as “vacation” and “swimming in the Pacific”), I can now admit: it was a blast.
In less than 5 hours, we somehow managed to shop at the mercado and prepare no less than 10 dishes: corn tortillas, red salsa, passionfruit salsa, passionfruit juice, quesadillas with pumpkin flowers, black bean soup, stuffed-and-fried pumpkin flowers, sliced Poblano peppers with cheese and creme freche, “fiesta” mole with chicken and…lastly but certainly not leastly, Oaxacan chocolate ice cream.
(No, it’s doubtful that I could re-create this feast if you came to visit. But I’d make an honest try.)
I was surprised at how simple most of the dishes were, except for the mole. It wasn’t complicated to make, but you need a ton of ingredients:
13 Mexican pasilla chilies (4.5 oz/125 g)
8 mulato chilies (4.5 oz/125 g)
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)
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
Perhaps one of the most useful things we took away from the class is what to do with both normal and dried chiles. Along with the two mentioned in the ingredients above, we also got to play with chiles de arbol, chiles Poblano and chiles de agua ( <– I have no memory of “water pepper” but it’s in our recipe list).
I also learned what to do with the traditional ceramic cookware I see at all the mercados here. Besides decorate my home with them, I can cook with them?!
Since we’ve been back, we’ve managed to replicate this salsa, which we served with grilled fish.
SALSA DE MARACUYÁ
Passion fruit salsa
1 passion fruit
10 dried árbol chiles (we used 5)
1 garlic cloves
Salt to taste
Toast the chiles and garlic on a comal. Remove the seeds from chiles. Cut the passion fruit in half, scoop out the fruit pulp and seeds and place them in a a blender with the chiles and garlic add ¼ cup of water and blend. Transfer to a sauce dish, add salt and stir.
In short: If you’re considering a cooking class in Mexico, do it! Just eat beforehand or you’ll embarrass yourself with your rumbling stomach and thoughts of sneaking in a slurp of mole while no one is looking.
(And damnit: Just writing this post made my stomach grumble like an old man.)