A Mexico Must-Do: Take a Cooking Class in Oaxaca

It's the only time you'll ever see me wear one!)

I stuff Oaxacan cheese into a flor de calabaza. (Note the apron: It's the only time you'll ever see me wear one!)

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.

Hungry yet?

(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)
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 many, many ingredients for "Party Mole" (that's pronounced mo-lay before you make any underground rodent jokes.)

The many ingredients for "Party Mole" (before you make any underground rodent jokes, that's pronounced mo-lay. )

The finished product is not photogenic. But tasty? Indeed.

The finished product is not photogenic. But tasty? Indeed.

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).

Brendan grinds roasted chiles in a molcajete.

Brendan grinds roasted chiles de arbol in a molcajete.

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?!

Inside this dish is bubbling cheese and Poblano peppers. Mmm!

Inside this dish is bubbling cheese and Poblano peppers. Mmm!

Since we’ve been back, we’ve managed to replicate this salsa, which we served with grilled fish.

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.)

8 thoughts on “A Mexico Must-Do: Take a Cooking Class in Oaxaca

  1. Geoff says:

    You’re making me hungry again…I can’t wait to get to Oaxaca in May to do the same. The mere thought of 6 weeks of lovely Mexican food is distracting me from work!

  2. DKN says:

    I don’t know where to start…Mexicans really, really know how to eat.

    OH! John and I DVRed the No Reservations episode last night. (The Fiesta Bowl took priority) So we’ll probably watch that tonight.

  3. Mary says:

    Thanks. I’ve read other places of the classes at Crespo — glad to hear you enjoyed as others have. Will try in June.
    As for the Aitana — I stayed there for three nights a couple years ago — noisy with American student group and no chaperones in sight — or sound as it were! Food good and good location; loved the roof top patio.

  4. DKN says:

    So I watched the Mexico City/Puebla “No reservations” – totally awesome. I need to watch it again, there was SO much to take in. And I’ll tell you what – if I ever make it back there – my number one priority is STREET FOOD. I didn’t get enough of that last time. I really like that Anthony Bourdain makes a point of specifying that what makes Mexican food unique is that it’s ALL unique – depending on where you are. He said at one point that all 32(?) states have very distinct cooking styles and that they are fine tuned within each community. So saying you love Mexican food to a Mexican “isn’t saying much.” It was a beautiful episode.

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