Saturday, October 31, 2009

Oaxaca Day 2

Today's blog comes from the beautiful hotel garden with some other turistas from Seattle and a grande Cerveza Indio. It has been nice talking to other people on this trip to find out places to eat and things to do. I am not sure that nine days is going to be enough time to accomplish everything ;)

My training for the trip has paid off so far. I seem to be hungry all the time and need only a minimal amount of sleep. I am able to take advantage of eating many different things here (for remarkably little dinero) and save the sleep for when I get home.

My Spanish has its moments. Of course, many of those moments are low. I am good at forming my initial inquiry and good when I get an expected response. But throw in something else, and I am a little shaky. This morning, I went to get some coffee and was doing great at saying good morning, finding out if the place was open, and putting in my order for coffee and pastry. The barista must have thought I was a local. A minute later, the machine broke and he started giving me a rapid explanation and question. I don't remember what I said in return, but it got a laugh from a few people in the shop. I sheepishly decided to ditch the coffee and pay for the pastry.

So, today was the Casa de Los Sabores cooking class taught by Reyna Mendoza. This was one of the teachers that Rick Bayless recommended and it was a treat. A few things about the class, Reyna speaks only minimal English but there is an assistant to help out (at least for a little while). The class had eight students consisting of seven English speakers and one Spanish speaker. Finally, the class was supposed to be mole negro (black mole), but ended up being a mole amarillo (yellow mole) and tamales instead. This worked out for the best because I wouldn't have to crash the tamale class taught here next week.

First, we had a trip to Mercado de la Merced. Reyna walked us through all of the interesting and colorful displays within the market. With her intrepreter, she explained things about items in the market.

Here Reyna talks about chiles.

More chiles. Many of these are available only here and people from as close as Mexico City have to come here for them.

Some dry goods. Notice the strings of gusanos (worms) over the lady on the left hand sides head.

Chickens, they will chop them up for you too.

The meat counter, that is chorizo Oaxaca draped over the center.

The vegetable stand. Here, the proprietor stands atop a mountain of vegetables to weigh and charge for the exchange.

The fruit stand. Those candied pumpkins looked so good, but we had to keep up with the class and didn't have time for the purchase.

Finally, the Dia de los Muertos candy stand. This stuff is everywhere for a few days, then disappears until next year.

Now it was time to go back to the class and get to work. Luckily, I got to walk with Reyna. My Spanish held true for the short trip and I was able to find out about some of her experiences and cooking style.

We put on our aprons and started doing prep work for making the mole amarillo. I had made this before and it would take me a couple hours. Reyna (with our help of course) had it completed in about 15 minutes.

First came the preparation of the chiles. Reyna said that this was the most important step in the entire process. We used pasilla Oaxaquenos and guajillos for this dish. After having their seeds and veins removed, they were toasted on the clay comal. The chiles for mole amarillo are supposed to be lightly toasted until they just start turning color, while chiles for mole negro are toasted until they turn dark. From here, they are put into scalding water for a few minutes where they come back to life.

The chiles are blended with masa fresca and some other ingredients (I left the recipe in the room but will fill in later).

The mole negro was already prepared so we will have to wait for another day to see that process.

Now Reyna had to blend the masa to the right consistency. Tamales based off a tortilla type base, the masa fresca in its base form is used. For tamales with a thicker form, the masa is blended with chicken broth to the consistency of thick cake batter.

Now it was time to make the tamales. We were making three kinds using three different techniques. The first is a tamale con mole amarillo y pollo. It was built on the tortilla style masa.

These were wrapped in a corn leaf and put into the tamales steamer to cook.

Next came the tamales con mole negro y pollo. These used the thinner masa mixture that was spread on a banana leaf. The ingredients mole and chicken were put on and the leaf was folded into thirds from each direction. The package was then tied and put into the tamale steamer.

Lastly, came the tamales con frijoles negra. These were also made with the thicker masa pressed into a tortilla form, but this time, we gently placed them into a corn husk. An avocado leaf was placed on the top and bottom of the tamale for flavor. A smaller piece of the husk is placed on the top to seal in the tamale. They were then placed into the tamale steamer.

We made a few other things including a cactus salad and salsa. Finally, the tamales were ready and it was time to eat.

I think that this is enough for today. Off to explore the sites. Hasta luego.

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