Saturday, November 7, 2009

Oaxaca Day 9

After a day off, I am ready to get back into the kitchen. Today is the Casa Crespo cooking class led by Oscar Carrizosa. This was another class that was taught entirely in English and is only a short walk from the hotel. The number one activity in all of Oaxaca, according to TripAdvisor, this was going to be a great way to conclude the cooking expedition.

With the experience of having seeded and toasted chiles, grilled tomatoes, and mashed items in the molcajete, it was nice to have a backstage crew and a blender to handle the mundane tasks. This allowed more time to crank out a lot of dishes in a short amount of time.

We sat around the garden setting of Casa Crespo drinking coffee and eating bread with tuna (prickly cactus fruit) jam when Oscar came over and sat with our group of six students and asked what we would like to make. Of course there was silence before Oscar began to list off a number of moles and their primary ingredients for the main course. It was interesting that he offered some moles that I hadn't heard of before, like a fruit mole. In addition to classic Oaxacan cooking, Oscar also provides a avant-garde approach using traditional ingredients with modern flare. In the end, we chose mostly classic dishes, but there were a few twists included.

Today's market trip was at Mercado Sanchez Pascuas. Oscar didn't spend as much time telling about ingredients that the market offered, but did make some keen observations.
  • small chiles are spicier and used in salsas
  • large chiles are milder and used in sauces
  • dark colored beans are preferred from Mexico City through Central America
  • light colored beans are preferred from the norther border south through Mexico City
After the market trip, Oscar took us to a small mill, molinas de moler, to pick up some fresh masa. This place was fascinating as I had envisioned a much larger operation and machinery for this work. This is where locals bring things like corn and chile pulp or chocolate ingredients to be ground into a mash for doing things like making moles, tortillas, and tamales.

This one is used to make masa fresca (fresh masa).

Here is one for grinding chiles. The first picture is a little out of focus, but you can see how the operation works.

We returned to Casa Crespo to start working on our lunch. Today's aggressive agenda was to make three salsas (green, roasted tomato, and passion fruit), guacamole, tortillas, quesadillas with squash flowers and cheese, tortilla soup, plantain croquettes, almendrado mole (almond mole), horchata, and Oaxaqueno chocolate ice cream. This was a lot, but with the ingredients already prepared, these were quick dishes to make.

I will explain making some of these dishes in upcoming posts as I attempt to recreate them at home, but for now, the focus is on the almond mole. It is a lightly flavored, creamy mole that goes good with chicken and fish.

Fry 1/4 of a white onion and 3/4 cup of peeled almonds in oil until the onion becomes translucent.

Add a couple of garlic cloves and 8 blanched tomatoes (with their skin and seeds removed) to the mixture and cook for 3 minutes over low heat.

Once everything has cooled, add the spices thyme, oregano, canela stick, peppercorns, a clove, a large slice of bread, and 2 cups of chicken broth to a blender.

Blend the mixture smooth, then add to a tablespoon of melted lard and a couple of bay leaves over medium heat for 5 minutes stirring continuously to avoid sticking.

Cover and let cook for an additional 10 minutes over low heat. Pour over chicken pieces and garnish with sliced almonds, green olives, and pickled jalapenos. Pretty simple.

The lunch was delicious. After the class concluded, we talked to Oscar about local markets and he mentioned one called Mercado de Abastos. It was just a few blocks away from the previously mentioned Benito Juarez and Veinte de Novembre so I didn't think much of it, but it was the next to last day of the trip and I wanted to do a little gift and souvenir shopping before leaving.

Words and pictures cannot describe the magnitude of this market. I'd say it was a mile square and filled with rows and rows and rows of items for sale. There was everything imaginable here: new stuff, used stuff, live stuff, stuffed stuff. There was furniture, clothes, fruits, vegetables, kitchen supplies, I could go on and on, but it would be pointless. It is a good thing that I didn't have an extra hand free to buy and fill another suitcase because there were bargains galore.

After all that walking through the market, it was time for our last dinner in town. JP and I both wanted to try a little more mole before leaving. He chose mole negro and I picked mole estofado.

That is it for today. Tomorrow we head back home, but I plan on doing one more post of a few cooking shorts and observations of some of the unsung Oaxacan heros, the bike cart vendors. Hasta la vista.

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