Saturday, November 14, 2009

Oaxaca Review

Made it back home now. Of course, having a traveling companion that speaks fluent Spanish, there were no hiccups during any of the return flights. After ten days in Mexico, that small barbecue chicken pizza at LAX while waiting for the final flight to home sure tasted good.

A few days later, I am looking over pictures from the trip to write this 'missing links' post and longing for that fresh masa that was such a central part of cooking in Oaxaca. This versatile dough is used in such things as soft tortillas, crispy tlayuda shells, tamales, and as a sauce thickener. After a little searching, I was able to find a place not far from where I live that makes masa fresca. When I picked up my first ten pounds, it was still warm from the grinder and had a light and fluffy consistency. My experimental batch of tamales were the best I have ever tasted and I am looking forward to putting together a post on tamale making soon.

It is time for the miscellaneous filler pieces that I was either too tired to include where they belonged or couldn't find a good place for them.

The chiles of Mexico poster is from La Casa de los Sabores cooking school. I thought it was a good way of identifying all of the possibilities for use in the Mexican kitchen.

A tip for working with chiles from Socarro at Cocina Oaxaquena, oil your hands. It keeps the spices from being absorbed so you wouldn't feel the effects if you were to do something like rub your eye. Another technique is to wear disposable rubber gloves.

I saw quite a variety of comals around town. The clay variety were used primarily for toasting and tortillas. The majority were wood burning and were used very hot. Here is the fire under the Seasons of My Heart cooking school comal.

Propane driven comals with metal tops are used by the taco vendors. The hot middle area is used to heat up tortillas and cook ingredients while the sides are used to keep things warm. Notice how clean the stainless steel is scrubbed, not like a seasoned iron skillet.

This wood burning metal box comal with a clay top is from the Cocina Oaxaquena cooking class and was popular around town. A cal and water paste is spread on the top prior to cooking tortillas to prevent sticking.

Talking about tortillas, Oscar at Casa Crespo gave some timing secrets for the tortilla dough to rise. He said it works on both masa fresca and masa harina types. On a hot comal (or griddle), put the tortilla on for 10 seconds on one side. Turn over for 1 minute. Then turn over again for the final 30 seconds. The dough should puff during the final phase indicating it is ready.

Another thing I wanted to talk about is reconstituted mole. It comes in two forms, mole paste and mole powder.

I brought back a few of the mole pastes and got to recreate the mole negro already. It was almost as good as the stuff we made from scratch in cooking class. All that I did was add pureed tomatoes and tomatillos along with some chicken stock and blended together. Keep adding chicken stock until the consistency is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. It made a fabulous tamale sauce.

As for the mole powders, I tried a few samples in the markets and was pretty disappointed. There was a vast selection of flavors, but they didn't seem like they would be very tasty following the same technique as with the mole pastes. I asked Susana at Seasons of My Heart about them just to make sure. She added that they wouldn't be served in a Mexican household. Enough said, I left this stuff for the other tourists to buy.

A couple more points about moles.
  • Locals fold a piece of tortilla and use as a spoon to eat the sauce.
  • Mole tastes better on the second day, it is better to plan your party then.
Next, I wanted to cover something we made at Seasons of My Heart called Tetelas de Juxtlahuaca. It is a long name for a pretty simple corn tortilla stuffed with black bean paste. You basically spread the bean paste over the entire pressed tortilla dough. Then you make three folds and put on the comal to cook. These things were delicious, beautiful, and simple.

There are some interesting taxi cabs around the town as well. In addition to the standard car taxis cutting off pedestrians and honking horns, these three wheelers sit around outside the local markets to pick up customers.

Finally, the bike carts. The true work horse of Oaxaca. I have seen these things all over town performing all sorts of duties and carrying everything imaginable.
  • Water jugs
  • 5 gallon coffee pots
  • Popcorn
  • Postres (desserts)
  • Raspas (snow cones)
  • Elotes (corn ears)
  • Recyclables
  • Hot dogs (wrapped in bacon)
  • Hamburgers
  • Papas (chips and long curly fries)
  • Oaxacan hot chocolate
  • Garbage cans and brooms
  • Flowers
  • Candy
  • Propane tanks
  • And of course, tacos

I could have stayed for another ten days and would have never run out of things to talk about. Oaxaca is a unique and colorful Mexican destination. It is a great place to eat and to learn about food very different from what Americans would call traditional Mexican. I hope to experiment with things that I was taught up in upcoming months. I think that my family has even succumbed to a Mexican Christmas this year. Hasta luego.

1 comment:

  1. those Tetelas de Juxtlahuaca look fabulous!
    i hope you keep your blog up!