Oaxaca is famed for her mole. That’s pronounced MOH-lay. Accent on the first syllable. There are seven moles that make Oaxaca famous. The most difficult and complex is the spicy, chocolate-based mole negro. The others include estofado (olives), amarillo (yellow), verde (green), coloradito (red), mancha mantelos, and chichilo.
Last week, I had both the good fortune and good sense to finally take a cooking class with Pilar Cabrera Arroyo. Pilar is the stellar chef who owns and operates La Olla Restaurant at Av. Reforma #402 in the Centro Historico. The cooking class was held at Casa de los Milagros (corner Crespo and Matamoros). This is a new location. The cooking school onced located at Casa de los Sabores has moved here to the family-owned bed and breakfast. (A spectacular spot!)
Pilar describes mole as salsa with masa that is added as a thickener. Thus, she says, any sauce can become a mole! Yesterday morning we prepared mole amarillo that uses yellow chiles that are indigenous to Oaxaca.
We found them at the Merced Market where we took a shopping field trip before the class began. Pilar took us around to her favorite stalls, identifying the best places to buy eggs, cheese, fresh cow’s milk (for the arroz con leche), and we even found huitlacoche (corn smut) to use in the quesadilla botanas (appetizers) we would later make.
As we toured around the market, we sampled chocolate atole, a traditional Zapotec beverage made with corn meal (muy fuerte, my local friends say), and I bought an amulet that locals use to keep the spirit world at peace.
We shopped for perfect yellow chiles Oaxaquenos and chiles guajillos. The chiles are roasted until they are 90% black. Then you put them in a plastic bag or covered bowl to sweat so they are easier to peel (I had no idea about this until now). Many of us gringos wore surgical gloves while we seeded and de-veined the chiles so that our skin wouldn’t burn, removing the skin using paper towels. (Careful not to put your fingers in your eyes, says Pilar.) Then we cut them into julienne strips.
Pilar’s gas 4-burner gas cooktop is commercial grade (brand name is San-Son). She has another range in the kitchen that also has an oven.
A cast iron comal is used to grill the whole garlic cloves, onions and tomatoes that we will use for the mole amarillo. We use a professional blender instead of the traditional stone metate to combine the peppers, tomatoes and spices.
Classes are are on Tuesdays and Thursdays and you must register in advance through her Web site www.casadelossabores.com or you can call her restaurant La Olla to make a reservation and pay when you get there. Cost is $70 USD and well worth it. We feasted on a five-course meal, including dessert, mescal and beer.