Category Archives: Food & Recipes

Chicken at the Tlacolula Market: The Gift

A group of 12 women are immersed this week in our sixth annual Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat. All except two have never been here before. Two came all the way from Melbourne, Australia.

Chicken on the spit, seasoned with local chili salt and delicious!

Chicken on the spit, seasoned with local chili salt and delicious!

Going to the Tlacolula market is a highlight for any visitor, especially for those who have a gift list. And, we are writers, so before boarding the Teotitlan del Valle bus and entering the frenzy of market day, Professor Robin Greene, our instructor, gave us a prompt to tie the often dizzying experience to the written word:

  • What does it mean when we give or receive a gift from someone?
  • What do we remember about childhood gifts?
  • What associations do gifts bring up for us?
  • How was a gift received and by whom?
  • Is giving a gift about asking for forgiveness? For showing love?
  • For expecting something in return? A transaction?
  • Who deserves what type of gift and why?
  • When we buy something for ourselves instead of someone else, what comes up?
  • Is a purchase associated with a relationship between the person who sold it and why?
A new artisanal mezcal from Miahuitlan

A new artisanal mezcal, Tzompantli, from Miahuitlan

At the Tlacolula market, there are the obvious gifts: bottles of artisanal mezcal from Miahuatlan, colorful embroidered blouses from Mitla, hand-woven tablecloths and napkins, brightly painted gourds from Guerrero, hand-hewn wooden trucks for little boys, flouncy dresses with lace trim for little girls, a new apron for grandmother.

These did not turn my head.

I saw a lot of chicken today. I don’t know why I focused on chicken. Barbecue chicken. The women selling cooked and raw chicken. Whole chickens and parts.

There was chicken roasting on the grill. Chicken turning on the spit. The people sitting at long tables eating chicken. The chicken legs and thighs at Comedor Mary that could be topped with mole negro or mole rojo.

Chicken at Comedor Mary ready for mole negro

Chicken at Comedor Mary ready for mole negro

I ate chicken for lunch at Comedor Mary although there were many other things to choose from. Took the meat off the bone. Looked at the bone and the meat and thought about my grandmother from Eastern Europe. She killed what she cooked and then ate it.

Rosticeria, where roasted chicken is prepared.

Rosticeria, (roas-tich-air-ee-ah) where roasted chicken is prepared.

Most people here do that. Have a reverence for raising the animals, then slaughtering them for food. Would they say a prayer like my grandmother did? Do they imagine the food as a form of gift? Protein is still scare here for those who don’t make more than 150 pesos a day. That’s about $9 USD.

A chicken on Sunday is a gift. I thought so.

Portable outdoor butcher shop

Portable outdoor butcher shop

 

 

 

Gracias a Dios! Have You Heard of Gin Mezcal?

We hadn’t heard of gin mezcal until the other night at Oaxaca’s Origen restaurant. Our very competent waiter suggested we taste it which was on the menu as a mixed drink. What was it like unadulterated? How could mezcal be gin? Hollie asked.

Gin Mezcal with 32 different herbs including lavender

Gin Mezcal with 32 different herbs including lavender

Gracias a Dios is the mezcal brand. That means Thank God. They produce several different varieties. This one, our waiter told us, has 32 different herbs including a very aromatic lavender. I guess it’s the aroma that gives the name GIN instead of the juniper berries. It was so good, we each ordered a little sipping cup and drank it along with our dinner instead of wine.

Gracias a Dios bottles espadin, plus the wild mezcales cuixe and tepeztate.

Gracias a Dios bottles aged espadin, plus the wild mezcales cuixe and tepeztate.

Next question: Can we buy it here? No, he said, and directed us to local La Mezcaloteca on Calle Reforma that sells bottles and dispenses tastings at the bar. They didn’t have it. Can we help you with something else they asked? No thanks.

Big selection, handpainted boxes at the ultimate gallery Mezcalillera

Big selection, handpainted boxes at the ultimate gallery Mezcalillera

Do you know where we can buy it? The barkeeper referred us to a vague place at the corner of Benito Juarez and Murguia. Lots of directions here are vague. One needs to be persistent. Along the way, we asked at the retail mezcal shop two doors down. No luck. Then, we stopped in a couple of mezcal bars along the way. No luck.

Map with contact information for Mezcalillera

Map with contact information for Mezcalillera

At the corner of Murguia and Juarez, there was no evidence of anything resembling the sale of mezcal. I asked a young man with an ice cream cone in his hand. He sported a beard. He appeared as if he might know.

Hard to find brands, artesanal and delicious.

Hard to find brands, artesanal and delicious.

And he did, pointing us to the middle of the next block on Murguia between Benito Juarez and Pino Suarez. Hallellujah. We found it. And bought the only two bottles of Gin Mezcal. So sorry! Maybe by the time you read this they will have stocked more.

7 Mysteries, with a look like a boutique California wine label.

7 Mysteries, with a look like a boutique California wine label.

Mezcal provisioners are cropping up all over town. Most mezcal bars will also sell bottles. Mezcal is the hot commodity all over the USA and Europe. Some of the bottles for sale have been certified for export. If you go out to the palenques and find the taste you love, you can often buy 750 liters of uncertified mezcal for 200 pesos, a real bargain and fraction of what a Oaxaca retail store will charge.

And, now for the Meteor!

And, now for the Meteor!

La Mezcalillera, Murguia 403A, Centro Historico, Oaxaca. Tel. (951) 514-1757. Facebook: mezcalillera  Enjoy!

 

Annual Basket Fair in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca: River Reed Weaving

The Feria del Carrizo is happening this week in the Zapotec village of San Juan Guelavia. The last day is February 7. This annual fair is growing and this year there were hundreds of people on opening day, Sunday, January 31.

I have made this an annual tradition and this was my fourth year here. I love arriving just before 10 a.m. when the weavers are setting up shop and the cooking fires are roaring. This couple, above, still makes the reed fish traps. They make great lampshades or dried flower holders!

 

Just in time for a breakfast of traditional hot chocolate made with water (or milk, if you prefer). It’s a great accompaniment to hot off the griddle fresh made corn tortillas stuffed with yellow mole and chicken (above right) or squash blossoms , quesillo (string cheese) and mushrooms (above left). This was prepared by the volunteers from the Museo Comunitario, the community museum. Super Yummy!

 

The Community Museum is small, just two rooms and admission is by donation. Usos y Costumbres villages maintain museums to keep cultural history. San Juan was closely tied to neighboring Dainzu (now an archeological site) and Macuilxochitl (across the highway) was once the regional center.

Ancient map reproductions show this as well as a diorama of how salt was extracted from the earth by local women using clay vessels from nearby San Marcos Tlapazola. Villagers were active in the Mexican Revolution that hit the region hard because was dotted with haciendas that indentured indigenous labor, eradicated with the Revolution.

 

Of course, the food goes on all day and if you wait long enough and stay for lunch you can enjoy barbecue goat tacos along with a shot of Tobala mezcal (or Madrecuixe, as your taste dictates) straight from the palenque. Buy a bottle for 200 pesos, about 2/3 less than comparable quality in Oaxaca city!

 

The weavers in San Juan Guelavia work in river reed called carrizo. Their baskets were used by farmers, traders and cooks for centuries, long before the Spanish conquest in 1521.

Anthropologists have written and talked about the risks to this artisan craft of the Oaxaca valley. So much of the reed weaving is now replaced by plastic baskets because people everywhere love the bright colors.

But, preferred among the local ladies is the traditional market shopping basket –that round Carrizo basket with curved palm covered handle that fits comfortably in the crook of the elbow.

I use the low-sided baskets as “shipping containers” inside my luggage. I’ve put mezcal bottles and ceramics inside, wrapped in bubble, surrounded by soft clothes packed snugly and nothing ever arrives broken. Use a flat round tray to cover your stuff and secure with duct tape. Very easy!

 

Above left, the ladies prepare atole, a traditional corn drink. Mix it with chocolate for a special taste. Always served at festivals, it’s the drink of the Zapotec and Aztec gods. Above right, a grandmother ties the sash on her granddaughter’s skirt in preparation for the parade.

Above: This year, there were lots of necklaces strung with reed and bright beads. Some dangled with mini- baskets mini-atole cups (all handmade).

 

And, above right, toy trucks and airplanes and whistles for the children, bird cages and shelves for home decor.

 

How to Get There From Oaxaca City: Take a taxi or collectivo or bus that goes to Tlacolula. Get off at the San Juan Guelavia crucero (crossroads). From there, take a moto-taxi (we call them tuk-tuks into town.) The village is situated about a mile inland on the west side of the Carretera Nacional MX190 better known as the Pan-American Highway.

Higadito, Oaxaca Scrambled Egg Soup — Vegetarian Recipe

A traditional fiesta breakfast dish here in Oaxaca, Mexico is called Higadito — scrambled egg soup. It is always served at banquet breakfasts for weddings, baptisms, birthday parties and any other big family celebration. On Sundays, when I go to the Tlacolula Market and have lunch at Comedor Mary, it is a staple on the menu. (If you are here for the Oaxaca Film Festival, today is market day.)

MushroomEggSoupTraditionally in Oaxaca, the base is chicken soup with bits of chicken mixed into the scrambled egg. It is flavored with salt, chiles, onion and garlic.

Sound familiar? A variation of egg drop soup, perhaps.

Last week I was having breakfast with my friend Janet at Boulanc, the European-style bakery on Calle Porfirio Diaz (between Morelos and Matamoros), when a woman from the campo walked in carrying a big bag of wild mushrooms, offering them for sale.

The wild mushrooms here are called hongos and are different from cultivated mushrooms, called champiñones. The bag she was carrying was huge and she was selling a pint size container for 20 pesos, three for 50 pesos. At the current exchange rate 50 pesos equals about $3 USD. (It’s a very good time to visit Mexico!) So, I loaded up with the idea I’d figure out what to do with them. And, I did.

Vegetarian Wild Mushroom-Garbanzo Scrambled Egg Soup

  • Soak 1-2 pints of whole, small wild mushrooms in warm water for 10 minutes. Rinse.
  • Put into 4 qt. saucepan, cover with 6 cups water, bring to simmer.
  • Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes until mushrooms are soft.
  • In a separate bowl, add 1/2 c. roasted, ground garbanzo bean flour to 1-2 c. water. Stir until dissolved. Add to mushroom water.
  • Bring back to simmer.
  • In a frying pan, sautée 1 medium size onion, chopped, 4 cloves of garlic, chopped in 3 T. olive oil until glazed
  • Scramble 4-6 eggs in onion-garlic mix, adding oil as needed.
  • Add mixture to soup.
  • The garbanzo bean paste will thicken as it cooks. Add water for the consistency you prefer.
  • Season to taste with sea salt and Chile Pasilla paste.
  • Serve hot with tortillas or crusty whole grain bread.

Optional: I had a lot of matzo leftover from Passover, so I crumbled one whole cracker into the soup to thicken it. Mexican-Jewish Food Fusion.  You could use crispy tortillas, too. Do you know about restaurant Toloache?

Enjoy! Buen provecho!

Wild Blue Hongos from Estado de Mexico

Wild Blue Hongos from Estado de Mexico

Private Cooking Class Oaxaca: mmmmGood, Molotes and Memelas

How many different ways can corn be prepared? Here in Oaxaca, Mexico, the options are so numerous, I could perhaps count to a thousand. On Sunday, in honor of Carol’s XX birthday, David organized a private cooking class for five of us. The kitchen is miniscule. The results were huge.

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The most important ingredient was Vicky Hernandez, who David invited to teach us how to make molotes and memelas.

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These are two forms of the myriad ways to stuff or top corn masa.  Tortillas are the most familiar form. Vicky says memelas are a favorite Sunday after church meal for many families. Since it was Sunday afternoon, the analogy was good enough for us.

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In case you didn’t know, molotes are stuffed and deep fried torpedo shaped corn dough. For our cooking class, we stuffed them with a Oaxaqueño favorite: chorizo and potatoes. Chorizo, spicy sausage, came to Mexico with the Spanish when they brought four-legged creatures unknown to the New World.

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Memelas, on the other hand, are pre-Hispanic and look like individual pizzas cooked atop a flat griddle, then spread with black bean paste, salsa and topped with shredded Oaxaca queso fresco, our famous soft cheese that looks a bit like dry ricotta. You can add shredded chicken or pork, if you like.

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Vicky lives in Monte Alban, a barrio of Oaxaca under the shadow of the famous archeological site. It’s likely her family has been preparing food this way for centuries.

The Salsa

When I arrived, the salsa was well underway. We had gone to Abastos Market the day before and I bought these gorgeous purple miltomate, otherwise known as tomatillos or cherry tomatoes. They were cooked whole in a saucepan along with chile pasilla, garlic, cilantro and salt.  Vicky says to use 5-6 large dientes (teeth) of garlic or 10 small teeth for this recipe.

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It’s very garlicky and good. She probably had 2 cups of water, enough to cover the 5 or 6 chiles and an equal number of miltomate. You cook this at a simmer on the stove top until the mixture softens and thickens. Then you put it all into the molcajete and with the mano de molcajete you do a wrist-twisting motion to make sure you are smushing this and not pulverizing it. No luiquadoras (blenders) allowed!

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The Molotes

Okay. First you are going to take 4 medium size potatoes, peel and 1/4″ dice them, then cook them until just bite soft in a saucepan of salted water. Drain. Set aside.

Next, you are going to buy 1/4 lb. of chorizo. Back when I used to live in South Bend, Indiana, I had to go to the far corners of the west side of town to find the sole Mexican market where I could buy chorizo. Now, in the U.S.A., Mexican immigrants are everywhere, and thankfully, so is their food. Go find chorizo. Cook it in a fry pan until all the fat renders away from the meat. Drain. Cook again. Mix the drained, cooked chorizo with the potatoes. Do not salt or spice in any way. Set mixture aside.

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Make masa dough from the dried bag you buy in the Mexican food section of the supermarket. Or, buy it fresh from the local lady at my village market. Your choice! Cut 2 circles of plastic wrap about 5″ in diameter. Make a 2″ ball of masa dough. Put on of the pieces of plastic on the tortilla press. Sprinkle with flour. Put the dough ball in the center of the circle. Dust with flour. Cover with second plastic circle. Press the dough lightly until it expands to a 3″ circle. Flip the dough circle to the other side. Press lightly one more time. Peel the plastic off and lay one side of the tortilla in your palm. Peel the other plastic circle off. With your free hand, put tablespoon of the chorizo-potato mix in the center of the tortilla. Fold over the long side, then fold and pinch the short sides. Shape into a bullet or torpedo. Coat in flour. Pinch together any dough that may have separated. Drop into hot cooking oil and fry both sides until lightly browned. Drain and reserve. Keep going! One or two per customer …. or more.

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To serve: Rest the molote on a lettuce leaf. Top with shredded lettuce, salsa and guacamole just before serving. Roll the lettuce leaf around the tasty torpedo and bite. This is a finger food. It’s fine if it explodes in your mouth.

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The Memelas

For this you need a calc-coated clay comal and you need a charcoal brazier because you are cooking the tortillas on the comal that sits on top of the hot coals.  You could improvise, I suspect, by using a clay pizza round but your tortilla can’t be cooked in oil. It has to be dry cooked and can’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

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Make the tortilla form as above. Put it on the clay comal. As soon as the bottom is browned, remove it from the comal. Pinch up the edges like you are forming a ridge around the circumference as if you were making a pie crust. Then, make a few pinches in the center. This is to hold the filling. This little dough circle is burning hot when you remove it from the cooker, so my thumb and forefinger weren’t used to the heat. Vicky did it in an instant, as if she had been preparing food this way for the last 40 years.

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Make a bean paste. You can use canned black beans and put them in the food processor or blender. Cook the bean paste with ojo de aguacate. That’s an avocado leaf. It adds an incredible flavor. Schmear the past on top of the cooked memela. Return the memela to the comal. Top with shredded cheese and salsa. Ready to eat when you see the beans and salsa bubbling.

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Guacamole

Most people here make a more liquid style guacamole, not the chunky stuff we eat in the U.S.A. for scooping up with tortilla chips (totopos). So, you can put your regular guacamole recipe into the blender and add a little yogurt or cream or water until it is the consistency of heavy cream.

At 5 p.m., when we finished eating, I was so stuffed with corn that I couldn’t eat a thing for the rest of the day. God bless Oaxaca, Vicky, Carol and David.

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If you live in Oaxaca, I encourage you to call Vicky to organize your own private cooking class. It’s a lot of fun and bien rico (which means more delicious than you can imagine).

Vicky’s email is virginiahernandez2014@gmail.com  Telephone: 951 100 51 31