Category Archives: Food & Recipes

Oaxaca Hand-crafted Condiments: Suculenta Food Gallery

Food design gallery Suculenta, on Porfiirio Diaz, Oaxaca

Food design gallery Suculenta, on Avenida Porfiirio Diaz #207-G, Oaxaca Centro

You might walk by the unmarked building painted sky blue and not even notice what’s inside.  Down the street from Boulanc bakery on Av. Porfirio Diaz, closer to Morelos than Murguia, is Suculenta.

Unmarked store front with hidden delicious secrets inside

Unmarked store front with hidden delicious secrets inside

The food gallery is an off-shoot of the bakery where hand-crafted jellies, jams, edible oils, cheeses, herbs and fresh wild mushrooms from the Sierra Norte are featured prominently on custom-built wood shelving and in commercial refrigerator cases.

Pink wild mushrooms fresh from the Sierra Norte, Oaxaca

Pink wild mushrooms fresh from the Sierra Norte, Oaxaca

This is where Paulina Garcia Hernandez works her culinary magic in a small space that yields big — and delicious — results. By her side is Daniel Lopez Gonzalez who attends to procuring deliciousness from the best purveyors.

Daniel weighs wild mushrooms that grower has just brought in

Daniel weighs wild mushrooms that grower has just brought in

Not much more to say, other than a great gift for self or another

Not much more to say, other than a great gift for self or another — to drizzle or spread

Jars of succulent condiments to top, marinate and savor

Jars of succulent condiments to top with, marinate and savor

Shelves are stocked with wild mushroom marinated in vinaigrette, pickled carrots, cucumbers, and vegetable mix. Here you can find organic honey infused with cardamom, too.

Natural light illuminates the interior of Suculenta

Natural light illuminates the interior of Suculenta where Paulina works

All the cooking and canning is done on the premises using fresh organic fruits and vegetables that are local to Oaxaca. Purveyors are selected for the quality of what they produce. Paulina and Daniel establish personal relationships with each.

Paulina's hand-crafted hibiscus (jamaica) jelly

Paulina’s hand-crafted hibiscus (jamaica) jelly

Sibestre cultivates wild mushrooms and brings them from three-hours away

Sibestre Perez Hernandez brings wild mushrooms to Oaxaca from three-hours away

Silbestre Perez Hernandez comes to Oaxaca from Pueblo Manzanito Tepantepec, in the municipality of Santa Maria Peñoles in the Mixteca mountains west of Zimatlan. Here he harvests the most gorgeous mushrooms I’ve ever seen. He delivers them to Suculenta weekly. I was there on a Tuesday morning to watch the harvest come in.

Top shelf, my favorite: kefir cheese in olive oil, bay leaf, whole black pepper

Top shelf, my favorite: kefir cheese in olive oil, bay leaf, whole black pepper

The artisanal cheese is wonderful for omelets, on top of toast or to eat as a post-dinner course with fresh fruit and a glass of mezcal.

A sampling of hand-crafted roibos tea, from XXXX

A sampling of hand-crafted rooibos tea, from Andres Alquiara

Andres Alquiara developed a recipe for rooibos tea that he brought to Suculenta for sampling. I smelled it. Delicious. Succulent! Andres is a barrista and his full-time job is at La Brujula. He has a passion for great food and beverage.

This mixed vegetable medley has onions, chiles and spices -- top on sandwiches

This mixed vegetable medley has onions, chiles and spices — top on sandwiches

This creative food gallery endeavor reminds me of a time past when I owned and operated a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school.  I, too, once made and sold jams, jellies, cheesecakes, and catered meals. Now, I prefer to support those who believe that good food is an essential part of living a quality life.

Flavored oils for eating and cooking!

For example, flavored oils (sesame) and vinegars (apple) for eating and cooking!

Scallions in vinaigrette

Pickled scallions in vinaigrette — another dill pickle version

Suculenta, Porfirio Diaz #207-G, Centro Historico, Tel: 951-321-3756 (closed Sunday)

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