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.
The most important ingredient was Vicky Hernandez, who David invited to teach us how to make molotes and memelas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Telephone: 951 100 51 31