Tag Archives: cooking

Recipe Redux: Nicuatole with White Corn Meal, Oaxaca Tradition

I served the nicuatole recipe I made and published last week to my Zapotec friend Janet. She said it was good, very good, but it wasn’t the traditional nicuatole recipe she was used to eating here in Teotitlan del Valle. The traditional cooks of Oaxaca use white corn, not comal (griddle) toasted and ground yellow corn, like I used. I confess, it’s what I had on hand for the cornbread and I didn’t know the difference until now!

Hence, Recipe Redux.

Honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe, vintage ex-voto

December 12 is the feast day for the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. I’m celebrating Lupita by going to a Virgin Play Day, where a bunch of us will make something related to the pre-Hispanic Goddess of Corn who is the syncretic icon more popular than the Virgin Mary or Jesus. I want to bring nicuatole to contribute to the potluck and I want it to be just like its pre-Hispanic origins.

This is a dessert I’m fond of for many reasons. It is corn. That means, it’s gluten free. I use almond milk instead of cow milk. That means it’s dairy free. (I imagine one can also substitute other nut and plant milks, too, but I think coconut milk will give a distinct flavor that will alter the taste.) This dessert is comforting, creamy, like pudding, eaten with a spoon it is almost like a mousse.

In my research, I could not find a specific recipe for a white corn nicuatole. So, I watched some videos that came up in the search — all in Spanish, and all with no measurements of ingredients provided! Traditional cooks here make food like their mothers and grandmothers — by touch, sight and consistency. Great, but not good enough for the precision we need in the USA.

White corn ground at my neighborhood mill (molino)

Receta de Nicuatole de Maiz Blanco — Las Delicias Lupita, this is a high-calorie treat that uses whole milk and condensed sweetened milk. As we would say here, muy rico. This is fun to watch to see how great food comes from humble kitchens. No measurements. I made up the recipe below from just watching and from making the previous recipe. Here, I’ve added specific measurements.

Norma’s Nicuatole Ingredients

  • 2 cups white corn, ground fine
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 cup of almond milk
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups of white cane sugar
  • 4 pieces of stick cinnamon, broken or 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
  • 2 T. sugar colored with red food coloring

Directions:

Combine 2 cups of cornmeal and 3 cups of water in a blender and process mixture until smooth.

White cornmeal and water in blender

Note: I bought whole kernel, organic white corn that had been dried, from a puesto (stand) in the Teotitlan del Valle village market. One kilo. I’m certain it was grown on local land by her family. I then took the corn to my corner molino (mill) where the kernels were ground into a fine meal. I told them I wanted it to make atole!

Pour water/corn mixture through cheesecloth or a fine sieve to filter out any large corn particles. If you buy commercially prepared cornmeal, you probably won’t need to do this step.

Pour filtered liquid into stainless steel saucepan or heavy clay cooking pot. Put pot over a heat diffuser and turn heat to medium. Add remaining liquid and stir. Add sugar. Stir. Add cinnamon. Stir. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for the first 15 minutes. Turn heat to low, and then stir constantly for the remaining 30 minutes (45 minutes cooking time total). I set my timer to stir every 5-7 minutes until the last 10 minutes of cooking time, making sure the bottom doesn’t stick to pot.

Mixture will become the consistency of heavy cream, then thicken to a consistency of heavy porridge like Cream of Wheat. When you stir and see the bottom of the pan, you know it is done. Watch the video to see the proper consistency.

Pour the hot corn mix into a square pan. Let it cool. Top with colored sugar and refrigerate. Prepare 12-24 hours in advance to chill sufficiently so that it is firm and easy to cut into squares.

Serves 8-12, depending on portion size.

Here is another nicuatole video to tickle your taste buds for a smaller batch, but it uses GMO corn. Substitute organic.

It’s December 11 and almost 9:00 p.m. in Teotitlan del Valle as I write this. The cojetes (firecrackers) have started. There is a full moon, the last of the year. On December 12, the Dance of the Feather, Los Danzantes de la Pluma, will honor the Virgin of Guadalupe in the church courtyard. Take a taxi and come on out to join the festivities. Maybe there will be nicuatole, too.

Teotitlan del Valle traditional cook prepares nicuatole

Oaxaca Corn Pudding Recipe: Nicuatole, Gluten and Lactose Free

I’m in love with native Oaxaca corn. I’m especially in love with local, organic, non-GMO corn now that I’m on the low FODMAP diet and live gluten-free for my digestive health. I went to a birthday party this week for one of my Zapotec friends. I no longer eat birthday cake. What to do for dessert?

I asked my friend Ernestina to make me traditional Oaxaca nicuatole, a pre-Hispanic corn pudding flavored with cinnamon stick and a little sugar, all water, no milk. I brought the dish to share. It was delicious and none was left.

Ernestina uses gelatin to set the pudding so it can be cut into squares. She uses white corn. Local Zapotec woman can also use stone-ground yellow corn that they buy at the corner molino and don’t add gelatin.

Ready to serve! Top with Guava or Strawberry Jam, too!

They cook the corn and the liquid down to a thick paste, thick enough to set when chilled. Thick like the consistency of heavy Cream of Wheat cereal. So thick, that when you run a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan, you see the stainless steel.

The way to serve it is to cut it into small squares and eat with a spoon. It can be served with fresh fruit, too.

Early stage consistency of heavy cream

I thought I’d give it a try and researched some recipes this morning. This would give me another option to my corn-based repertoire of Pan de Elote (corn bread) that has become a staple in my kitchen. The important thing for me, too, is no milk, no cream. In other words, lactose free.

I found few and various recipes. Here they are:

Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita’s Nicuatole from LaRusse Cocina

Chef Pilar Cabrera’s Nicuatole, Casa de los Sabores, Oaxaca

Mija Chronicles Nicuatole, Leslie Tellez

Cocina con Alegria Nicuatole

All the recipes use cow milk, except for the one by Chef Pilar. So, I decided to adapt and make my own.

First, I buy the cornmeal at my neighborhood molino on Francisco I. Madero at the corner of Independencia in Teotitlan del Valle. They grind the finest meal in the village, I think! You can use commercial brands, but the preferred would be Bob’s Red Mill or other organic meal, such as Arrowhead Mills. I didn’t have stick cinnamon (the village tradition) in the house, so I used ground cinnamon. For the sugar, I use a combo of natural cane and Mascabado sugar — half-and-half.

Next stage, consistency of thick Cream of Wheat

Here goes!

Norma’s Nicuatole — Lactose and Gluten-Free Oaxaca Corn Pudding

  • 2 cups of fine ground organic yellow or white corn meal
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar or more to taste
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • cinnamon, 5 small sticks or 1 tsp. ground
  • 3 cups almond milk (you can also use oat milk or coconut milk)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbs. sugar for topping (can be mixed with cochineal for traditional red coloring)

Utensils Needed: A heavy 4 to 6 qt. stainless steel sauce pan and a heat diffuser to cook the pudding and a wooden spatula to scrape the corners of the pan while you are stirring, plus a wire whisk to disperse the corn particles into the liquid so there are no lumps.

Last stage, scrape to see the bottom of the stainless steel pan

Cooking Instructions:

  • Combine the milk, water and cornmeal in the saucepan. Whisk until particles are disbursed.
  • Put heat diffuser on top of burner and turn on to medium heat. Place saucepan on heat diffuser. Stir with whisk every 2-3 minutes for about 10 minutes until liquid starts to heat and thicken. It will be the consistency of soup stock.
Be patient, it’s worth it. Alternating whisking and stirring at the start.
  • With a flat-ended wooden spoon, stir mixture as it thickens.
  • Turn the heat on the burner down to low.
  • Continue to stir, making sure you scrape the corners where the sides meet the bottom, and across the bottom of the pan.
  • You will begin to feel the mixture thicken to the consistency of gravy.
  • Keep stirring.
  • After about 25-30 minutes, you will see air pockets in the mixture where the steam will escape. The mixture is now the consistency of thick Cream of Wheat.
  • Keep stirring until you can scrape the wood spoon/spatula across the bottom of the pan and you can actually see the stainless steel.
  • Now, it’s done. This takes about 40-42 minutes in total prep time.
Heavy duty All-Clad Masterchef sauce pan

Pour very thick mixture into an 8″x8″ glass baking pan. Drizzle with about 2 Tbs. of sugar. Refrigerate until chilled and set. Cut into squares. Yields 8-12 servings. Serve with fresh fruit such as strawberries, bananas, star fruit, guava. Muy rico!

Serve with fresh fruit: FODMAP approved pineapple, bananas, star fruit

Years ago, several lifetimes ago, I owned a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school, where I taught classes and brought international chefs and cooking teachers to demonstrate their craft. Now, I do this for fun!

In Oaxaca, I buy cooking and baking utensils at Liverpool department store. They have a well-equipped kitchen department where we can find just about everything we need/want for culinary creativity. Liverpool is all over Mexico, too. The All-Clad cookware I transported in my luggage, one piece at a time over several years. A good investment of time and weight!

Gastronomy + Gastroenterology: Oaxaca Digest

Those of us who live here are witness to the growing worldwide interest in Oaxaca food. Food festivals are everywhere any time of year. Take your pick from mole to salsa to tacos and tamales, and of course chocolate. We have fusion, small plates, tapas and schnitzel. We even have food trucks — something I was used to seeing more of in Durham, North Carolina, than Oaxaca, Mexico.

Chileajo from Oaxaca’s Mixteca prepared by Mario Ramirez

Innovation is everywhere and we want to try everything. Well, maybe just a taste of salsa de chicatana (or not) and a sprinkle of chapulines on top of a hot, Oaxaca cheesy molote.

The All-Chocolate Pop-Up Dinner inspired a Pop-Up of the Pop-Up immediately following, which inspired this post.

Meal prep with Rosario and Medellin, Columbia cook Mariano Capdevila

If you come to Oaxaca for the annual July Guelaguetza you can go off to explore the Sierra Norte and the Feria del Hongos to be held July 19-20 in Cuajimoloyas. Its an easy day trip from the city if you start early enough. Here you can sample all the wild mushrooms that the rainy season gives forth. They are stuffed into empanadas. Sautéd for enchiladas. Steamed for soup. Ready to take home in their natural state to prepare any way you like them, perhaps tossed into a delicious pasta prepared with butter and garlic. Recently on an upscale restaurant menu, I saw carpaccio de hongos — a deviation from thinly sliced beef or prosciutto, served with squash and a blossom.

Let’s get to the guts of it: Gastronomy and gastroenterology.

There is an underbelly to all this. Delicious food that doesn’t quite settle in the digestive system. This is not isolated to visitors. It happens to long-time residents, too. It happens to locals — people born and raised here! But no one talks about it. We suffer. We run to the bathroom. Our gut gurgles. We emit noxious odors or sounds we try to hide with a cough timed just right. We endure.

Mariano’s couscous with wild mushrooms (hongos), almonds, prunes

We keep eating because being here is all about the food. It’s a subject for discourse, comparison, and enjoyment. Yet, the symptoms of digestive malfunction persist. We may resist taking azythromyacin and opt for acupuncture or aguamiel or a tincture. Anyone have an antacid?

The table is set and Rosario is ready!

Maybe after a while, in between the pollo con mole negro and the sopa de garbanzo and spicy chileajo con puerco, we can endure no more and seek the advice of a gastroenterologist who sends us to a lab with container in hand. You might not like the results. You may be asked to eliminate all dairy, all beans (gad, how can you live in Oaxaca and not eat beans, for god sake?), all mole, and anything fried. You need to rebalance your microbiota aka your gut bacteria, you are told.

Tortilla española with potatoes, onions, Moroccan spices
Ingredients for the tortilla before adding the scrambled eggs

Then, after months of this regimen, life doesn’t change.

Norma’s mixed grill: costilla, chile poblano, tomatoes, onions

Meanwhile, back in the USA, the infectious disease clinic needs a three- to six-month lead time to schedule an appointment. They have little or no interest in responding to the urgency of a Mexican-inspired intestine.

Maude’s cucumber and parsley salad
Still Cleaning Up from the Pop-Up of the Pop-Up prep.

So, you go to another Oaxaca gastroenterologist who says take this pill for two weeks, eat whatever you want and read The Schopenhauer Cure. Your sister, who has experience with digestion, says Drink aguamiel morning and night for two weeks. You do both. There is major improvement. To what do you attribute this? Modern medicine or pre-Hispanic Zapotec folk cure?

Mariano’s tagine of mixed veggies and chicken with Moroccan spices

What’s to do but eat?

Kalisa’s extraordinary cheesecake made with Mama Pacha chocolate

Tasteful Oaxaca Chocolate 4-Course Pop-Up Dinner

Everyone knows Oaxaca chocolate is sublime. The chocolate at Mama Pacha Chocolate Shop is sublimest. I must use the superlative here for many reasons: Unparalleled quality cacao beans to start with, the chocolate is small batch roasted, tempered for hours, resulting in a smooth as silk finish. Different from the sugary, grainy chocolate we use in the villages for mole and hot chocolate. This is EATING chocolate.

Last night, Chef Mario Ruben Ramirez Lopez treated twelve of us to an over-the-top four-course chocolate dinner hosted by Antonio Michelena, founder of Mama Pacha. This was a Pop-Up. A one-night stand. Over in three hours. From appetizer to dessert, the tastes were sensational. Toño provided the chocolate. Mario provided the culinary adventure.

Mario, me and Toño at Mama Pacha Chocolate Shop

Mario is from Santiago Juxtlahuaca in Oaxaca’s Mixteca region. Cooking is in his blood and honed in Oaxaca city. He is building a name for himself and all accolades are deserved. Keep your eyes open for the next pop-up opportunity to eat what he creates.

This night, our first course was a chocolate tetela. This is a pancake made with masa (corn meal). In our case, the masa was infused with chocolate and the pancake filled with minced beef. The topping was startling: a blood-red beet and white chocolate molé, the beets and chocolate puréed into a flavorful paste that could stand on its own. The dish was adorned with arugula and broccoli flowers.

Mario told us he named this dish Yalitza after the Mixtec actress who starred in the film Roma. The color of the molé is like Hollywood, but it tastes like the Mixtec people, he said.

Okay. What’s next? A soup course poured from a jicara bowl — Chile Atolé Con Chocolate. Traditional atolé is a pre-Hispanic beverage of toasted corn meal and cacao, and sweetened. Mario adapted this to become a savory broth, adding chile pasilla and pouring it steaming hot over a nest of pickled red cabbage and organic corn kernels. Yummy. It had started to rain by then, that early evening Oaxaca summer downpour that turns humidity to fresh air. A chill entered the small workshop space given over to dining room. At that moment, the soup was perfect.

Bellies filling. Pour another glass of red wine. Pass the basket of fresh made sourdough bread from Pan Con Madre. Take a breather. Connect with our table-mates: a U.S. caterer/cook, a Columbian chef, a linguist, a jewelry maker, a food culture guide, a James Beard finalist cookbook writer, visitors from Australia and Ecuador.

From an infinitesimal corner of the space emerges plates of Molé Coloradito with chile pasilla from San Pablo Villa de Mitla. Oaxaca’s Valles Centrales (central valleys) are the source material for our food. Corn, for example, was first hybridized here over 8,000 years ago. The molé puddled on the plate, an underskirt for Oaxaca polenta made with cacao butter and mezcal, topped with whole shrimp and verdolagas –aka purslane.

Those are chocolate bits on top — 90% cacao!

The ultimate dessert was, of course, a molten Mama Pacha chocolate brownie, topped with quesillo cheese ice cream with fresh mango sauce. The chocolate bits on top were crunchy, sending me to the moon.

Need I say more?

Oh, other than this extraordinary meal was priced at 550 pesos per person, including wine. It’s no wonder why so many visitors are flocking to Oaxaca.

The cuisine here has always been exceptional, delicious, noteworthy and a full-mouth sensation — course after course, from humble street food, to worthy comedors, to elegant dining rooms. Traditional food is evolving into experimentation — taking the basic ingredients we know and love here and giving us one more surprise.

Tempering the chocolate to make it creamy smooth

Leftover Rosca de Reyes Bread Pudding Recipe

After about a day, Rosca de Reyes becomes more like dry cake, good for dunking into coffee or hot chocolate, but not so tasty for eating plain. What to do? Make bread pudding, of course.

I got a little carried away in the Teotitlan del Valle market and bought three Roscas. They are so pretty. After giving one away, there were still two. Friends came over for dinner last night, so I decided to use up what I had and make bread pudding.

Rosca de Reyes bread pudding, leftover deliciousness

Using a New York Times basic bread pudding recipe, I adapted it for Oaxaca flavors.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small Rosca de Reyes sweet egg bread loaf, cut into 3″ cubes (be sure to remove all the plastic Baby Jesus dolls)
  • 1/2 c. chopped pecans
  • 1/2 c. raisins
  • 4 cups milk
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 t. pure vanilla extract
  • 4 T. butter + 1 T. for greasing baking dish
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. Reposado mezcal
  1. Put the cut up bread, including candied fruit, nuts and raisins into large mixing bowl.
  2. Heat milk, butter, vanilla, and sugar in saucepan until butter is melted.
  3. Cool liquid mixture to room temp. (Put in fridge or freezer for speedy chilling.)
  4. Beat eggs in another mixing bowl. Add  liquid and beat again until combined.
  5. Add mezcal to liquid. Stir. (Note: Some recipes call for whiskey or bourbon. We’re in Oaxaca. Why not use mezcal?)
  6. Pour over cake bread. Let stand 30-40 minutes or until bread is soft.
  7. Pour into a buttered baking dish (preferably deep dish).
  8. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes or until top is crusty and custard is completely cooked.
  9. Serve warm. Serves 6-8.

Rosca in it’s original form before it becomes pudding

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I owned a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school. Another part of my creative past life still emerges from time-to-time.