Tag Archives: cooking

Oaxaca Comal Cooking in Durham, North Carolina: Eggplant and Okra

Okra is one of my favorite southern foods, right along with shrimp and grits. I like it because it reminds me of nopal cactus paddles, the kind you eat. I’m always trying to figure out how to prepare so it’s not slimy! Grilling, not boiling, is a secret.

On this return from Oaxaca to North Carolina, I packed two cast iron comals in my luggage —  griddles, 8-inches and 11-inches in diameter. The bigger one does the heavy lifting for surface grilling all sorts of vegetables on my electric induction heat cooktop. (Okay, it’s not gas, but it works pretty well.)

Cooked and ready to eat, grilled eggplant and okra

Of course, you have to season the comal just like you would a cast iron fry pan: over a low heat with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil for a couple of hours until the pan surface is well-coated and the oil is baked on.

Healthy, Low-Fat, Nutritious!

Yesterday, on my regular 6,000 step walk around downtown Durham, I returned via Foster Street to find the Wednesday Farmer’s Market in full swing. Green tomatoes. Red onions. Cherry tomatoes. Green and purple okra. Tiny Japanese eggplant. I could not resist that okra and the eggplant.

The Farmer’s Market is only two blocks from my apartment-condo. Walkable, and I always have to think about how much weight I’m carrying (of the vegetable variety).

How to Prepare Stove-Top Grilled Eggplant and Okra on the Comal

  1. Wash veggies in a water bath with 1 Tb. vinegar
  2. Heat the comal on low temperature until surface is hot.
  3. Dry veggies and add to comal.
  4. Drizzle veggies with 1-2 Tb. olive oil.
  5. Grind pink Himalayan sea salt to taste.
  6. With tongs, turn and move veggies periodically until all sides are evenly browned. Watch to prevent burning.
  7. Eggplant should turn from purple to brown all over and be soft to the touch. Okra should be crunchy, not overcooked.
  8. Eat now, hot off the comal, or store and serve later with rice or couscous, tossed with chopped red onion and fresh diced tomatoes.

I use the comal for any grilled and mixed grill veggie preparation: asparagus, onions, peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms, for example.

Eggplant cooks first. Then add the okra.

Where to Buy a Cast Iron Comal?

 

Oaxaca Inspired Sweet-Savory Orange Chicken Recipe: Mango and Carrots

My first day back in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, after a six-week Durham, North Carolina hiatus. I had to drive La Tuga, my 2004 Honda Element to Tlacolula for clutch repair, so I handed 200 pesos (the equivalent of $11 USD) to Federico and asked him to pick up a few things for me at the village market. My cupboards (and refrigerator) were bare.

On the cook top, mango carrot orange chicken

I specified only a bit of chicken, some fruit and veggies. He returned with four carrots, four Ataulfo mangoes — now in season, two onions, one orange pepsicum, four red apples, four chayote squash and some limes. The key seemed to be the number four. Oh, yes, two chicken drumsticks and two thighs equal four.

So, I give you Sweet-Savory Orange Chicken with Mango and Carrots.

Utensils: four-quart, oven-proof clay baker or stainless steel pot, paring knife, utility knife, large spoon. You might want to use a slow cooker/crock pot. That would work, too.

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken thighs and 2 chicken drumsticks, skinned
  • 2 teaspoons salt and fresh ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 3 carrots, cleaned and peeled, sliced 1/4 inch thickness
  • 1 white onion, large diced
  • 2 Ataulfo mangoes, cut as shown in photo
  • 2 red apples, skinned, sliced thin
  • 1 orange pepsicum (sweet pepper), diced
  • 1 very small mild red chili pepper, seeded and stemmed
  • 4 cups water

Add salt (I prefer sea salt) and fresh ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Put pot on top of heat diffuser. Cook on slow simmer for two-to-three hours.  Serve first course as a consomme/chicken broth.  Serve second course of chicken with mango/carrot melange over steamed rice, accompanied by fresh steamed chayote or zucchini squash.

I bet you could make this in a crock pot, too.

How cut a mango: lengthwise to separate two halves from seed

Serves two to four, depending on appetites.

Some years ago, many, in fact, I owned a gourmet cooking school and cookware shop in South Bend, Indiana. It was called Clay Kitchen.  I contracted with famous chefs from around the world to teach, and taught a few classes myself. My preference, still, is to see what ingredients I have at hand and make something up. This one, today, tastes pretty darn good and you should smell my kitchen!

A remaining pepper from my winter terrace garden, seeded, crumbled

Clay Kitchen, Inc. is a memory. We were in business for just under five years during one of the roughest financial downturns of the early 80’s when interest rates on inventory climbed to over 20 percent. Pre-internet, a Google search only comes up with our Indiana corporation registration and dissolution.  There is no other documentation.

My business partner then remains an important friend now. We modeled ourselves after Dean & DeLuca in NYC and aspired to greatness. When we closed, we cried and moved on.

India Journal: Visit to Pure Ghee Textile Designs

Ghee, clarified buffalo or cow butter, is the essential cooking and flavoring oil in India. Ghee also has religious significance and is used at life cycle celebrations throughout the country. It is highly nutritious and is part of the ayurvedic system, which forms the basis of spirituality, food, and health.

Eating with one's hands, to become one with the food.

Eating with one’s hands, to become one with the food.

One could say that ghee is the foundation of Indian life and culture, just as the tortilla is elemental to Mexico. I would venture to say that Aditi Prakash carefully chose the brand name Pure Ghee for the textile design company she started seven years ago to connect what she makes to what is second nature here. Elemental. Essential. Necessary.

Trademark cloth flowers embellish zipper pulls on scrap fabric bag

Trademark cloth flowers embellish zipper pulls on scrap fabric bag

Aditi employs women who are migrants, takes them off the street, trains them in sewing skills and gives them employment. Women sew. Men complete the finish work, led by a master tailor from the neighborhood, who supervises the apprentices. There are two levels of quality control and each product is nearly perfect, just like ghee.

Pure Ghee staff member who oversees quality control

Pure Ghee staff member who oversees quality control

Aditi invited Nidhi and me to her home for a simple Indian vegetarian lunch, to see her workshop studio, so I could learn about the processes and products, and meet the staff who make the bags and accessories that make their way to shops and boutiques throughout the country.

Master tailor finishes edges of new bag design.

Master tailor finishes edges of new bag design.

First, let’s talk about lunch.

Aditi says she uses turmeric in everything. Nidhi echoes this. Turmeric has antiseptic healing powers they say. They add it to yellow lentils with salt and cook the lentils in a stove top pressure cooker for about 30 minutes.

Ghee, chili mustard and curry leaves simmer on stovetop

Ghee, chili mustard and curry leaves simmer on stovetop

In a separate spoon with very large bowl, Aditi combines about 1/4 c. ghee, fresh curry leaves, red chilis from her home state of Hyderabad, cumin and mustard seed. The bowl of the spoon goes over the gas burner until the mixture simmers and cooks, coming to a low boil.

Aditi serves lentil soup in small bowls, a garnish to rice and vegetables

Aditi serves lentil soup in small bowls, a garnish to rice and vegetables

This is added to the lentils, that now has the consistency of a thick soup.

In another cooking pot is potatoes, cauliflower and peas.

Food is ayurvedic, Aditi says. Nidhi adds that cooking is not written down but passed through the generations as part of the cultural tradition. She learned from her mother. Both are independent, creative women who prepare vegetarian meals in the Hindu tradition daily for their husbands.

Silk-cotton draw string bags worn with the sari

Silk-cotton draw string bags worn with the sari for evenings, weddings

Homemade roti, a whole grain flat bread that looks like a tortilla (they both make this from scratch), and brown rice are served as a base for the lentils and vegetable medley. Everyone uses shallow metal plates that look like a cake pan.

Aditi Prakash in her showroom. People find us, she says.

Aditi Prakash in her showroom. People find us, she says.

We eat with the fingers of our right hand, important to bring the five elements from table to body, in complete circle of life and sustenance.

Traditional plaque in Aditi's home.

Traditional plaque in Aditi’s home.

Aditi’s husband is a filmmaker. Both work from home and they built a three-level workspace where each has dominion. Aditi supports craft artisans from throughout India and as an industrial designer, has helped many refine their products to bring to the marketplace.

Bag patterns hang in small workshop space

Bag patterns hang in small workshop space

After lunch and a modest shopping spree (thank goodness Pure Ghee accepts credit cards), the three of us went off to the Nature Bazaar, a cooperative of crafts-people and textile artists from throughout the country.

Artist Nidhi Khurana, New Delhi, November 2016

Artist Nidhi Khurana, New Delhi, November 2016

Aditi says this has one of the best selections in all of Delhi, with very fair prices. It is off-the-beaten-path for tourists but well worth the visit. For me, it will need several hours. There are textiles, lengths of cloth by the meter, paintings and drawings, folk art, brass bells, sari, indigo and Khadi clothing, jewelry from Afghanistan.

Pure Ghee workshop in action

Pure Ghee workshop in action

If you haven’t noticed, India is about color, texture and sound. It is about silk, cotton and the resurgence of tradition. Both Nidhi and Aditi say that the sari is standard daily dress for women.

Lunch preparation, a vegetarian Hindu meal accompanied by Hyerabad mango pickle.

Lunch preparation, a vegetarian Hindu meal with Hyderabad mango pickle.

I’m going back to Nature Bazaar today. There are over 100 vendors with central payment stations. And, yes, credit cards accepted. Perfect for the cash crisis in play now. I’ll be writing more about this. Perhaps tomorrow.

Sneak preview of Nature Bazaar: piles of indigo and block prints

Sneak preview of Nature Bazaar: piles of indigo and block prints

 

 

 

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.

Cooking Best 27-23

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

Cooking Best 27-24 Cooking Best 27-19

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.

Cooking Best 27-8

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.

Cooking Best 27-4 Cooking Best 27-5

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.

Cooking Best 27-18

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.

Cooking Best 27-17 Cooking Best 27-16

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!

Cooking Best 27-9

 

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.

Cooking Best 27

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.

Cooking Best 27-26

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.

Cooking Best 27-21

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.

Cooking Best 27-25

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.

Cooking Best 27-27

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.

Cooking Best 27-22

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.

Cooking Best 27-11 Cooking Best 27-7

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  

Boulenc: Bringing a World of Flavors to Artisan Bread + More in Oaxaca, Mexico

We invited Martha Sorensen to write this post. She has raved about Boulenc since they opened.  Martha makes it a daily breakfast habit to include a slice or two of toasty, crusty rye or whole grain bread from Boulenc topped with their not t00 sweet house made mango jam.  She’s got me hooked.

***

Bernardo (left) and Juan Pablo send greetings

Bernardo Davila (left) and Juan Pablo Hernandez, founder, welcome bread lovers

Walk through the doorway of Boulenc and the comforting scent of fresh-baked bread and pastries envelops you. On the high shelves behind the front counter, whole grain sourdough loaves topped with artistic flour swirls or leaf patterns delight the eye.  More than a bakery, good food to eat is here, too.  Boulenc is a cafe, restaurant, bakery and provisions shop. 

 Boulenc 2015-8

In the glass cabinet below, cardamom rolls sit beside ricotta berry Danish, orange chocolate brioche and buttery concha rolls decorated with a sprinkling of cocoa powder. Each beckons with the promise of a taste sensation.

Boulenc 2015-19 

To the right, a bread oven from Sweden purchased via eBay warms the room. The six bar stools are usually filled. Behind the bar is a bookshelf with a collection of master bread making books, including Tartine Bread from San Francisco’s renowned artisan bakery. In the kitchen, four young bakers look up from their  floury hands with a smile of greeting. Can this be Oaxaca?

Boulenc 2015-16

Born in Saltillo, Coahuila, Juan Pablo Hernandez, a.k.a. Papa, is the founder of the European-style artisan bakery Boulenc.  He began baking years ago while still in school, ordered books and later experimented in a friend’s Oaxaca restaurant. Passionate about producing the highest quality, he gave away bread in exchange for comments.

Boulenc 2015-19  Boulenc 2015-4

Then, he sold loaves at El Pochote while learning the art of baguette and croissant making from a young French baker who was traveling through Mexico. In January 2014, with Bernardo Davila and two other friends from Saltillo, he opened Boulenc.

Boulenc 2015-25

Juan Pablo’s European apprenticeship came from an unlikely source: a Dubai entrepreneur who found him via an international bakers’ Facebook group.  She was looking for someone to open an artisan bakery there. Last autumn she sponsored his travels to Sweden, Denmark and France. In October, he was in Dubai for a month where he made sourdough pan de muertos. Juan Pablo says that over 5,000 Mexican families live in Dubai. 

Boulenc 2015-17 Boulenc 2015-13

His time in Scandinavia was life-changing. In southern Sweden, he took a sourdough course from world-renowned baker Manfred Enoksson, (who taught him to make cardamom rolls) learning more about stone-milled organic whole grains and the sourdough fermentation process. The living microbes in the culture need care. As Juan Pablo says, it is a relationship that must be nurtured.  “It makes you humble,” he says.  Most of products in Boulenc have a sourdough element. All other ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, including wheat from Nochixtlan in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca and cacao cream from another part of Mexico.

Boulenc 2015-24 Boulenc 2015-22

Using a term from his permaculture training, Juan Pablo says that he and his partners see Boulenc as “a spiral, not a pyramid.” While there is some specialization, everyone at Boulenc has multiple roles, contributes ideas for new products, and values working together for the good of the community. This includes sharing sources and information with new bakeries that have a commitment to quality.

Boulenc 2015-5  Boulenc 2015-14 Boulenc 2015-6

They have given one bread making class and hope to do more. At the end of the day, any bread that is left over goes to an orphanage and a social service organization. Part of Juan Pablo’s mission is to educate about the importance of eating bread that is nutritious vs. bread made from white flour and chemicals in an industrial process. He sees this as vital, particularly here in Mexico where obesity rates are among the highest in the world.

Boulenc, Porfirio Diaz 222, between Murguia and Morelos, Centro, Oaxaca, (951) 514-0582

Boulenc’s future plans include opening a pizza cafe at a location nearby. For more information, including photos and short videos go to:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Boulenc/534647166618801

Boulenc 2015-7

Norma’s Notes:  Belly up to the bar and grab one of the six bar stools that overlooks the kitchen. Come for breakfast and order Shakshuka, a Lebanese poached egg and spicy tomato dish or a Belgian waffle drizzled with chocolate syrup, nuts and fresh fruit. Don’t be in a rush. This is slow food. Wait with a cup of the organic coffee or aromatic hot chocolate made with milk. Lunch offers up pizza rolls and tasty sandwiches on crusty bread. My favorite is the 100% rye infused with nuts, a meal in itself.