Tag Archives: cooking

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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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  

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. 

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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:


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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.

Penland School Cooks in Oaxaca

We will be going back in time this week. A few days ago our participants from Penland School of Crafts gathered at Casa de los Sabores, the cooking school operated by chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo.

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Our menu focused on mezcal including a flaming skewered pineapple and shrimp dish that went up in flames before we ate it. The pineapple chunks were soaked in mezcal so the natural sugars ignited instantly. They were accompanied by a salad featuring tiny tomatillos that we ate raw.


Pilar has been preparing great food for a long time.  Her La Olla Restaurant is well known in the city for using organic ingredients that are artfully prepared. Because our study tour focuses on Oaxaca arts and artisanry, food is an important ingredient in the Oaxaca mix.

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Pilar is also very knowledgeable about the artesenal process of cultivating and distilling mezcal, too.  Before we sat down to the meal we participated in preparing, we enjoyed a four-flight mezcal tasting that began with young espadin.  She explained the different varietals, aging process and the rising cost of the smokey beverage based on escalating international interest.

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First, it’s important to smell.  Then, take a first sip and let it go down your throat slowly.  At the end of your drink, suck on an orange slice dipped in worm salt (sal de gusano) for a perfect finish.

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After the memelitas with squash blossoms and queso fresco, and after the chicken with mole amarillo, we ended with an incredible flan.


With a beautiful table and an array of complex tastes, we were more than satisfied.  Oh, and I forgot to mention a shopping trip to the Mercado de la Merced before the class started to pick up essential ingredients.

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I work with local experts and guides to put together an unusual and intimate view of Oaxaca, her art, food and culture. I am not a tour guide but an expert at award-winning university program development. If you organization has interest in a program such as this one, please contact me.

Tour Puebla, Mexico: Cooking & Culture, From the Humble to the Divine

August 13-18, starting at $895 per person double occupancy–

  • Chiles en Nogada Cooking Class
  • Sumptuous Dinner Party in a Private Historic Home
  • Elegant Dining and Neighborhood Eating
  • Flea Market and Antique Shopping
  • Museums, Churches, Archeology, History

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Puebla, Mexico, is a short two hours from Mexico City by bus direct from the international airport. It is one of my favorite Mexican cities and I often stop here going to and from Oaxaca. It is the home of Talavera tile, Cinco de Mayo, Mole Poblano, chiles en nogada, and cemitas. It has a weekend antiques and flea market that draws crowds, gilded churches, Baroque architecture with pastel and tiled facades topped with white plaster meringue, great chefs, outstanding restaurants, and ancient archeological sites.  At 7,000 feet altitude, visitors enjoy moderate temperatures year ’round, even in summer!

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Your five night, 6-day visit includes:

  • 5 nights lodging in a lovely, highly rated historic center hotel
  • guided visits to famed, certified Talavera ceramics studios
  • visits to extraordinary museums like Museo Amparo
  • chiles en nogada cooking class in a private home featured in Mexicocina with market tour, and lunch
  • sumptuous candlelit dinner that evening presented by our cooking teachers/hosts
  • gourmet dining and neighborhood/market fare experiences
  • time on your own to explore the incredible weekend antique/flea market
  • in-depth visits to archeological and religious sites of Cholula and Tonantzintla
  • Plus, lots more.

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Puebla is Mexico’s fourth largest city, cosmopolitan without being overwhelming.  It is relaxed, accessible, and easily experienced in several days. Known as the ‘City of the Angels’” or Angelopolis, Puebla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was founded in 1531 as a purely colonial Spanish city built from the ground up—not on top of an existing indigenous temple — at the trading crossroads between the port of Veracruz and Mexico City.  More than 5,000 Baroque-designed buildings date mostly from the 16th century and are covered in handcrafted Talavera.

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Puebla is also about shopping! The highlight is Talavera pottery. And, there are many other local crafts: Tree of Life clay figures, bark paper paintings, woven and embroidered textiles from the Sierra Norte, red clay cooking vessels and dinnerware, and unique onyx and marble sculptures. You can find these and much more at the traditional markets, the stalls that line Puebla’s beautiful plazas, and at the weekend flea and antique market.


Puebla is known throughout Mexico for its excellent cuisine, a blend of pre-Hispanic, Arabic, French and Spanish influences.  There are many outstanding Tesoros de Mexico-rated (Mexico’s highest) restaurants, and we’ll be dining at a few!


We’ll also go to Cholula, an indigenous village just outside Puebla with the world’s widest ancient pyramid, Quetzalcoatl. The Spanish built the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Remidios with its amazing 24-carat gold basilica atop the pyramid.  On a clear day you can see snow-capped Popocatepetl, an active volcano, showing off his powerful plume.

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Preliminary Itinerary:

  • Day 1, August 13: Travel to Puebla, check-in to our historic center hotel
  • Day 2, August 14: Chiles en Nogada Cooking class with market tour & lunch, followed by sumptuous private dinner
  • Day 3, August 15: Cholula archeology site, Tonantzintla church, and Talavera de la Reyna ceramics
  • Day 4, August 16: Antiques and flea market, museums, market lunch
  • Day 5, August 17: Gallery hopping and shopping, fine dining
  • Day 6, August 18: Departure

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Our stops will include:

  • Antique market & Barrio del Artista
  • Museo Amparo
  • Talavera galleries and shops
  • Tonantzintla Templo de Santa Maria
  • La Purificadora Hotel, an architectural wonder, designed by Ricardo and Victor Legorreta
  • Uriarte and Talavera de la Reyna ceramics studios

We include private transportation on a day-trip to Cholula, Tonantzintla, and Talavera de la Reyna ceramics studios.

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Transportation to Puebla:  Puebla is easily accessed by Estrella Roja first class bus direct from the Benito Juarez International Airport (Terminal One and Terminal Two) and from Oaxaca on ADO.  If you are coming from the U.S. be sure to reserve your round trip air travel to/from Mexico City. When you register, we will give you complete “how to get there” information.

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What is Not Included:

  • meals, snacks, alcoholic beverages
  • entrance fees to local museums/attractions
  • transportation to/from Mexico City
  • transportation to/from Puebla
  • mandatory international health/accident insurance
  • tips for hotels, meals and other services 


  • $895 per person double occupancy, shared room and bath
  • $1,195 per person single occupancy, private room and bath

Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit will guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance is due on or before July 1, 2014.  Payment shall be made by PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an itemized invoice.

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Please understand that we make lodging and other arrangements months in advance of the program.  Deposits or payments in full are often required by our hosts.  If cancellation is necessary, please tell us in writing by email.   After July 1, no refunds are possible.  However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute.  If you cancel on or before July 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We ask that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since accidents happen.

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Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a notarized waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  Unforeseen circumstances happen!

To register, email us at  normahawthorne@mac.com.  If you have questions, send us an email. We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to modify the itinerary.




Bringing Morocco to Mexico: Tagine Oaxaca-Style Mole Recipe

One of Morocco’s delights is tagine clay pot cooking.  This heavy clay platter with conical top is perfect for one-dish meal preparation.  I packed my tagine securely with bubble-wrap in Marrakech, seasoned it in North Carolina, repacked it, and have been cooking with it since arriving in Oaxaca this week. Tagine-2 Tagine

Oaxaca-Morocco Fusion Food:  Now, instead of Moroccan spices, I have adapted the traditional seasonings and substituted mole. Sacreligious for purists, perhaps.  But innovative for me and making the most of where you live!  Take your pick: mole negro, mole coloradito, mole manchemanteles, mole amarillo, mole verde, etc.  Whichever you choose — Ummm, good. Tagine-6 There Plus, there are huge health benefits from cooking with a tagine.  You use very little oil and water.  Meats and vegetables are pressure cooked on low heat, simmering in their own juices, and the flavors are intense.  The ratio of vegetables to meat is high. This recipe is also gluten-free!  Eliminate the meat and it’s a perfect vegetarian meal. Tagine-3-2 Ingredients:

  • 1/4 – 1/3 c. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, julienned
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup fresh peas or dried garbanzo beans
  • 2-3 medium potatoes cut into 2″ pieces
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1 ” slices
  • 2 zucchini squash or 1 medium choyote squash
  • 3 T. mole paste
  • 1/3 c. water
  • salt to taste
  • Optional:  1 chicken thigh and 1 chicken drumstick
  • Optional:  1 T. diced candied kumquats or ginger
  • Optional:  2 T. chopped cilantro


  1. Coat clay platter with olive oil.
  2. Spread onion and garlic evenly on bottom.
  3. Add vegetables in a pyramid, densest ones first:  peas (or garbanzo), potatoes, carrots, squash.  I’m in Mexico, so I added nopal cactus.  You can try green beans or yellow squash.
  4. Arrange chicken so that the pyramid is secure.
  5. Top with the candied fruit and/or cilantro if you wish.
  6. Mix the mole paste with water.
  7. Drizzle the mole liquid evenly over the pyramid of meat and vegetables.
  8. Add cover.

Now, this is important!  Use a heat diffuser on the stove top gas burner.  (Use oven or a specially designed diffuser if you have electric burners.)  Put tagine on the diffuser and turn burner to low.  I’m using an 8-1/2″ cast iron Nordicware diffuser that I brought from the U.S. If you are cooking meat, cook for at least 2 hours.  If you are cooking vegetables, this should be done cooking in about 1 hour.  Check periodically to see that there is enough liquid.  If too much liquid, then spoon it out. Turn burner off.  Let tagine cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving. If you are cooking in an oven, put the tagine in a cold oven, turn heat to 325 degrees, and cook as if you are making a stew.

Turn oven off.  Leave tagine in oven until it cools somewhat. Tagine-7 Tagine-2-3 Sudden temperature changes will cause a tagine to crack.  Keep it oiled with olive oil when not in use.

Hint:  it’s apple season now in Oaxaca, and apples and raisins and pears and prunes would also be great additions.  What about almonds, dates and dried apricots? Whatever you love and whatever is in season will work as long as you use the density and pyramid formula!

Tagine-5And, then there is El Morocco Restaurant in Oaxaca, highly rated by Trip Advisor.  In Colonial Reforma, Reforma 905, tel: 01 951 513 6804 I haven’t been there yet, but want to try it!  Thanks to Mary for directing me there!