Tag Archives: food

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

Follow-Up on Food Sanitation and Gut Health: The Myths

Oh, wow! I didn’t realize what a response I’d get from the post about Healthy Eating and Disinfecting Food in Mexico.

In addition to Microdyne, more recommendations came in, both from blog and Facebook readers, and from my housekeeper Rosario.

I decided to take these additional recommendations seriously and look them up.

One person recommended vinegar and purified water as a better option to chemicals. In the USA, this can work. In Mexico, vinegar isn’t as effective as we think: https://www.forceofnatureclean.com/diy-cleaning-products-vinegar-drawbacks/

Another swears by bleach, having used it for years. This solution has merit, with a caveat: https://www.mnn.com/health/healthy-spaces/stories/disinfectants-a-guide-to-killing-germs-the-right-way

Rosario says she disinfects fruit and vegetables with lime juice and salt.

What AARP says about the lime juice and salt disinfectant myth: https://www.aarp.org/home-garden/housing/info-03-2010/myth_buster_can_you_sanitize_kitchen_tools_with_lemon_juice_and_salt_.html

Maybe, just maybe, I ate fresh tomatoes at the Quinciñeara last weekend that were probably not disinfected. Quien sabe?

Food borne illness is a big deal and is borderless. We get sick anywhere in the world, even in Los Estados Unidos aka El Norte. One friend says she is going to take Microdyne back with her when she returns in December.

Taking Big Leaps–Dance of the Feather, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Wednesday, July 10, 2019–This group of new dancers start their three-year commitment to church, community and family this year. The most touching moment for me was to be in the home of the Moctezuma, the lead character in the Danza de la Pluma just before they set out to the church plaza to dance for three hours until sunset on July 9.

Grandma raises her hand to make the sign of the cross in blessing

Here I witnessed loved ones bestow their blessings on him. It was like anointing their son and grandson with the benediction of all the generations who came before, offering God’s favor and protection. It was as if all the young men over decades who participated in this sacred dance were present, too. It is an honor and a commitment to perform this service. I am told it is life-changing.

The ritual is repeated year after year, but the first year is a special test for a new group of dancers for their faith, endurance, strength, passion, dedication, coordination and precision. It is also an important exercise in mutual support. Dancers are not individuals. They are part of a team, and it is their team effort that underlies the essence of how this Usos y Costumbres community self-governs.

The Dance of the Feather, which tells the story of the Spanish Conquest from the indigenous point-of-view, is meticulously choreographed. The village symphony orchestra/band knows exactly what to play as the story unfolds. As each step is taken down the cobbled streets to the church, there is a cadence that is repeated in the retelling.

Parents of La Malinche help her prepare

In the altar room at the Moctezuma’s home, family members help each member of the group dress in their costume. This takes time since each element of the dress is an elaborate undertaking.

Dad attaches silk scarves that will fly like wings
Doña Marina, age six, fortifies herself to prepare for three hours of dancing
Grandmothers peel onions and garlic for the barbecue stew

Behind the scenes, another type of choreography takes place. It is the work men, women and girls and boys who do the food preparation and service. Every bit is made by hand. The chickens are slaughtered, boiled and the meat is shredded for tamales.

Each made by hand memela is the blessing of a woman’s hand
Drinking tejate — muy rico — a pre-Hispanic tradition

The toro (bull) is slaughtered and prepared for barbacoa de res. The tejate is stone ground by hand, with home roasted cacao beans. Can I talk about the memelas? I’ve never tasted anything so good — comal toasted corn patties, slathered with bean paste, fresh salsa, shredded Oaxaca cheese, a drizzle of shredded lettuce.

Natividad serves memelas to a guest

We feed each other because we take care of each other. Our survival and continuity depends on it.

This is a hallmark for Teotitlan del Valle and other Usos y Costumbres communities in Mexico. They function so well because of this bond. Mutual support is about respect for heritage and relationships. You do it because it is a value to the self, the other and makes the whole stronger.

Moctezuma flanked by La Malinche (L) and Doña Marina (R)

The dancers who participate in the Dance of the Feather embody these values, embrace them, practice them and model them for others.

Taking big leaps — the strength and prowess of the dancers

The dancing will resume again in the church courtyard on Friday, July 12, at 5:00 PM. Check Oaxaca Events for schedule and other festivities around town.

Village officials and guests offer support — feather crowns on the patio during a rest

As I said goodbye to family members of the dance group, they asked me to tell you how important their culture is to them, how they want to communicate the beauty and friendship of Mexico, and how strongly they are committed to preserving traditions, and extend an invitation to visit.

Church is symbol of faith — but the commitment comes from the heart
Clowning around with the Clown character — symbol of Aztec spy

There are two clown figures included in the Dance of the Feather. They serve multiple functions. Primarily they are the dancers’ helpers, holding crowns when a scarf needs to be retied, bringing water and rehydration drinks, communicating with the officials when a bio-break is needed. They also are jesters that provide fun, frivolity and antics to the story — a diversion of sorts.

They will tease and cajole audience members, like me. Jajajajaja. In the original story, they are the Aztec spies who disguised themselves to get close to the Spanish conquistadores and bring information back to the Aztec generals. There were two battles with the Spanish. The Aztecs won the first.

The Dance of the Feather Begins in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Today is the official start of Teotitlan del Valle’s Dance of the Feather, or Danza de la Pluma. It is a perfect example of how our village celebrates community with a promise and commitment by young people to their people, their church, their history and their culture.

The celebration honors the 16th century church, Templo de la Preciosa de Sangre de Cristo and its central part of village life.

16th Church rises above Zapotec temple base. Stones used for church walls.
Sacred mountain Picacho seen from church steeple
A beautiful day from the top of the Teotitlan del Valle church

5 PM on Monday there was a convite (procession) that began at the home of the Moctezuma and went to the church courtyard. It then processed through all five sections of the village and returned to the church. Highlights included young women dressed in traditional traje (garments) holding canastas (baskets) on their heads adorned with religious images.

Corona (crown) of the Moctezuma with turkey feathers, representing Quetzalcoatl

The young men and two girls who form this new Dance of the Feather group are dressed in their plumed headdresses, carry rattles, and wear clothing that suggests the syncretism of Mexico, the mix of indigenous, Aztec and Spanish conquerors. The dance itself is a representation of the conquest from the indigenous point-of-view.

A procession around the church courtyard before entering the church for blessings.

On Tuesday (today, July 9) at around 4:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. (I’m told), the dancers will begin in the church courtyard. On Wednesday, they will start around noon and continue until about 8:00 p.m.. Festivities continue throughout the week with a carnival fair surrounding the market.

The Mexican ram

By luck and serendipity, several events happened before the official celebrations begin. It happened because we set out from my casita Saturday on foot instead of traveling by car. In the church courtyard, a group of musicians were forming. They invited us to join them on the church rooftop for a symphonic concert. We climbed up the narrow, winding carved stone bell-tower where they would play to mark the official start of the celebration.

360 degree views of the Tlacolula Valley and Teotitlan lands
A slice of life from the winding stone church stairwell — escalera de caracol

From the top of the church, one can see and be heard for miles. Everyone knows what these annual rituals mean. It is embedded in life here.

Traditional and ancient Zapotec flute, sounds like a clarinet … sort of

After walking down to Tierra Antigua for lunch, we made a stop at Casa Viviana before heading home. Viviana Alavez is a Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art, known for her ornate hand-made beeswax candles. My friend Chris wanted to buy some to take to her new home in Ajijic. The longer, thicker ones weren’t available. They are for the Danzantes celebration, we were told.

Chris and Ben at Casa Viviana candlemakers

As we were leaving, my friend Natividad appeared in the doorway with her baby daughter Esmeralda. I asked her what was going on down the street under the big tented courtyard — always a signal for a fiesta. It’s the home of the Moctezuma, the lead character/dancer for the Dance of the Feather, she said and invited us to come over. Another grand surprise, my comadre Ernestina was there with daughter Lupita, and lo and behold, Viviana was participating in the food preparation, too.

Making masa mixed with cacao for tejate — at it for five hours

We were invited to the Sunday morning mass to bless the dancers at the church and then come back to the house for breakfast. What a surprising and great day!

Breakfast is hot chocolate and sweet bread — dunk in the chocolate for yummies

This is the early part of the celebration, when the family and closest friends come together in private ceremony. The abuelas enter the altar room to offer their special benedictions to the young people — another way to carry-on tradition, handing it from generation-to-generation, in a tribute to succession and respect.

Home altar here is more important than the church for Zapotec ritual of thanksgiving and appreciation. After the church ceremony, the head of household gathers everyone in the altar room for prayer in both Spanish and Zapotec, thanking God for family, community and continuity. This is cultural preservation at its best!

The cooking fires — how food is made in Teotitlan del Valle
Amulets, rattles and feathers on the altar, an offering to God, community and church

We then sit down to a breakfast of homemade everything — in abundance: black beans seasoned with epazote, hot chocolate, bread, fresh from the comal stone-ground tortillas, salsa. Later for lunch at 5 p.m. there will be Seguesa de Pollo, a tasty stew of organic chicken mixed in a seasoned mole amarillo (yellow chile sauce) thickened with toasted and rough ground maize (corn).

It takes a village to cook for the minions, including famous Viviana (right).
Eating Seguesa de Pollo. We use tortillas for spoons here!

Let the festivities begin.

The abuelitas — the little grandmothers, friends for a lifetime
At 4 a.m. men start the toro slaughter, to become barbacoa and consumé on Wednesday
We know where our food comes from — teaching the children (Arnulfo, left, Rodolfo right)

It is an honor and privilege to live here and participate in these rituals. Tomorrow I leave to attend and volunteer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in New Mexico, and meet up with long-time friends. Then, I’ll continue on to California to visit my son, sister and brother. I’ll keep you posted along the way.

Thank you for reading and following! I’ve been writing this blog for 12 years. It’s been an amazing process, always filled with new experiences to share.

Teotitlan del Valle daily market from the church steeple

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