Tag Archives: recipe

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!

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Oregano Ginger Cornbread Recipe — Maize Molido

How was I going to replicate the organic cornbread I’ve been making (and eating) in North Carolina here in Teotitlan del Valle?, I wondered. As I cruised the village market yesterday, I saw a local woman selling small bags of ground cornmeal. I asked her to verify what it was, since I wanted plain ground corn. For atole, she replied, in Spanish. Nothing more than corn. Maize molido. I thought, oh, good, local from her milpa.

Cornbread, oven fresh. Waiting to cool and eat.

I know how they grind corn here. Almost every family has a small plot of corn, squash and beans out in the campo. This is to sustain them and their animals throughout the year. Everyone eats the same corn — animals and humans alike. There are three corn plantings and harvests a year. The last harvest is coming in now, just before Muertos.

Thankfully, I had almond milk on hand in the bodega.

Once the corn is harvested, most of it is dried. The women peel the kernels off the husks, then take the dried corn kernels to the local molino (mill). There is a mill in every neighborhood here. They choose how they want it ground, coarse to fine. What I bought was a fine ground cornmeal. Native, organic corn. Original corn. Healthy. Just perfect.

Allowed on my low FODMAP diet, candied ginger.

I followed a highly rated gluten-free recipe online, but added my own flavors to the dry meal: 1/4 t. turmeric, one tablespoon of minced, candied ginger, about a teaspoon of dried oregano I had bought fresh at the local market some months ago.

Turmeric, local dried oregano, cornmeal and gluten-free flour.

We are at 6,000 feet altitude here in the Oaxaca valley. It takes longer to bake and we need to crank up the oven temperature a bit to compensate. Baking here is as much an art as it is a science, so I watch the cornbread to make sure it is rising and not browning too fast.

Just in case you didn’t recognize oregano!

My friend Kalisa is a baker extraordinaire. She often stays in the casita when I’m gone, caring for the dogs. Of course, this is a Mexican stove! She did a translation of oven temps from Fahrenheit to Centigrade last year. We keep this on a faithful sticky note on the side of the cupboard near the oven. It helps immensely.

Mr. Armadillo supervising the baking project.

Footnote: It took over an hour to bake. The recipe called for 25 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. The texture is fine, more like a cake than a bread. Next time, I’ll see if I can find a coarse grind meal in the village. Meanwhile, I taste the turmeric and the oregano and ginger. I like the mingling of the flavors.

What can you experiment with?

P.S. A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I used to own and operate a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school. I still love to experiment.

Oaxaca Mango Ginger Shrub — A Drink, Not a Plant

What is a Shrub? you may ask. It is a drinking vinegar, usually a fruit concentrate that is added to sparkling water, tablespoon by tablespoon depending on your strength preference, to give it a zesty flavor. Since it’s non-alcoholic and slightly fermented, it is a perfect drink over ice for those who don’t want an alcoholic beverage.

It’s also good to add to sparkling white wine or for in the mixed drink fixin’s.

What to do with leftover pulp. Don’t discard it!

I came across a ginger shrub at a health food grocery in downtown Oaxaca. It was 50 pesos for about 2 ounces. That’s about $2.65 USD. Give it a try, I thought. And, wow, was it delicious added to club soda. I’m going to make some.

It’s even tasty with plain water over ice! Refreshing.

So, I researched recipes online. There was none for mango and none for mango combined with ginger. I had two very large and very ripe mangoes in the refrigerator. I’ll use them for this experiment.

Mangoes are plentiful here this time of year. They grow on the coast of Oaxaca and most of them are the size of a large man’s fist. They cost about 5 pesos each.

Shrub concentrate after filtering pulp from liquid

My Mango-Ginger Shrub Recipe:

Peel and dice the mango, separating fruit from pit. Put in a medium size mixing bowl. Total should yield 2 cups of fruit. Mash fruit until you get a pulp.

Dice 5 cubes of candied ginger. Add to mixing bowl. I buy the candied ginger here in Oaxaca at the health food store.

Add 1-1/2 C. apple cider vinegar and 1/2 C. balsamic vinegar to the bowl.

Add 2 C. Mexican cane sugar to the bowl.

Stir well. Cover bowl with clean dish cloth. Set a plate on top and put aside so as not to disturb. Let sit for 48 hours, stirring once every 24 hours.

Drain liquid from pulp. Pour liquid into glass jar or clean container and refrigerate. Will keep up to 3 weeks. To use, put 1-2 T. into a drinking glass. Add ice cube and seltzer water. Stir and drink.

Because this drink is slightly fermented and has a vinegar sweet sour flavor, I suspect it is also an excellent pro-biotic and belly soother.

Yield: About 8 fluid ounces.

All the recipes I read recommended that you discard the fruit after extracting the liquid. I say NO. Use it to top crackers with cheese and avocado. Delicious. Muy rico!

Cooking Up a Storm: Oaxaca Potato Salad with Nopal Cactus

It’s the rainy season here. Thus, Cooking Up a Storm! This week I made two different traditional outdoor grills on the anafre (a Spanish word of Arabic origin, as so many are) — one day was chicken thighs, nopal paddles, potatoes, onions and garlic. A few days later, pork loin that marinated for three days in my extra special made-up, homemade marinade. Nopal is filled with health benefits. I buy my meat in the Teotitlan market from Carneceria Teoti.

You can see these photos on my Facebook page. The results, both times, were yummy. I used mesquite charcoal to give off a smoked flavor, and also local pine wood for fuel. (I learned these techniques from my neighbors.)

Meat and potatoes in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Yesterday was Tlacolula Market day. I bought a large bag of about 20 small, red, organic potatoes for 10 pesos. That’s 52 cents. Maybe two pounds worth. A bunch of fresh spring onions, also 10 pesos. A bag of cleaned baby nopal paddles (spines removed). Ten paddles were 10 pesos. Lots of things get sold in bunches of 10 pesos! It’s easy to eat here at home for about $35 USD per week. I had the garlic cloves at home.

Spring onions or baby onions on the comal, low heat

I was going to grill all the ingredients, but decided it would be quicker to just boil the potatoes. That’s when I decided, Why not potato salad? Some of you know that a long, long time ago in another land far away, I used to own a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school. I still carry those cooking genes and yearnings with me in an improvisational sense. I like to cook based on what’s available and what inspires me. In Oaxaca, it is a dream come true.

Nopal cactus paddles, cleaned, drained, before cooking

So, here is the RECIPE for OAXACA POTATO SALAD WITH NOPAL CACTUS

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of small red-skinned potatoes
  • 1 garlic bulb, whole, cleaned and trimmed, stalk and roots removed
  • 2 T. salt
  • 6-8 small nopal cactus paddles, spines removed
  • bunch of spring onions, cleaned and trimmed
  • 1 to 2 T. grainy mustard
  • 1/2 C. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the onions like this …

Utensils:

  • 4 quart saucepan filled with water
  • Metal comal for stove-top searing/grilling
  • Long metal tongs
  • Some bowls, a knife, a cutting board
Before combining ingredients and adding dressing

Note: If you are in Mexico, you first want to disinfect all the veggies. (Even the locals do this.) This means ALL fresh fruit and vegetables; it is essential for good gut health. That means soaking the vegetables in 8 drops of Microdyne per liter of water for at least 15 minutes. (Sometimes, with lettuces and chard, I do this process twice.) This food processing takes time and no short cuts allowed. It is not a convenient part of living here, but the quality of the food makes up for it.

Instructions:

First, soak the nopal paddles in a bowl of salt water for 30 minutes. Use enough water to cover the nopal. Use at least 2 T. salt. This pulls the slime out of the nopal. Remove and drain.

Bring water to a boil. Add salt. Add potatoes and garlic bulb. Cook until potatoes are soft. You can test this with a wood skewer or fork. Remove and drain in a colander. Cool to room temperature. Peel the garlic cloves. Skin will remove easily.

Nopal paddles on the comal turning from bright to olive green

Heat the comal on the stove top. This is dry grilling. Do not add oil. Place the onions on the comal and cook, turning at regular intervals with metal tongs until bulb is soft. Do not burn. Remove and reserve until cool. Chop green stems and cut bulbs in half.

Cuts of the nopal cactus paddle after grilling

Add nopal paddles to hot comal. As they cook and sear, they will turn from bright to olive green. They are completely cooked when the entire paddle is olive green. Remove and cool. Cut into strips and cut again into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes.

Olive oil, NOT Gin Mezcal, gracias a dios!

Combine potatoes, onions, and nopal cactus in a bowl.

Mix the salad dressing together: oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. You can add a few tablespoons of water to thin the mixture if you like. Pour over the mixed veggies and toss all ingredients together. Correct the seasoning adding salt and pepper as needed.

Potato salad, dressed and ready to refrigerate — or eat!

Serve immediately at room temperature or refrigerate. Will keep for two days. Serves 6 to 8 people.