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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.

Gossip and Morning Refreshment: Following the Abuelitas

This morning I arrive at the daily market early, by 9 a.m. I had chicken soup on my mind and want to make some, so I first stop at a stall where I know that cooking teacher Reyna Mendoza buys her pollo. Criollo, advises the woman standing next to me in the aisle as she points to the small whole, white chicken, saying pollo, es pollo, (chicken, it’s chicken) a Spanish lesson for the güera. I smile and nod.

Buying roses, $2.50 a dozen . I always have fresh flowers.

Buying roses, $2.50 a dozen . I always have fresh flowers.

Criollo means natural or wild or organic. They eat maize, she says. She then points to the big, plump yellow chickens sitting with their big breasts, proud birds, twice the size of the criollos, and says, these came from Oaxaca and they eat commercial grain (in Spanish, of course). Then, the vendor and the shopper move into Zapotec, a language I don’t understand. Some chismes (gossip), I’m sure.

Mango vendor with an abundant supply.

Mango vendor with an abundant supply.

I love following the little grandmothers, the abuelitas, through the market, with their wool checked faldas (skirts) folded around their waist and tied with a handwoven red wool cinturon (belt) with tassle ends. In the old days, these belts were dyed with cochineal. Some still are.

Plaid wool skirt tied with a cummberbund, floral top, shawl for sun protection, basket to hold market goodies.

Plaid wool skirt, floral top, shawl for sun protection, basket for market shopping.

Plaid skirts, flowered blouses, sometimes aprons, always a traditional handwoven reed shopping basket balanced on the crook of the left arm, long hair braided with colored ribbons and tied together at the end or piled on top of the head like a crown, a rebozo (shawl) covering shoulders or head, sometimes the shopping basket. This is a passing generation.

Village tuk-tuk carries shoppers who don't carry baskets on their heads.

Village tuk-tuk carries shoppers who don’t carry baskets on their heads.

This was not meant to be a long shopping trip. I left the house gate open because I intended to return immediately.  A quick pass through the market for organic chicken, chard, a dozen fresh long-stem roses (40 pesos a dozen, that’s about $2.50 USD), criollo eggs from the gallina (hen), a couple of squash and mangos (it’s the season).

Following the abuelitas as they take a respite

Following the abuelitas as they take a respite

As I was loading my car I noticed a stream of abuelitas entering the doorway of the convenience store across the street. Such a good picture, so I decided to hang out. A few more entered, one at a time.

Inside, a congregation of about six grandmothers. Good for the stomach, they say.

Inside the inner sanctum, a congregation of about six grandmothers.

More than coca-cola inside

More than coca-cola here. Time for a chat and refreshment.

It was by now 10 o’clock in the morning. I waited for them to emerge but they didn’t. And, I remember that this is the ladies’ social hour and the convenience store is where they congregate before going back home to work, prepare meals, do laundry and take care of the grandchildren. So, I decided I was done waiting and would join them!

It's dark inside with obscure lighting. In the shadows I can barely see faces.

It’s dark inside with obscure lighting. In the shadows I can barely see faces.

Believe me! A shot of mezcal at 10:30 a.m. can really get you moving. As I sidle up to the counter cum bar to join the ladies, they welcome me with warm smiles, ask where I live, how long I’ve been here, and admire my filigree Zapotec-style earrings and embroidered apron, sign that I am surely one of them. Or at least a trying hard wannabe. Then, invite me to take photos.

I get a Zapotec lesson, Xa-Yu (how are you?) and chichi-bay-oh (salud) as we raise the cup. I already know Zakchi! (hello, good afternoon). This is really a foreign language.

A convenient stop across the street from the market

A convenient stop across the street from the market

Rosa, as she introduced herself, buys my first drink. Good for the panza, she says, patting her belly. I agree. Mezcal is a medicinal when not abused! She offers me another. I smile and decline, realizing I need to drive home without bumping into any burros.

Next time, my turn to buy.

And, that’s village life in Oaxaca.

For sale, fresh cornhusks for tamales, anyone?

This is, too. Fresh native corn and husks for tamales, anyone?

Norma’s Simple Chicken Soup Recipe

  • 1 small, white organic chicken, cut up, skin removed
  • include neck and gizzards and egg sack
  • 1-2 chicken feet (just like grandma used to make)
  • 4-6 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 1 serrano pepper, dried
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 whole onions, peeled
  • 1/2″ fresh turmeric, peeled

Add chicken and all other ingredients to 6 qt. stockpot. Bring to simmer on stovetop, cover and cook for 4-6 hours*. Chill. Remove fat. Muy rico.

These local, skinny free-range chickens are pretty tough, so to get the meat very tender, it needs to good for a really long time! It’ the feet that give the flavor.

Oaxaca Tropical Fruit + Tomato Ginger Chutney Recipe: With Some Heat!

Tropical Fruit + Tomato Ginger Chutney atop Boulanc's walnut infused rye bread

Tropical Fruit + Tomato Ginger Chutney atop Boulanc’s walnut infused rye bread

I’ve been sequestered in my Teotitlan del Valle casita for some days now (without internet connection), more out of choice than anything. Best to hide from the heat of the day under the ceiling fan with a sewing or cooking project.

Saucepan with fruit and spices before taking the heat

Saucepan with fruit and spices before taking the heat

So, after a trip to the Tlacolula market on Sunday where I saw an overabundance of fresh mango and papaya piled to the rooftops, I had to have some.  Then, there were the tomatoes, everywhere.  Did you know that tomatoes are one of Mexico’s gifts to the world?

A full pot before the cooking begins!

A full pot as the cooking gets underway!

I went home and made up this recipe for a chutney jam that is great on toast or to accompany meat, poultry fish or top on steamed veggies and rice.

Lime juice and zest makes this recipe tangy sweet a la Oaxaca

Lime juice and zest makes this recipe tangy sweet a la Oaxaca

Ingredients:

  • 1 large, ripe mango, peeled and cubed (1/2″ cubes)
  • 1 small, ripe papaya, peeled, seeded, cubed (1/2″ cubes)
  • 1 small, ripe pineapple, peeled, cored and cubed (1/2″ cubes)
  • 8 plum tomatoes, peeled (score top, immerse in boiling water for 30 seconds until skin can be removed), and quartered
  • 2 medium white onions, peeled, julienne cut
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled, whole
  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 hot red peppers (see example)
  • 6 cubes of candied ginger, diced fine (can substitute candied kumquat)
  • juice of six small limes to equal 1/2 c. liquid
  • zest from 2 limes
  • 3 cups granulated natural cane sugar
I grow these peppers in a pot on my rooftop terrace. They add the heat!

I grow these peppers in a pot on my rooftop terrace. They add the heat! They are either Fresno or Serrano peppers. Not exactly sure!

Put all fruit and spices together into a six quart saucepan. Add lime juice and zest. Stir in sugar. Stir well. Put saucepan on a heat diffuser over low heat for temperature control and so bottom of pan doesn’t burn. Sugar and juices will dissolve together into a thin syrup with fruit floating around. Bring to simmer.

Note: Remove the peppers mid-way through the cooking process if you don’t like spicy.

Continue cooking on simmer, stirring frequently, until liquid reduces by 50% and thickens to a jam consistency. You can use a thermometer or test for doneness if liquid drops in thick globules from a metal spoon raised about 12″ above the sauce pan.

When it's done, it looks like this. Of course you can always sample for thickness.

When it’s done, it looks like this. Of course you can always sample for thickness.

We live at 6,000 feet altitude here in Oaxaca, so cooking takes time. The chutney jam was ready after about 2 hours on the burner. Patience here is a virtue!

The lowest flame on my stove. Note the heat diffuser.

The lowest flame on my stove. Note the heat diffuser.

Refrigerate to eat within the next week or two. Or, process for 10 minutes in canning jars in a water bath until the tops seal.

I'll freeze a small batch and eat the rest. Maybe you'll come for dinner?

I’ll freeze a small batch and eat the rest. Maybe you’ll come for dinner?

Tips: Last week I used cantaloupe and did not use tomatoes or pineapple. I also substituted kumquat for ginger. You could also add thin slices of oranges and lemons instead of the lime and use 1/4 c. vinegar. Muy sabroso!

Candied ginger, my stash from Pittsboro, North Carolina, used with consideration.

Candied ginger, my stash from Pittsboro, North Carolina, used with consideration.

I want to acknowledge two friends who gave me recipe inspiration:  Natalie Klein from South Bend, Indiana, and David Levin from Oaxaca and Toronto. Natalie is a friend of 40+ years who shared her tomato ginger chutney recipe with me and I have adapted it many times, even canning and selling it.

Close-up of the fruit and spice medley

Close-up of the fruit and spice medley

David (and friend Carol Lynne) returned from Southeast Asia a few months ago where they took cooking classes. David has made chutney ever since. He inspired me to try my own hand at the concoction.

Lime zest sits on pile of julienned white onions

Lime zest sits on pile of julienne white onions

More years ago than I care to count, I owned and operated a gourmet cookware shop, cooking school, and cafe. It’s in my DNA.

Oaxaca Blue Corn Flakes: Organic, Sugar and Gluten Free

Hollie was here visiting for ten days and we went to the Pochote-Xochimilco organic market that is held every Friday and Saturday in the district just beyond Oaxaca’s historic center.

BlueCornFlakes

I was captivated by the color of the organic blue corn crunchy tortillas, and the ones made from beets, a deep red, were truly spectacular.  Hollie is on a gluten-free diet, so this was just perfect to use for chips to dunk into the guacamole — salt and sugar-free, made with sesame seeds and amaranth.

BlueCornFlakes-3

One morning, I thought, Why not break them up and use them for corn flakes? So, I did, adding sunflower seeds. One could also use toasted pumpkin seeds or nuts, too.

BlueCornFlakes-4

I had on hand fresh fruit:  the fruit of the nopal cactus called tuna, guava, bananas, and a pear given to me by David on our trip to Capulalpam picked from his tree.

BlueCornFlakes-5

I cut these up into diced pieces, added the fruit to the dried mix, poured natural, unflavored yogurt on top, and there was breakfast.

BlueCornFlakes-6

Martha is visiting today and I prepared it again this morning.  Muy rico!  Try it.  Sugar free, gluten-free, organic. Adapt your own version from available ingredients wherever you live.

Baking the Improvised Cheesecake: More Art Than Science

Cheesecake is becoming more popular in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Though it’s difficult to find springform pans here that are used to bake the traditional New York-style cheesecake.  I know one store, Pastigel on Calle Rayon near the Periferico that sells pastry baking supplies where you can buy one.  Called moldes, they are very expensive, about thirty-five dollars.  There are plenty of low-cost aluminum cake pans, though.  Line one with buttered parchment paper and it’s easy to improvise.

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Everyone here loves cake.  And, cheese.  RequesonQuesillo.  Queso fresco. Cream cheese, known as Philadelphia, can easily be bought but it’s also costly. More than two dollars a package at our corner tienda in Teotitlan del Valle.  So, we make the best of it and improvise once more.

JanetDianaCheesecake-7

To prepare for our cheesecake cooking class, I gave Janet and Diana a shopping list in advance.  Six eggs, one cup of sugar, real butter, a large container of sour cream, four packages of Philadelphia, and one lemon for each cake.  In Spanish, lemons are called limas.  That makes me think of Lima, Peru, which I just realize is named for a citrus. Diana arrives with six ripe lemons picked this morning from the tree in her garden.  It’s not even February.  

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Janet needed my pan and forgot eggs.  I used a deep dish casserole, also buttered, lined with a parchment paper circle partly cut into pie wedges and overlapped.  Improvise, I say.  We redistributed the thirteen eggs between us, so they used five each.  I used three.  Another improvisation. I had two packages of Philadelphia, so I added a cup of Requeson and creamed it along with the cheese and sugar. Then, I added one cup of sour cream and reserved the rest for the topping, which we later adorned with a flor de jamaica (hibiscus flower).  I told the girls that cooking is more of an art than a science for me.

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It took us four-and-a-half hours to make and bake three cheesecakes. As we prepped, Janet translated the steps into Spanish for her family.  Most importantly, we had a lot of fun.

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Many, many years ago, when I owned a gourmet cooking school and cookware shop in Indiana, I baked and sold whole New York-style cheesecakes for twenty-five dollars, three dollars a slice.   I had commercial equipment. Today’s lesson employed a hand-mixer and a food processor (lucky to have them here), which we used to make a cookie crumb crust with Marias instead of graham crackers.

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We are at six thousand feet altitude, so baking is slow.  What usually takes forty-five to sixty minutes in North Carolina is closer to an hour-and-a-half here.  I had to bump up the Celsius temperature on my oven to get a cooked cheesecake.  Translated here: 400 degrees F. instead of 350. Another improvisation.

For the Oaxaca Cheesecake Recipe, click here.