Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Back In the Lab

The new year, wrapped in an apron.

As December surrenders to the New Year we finally exhale and settle, for a time, in Oaxaca. A small home with a simple furnishing, our own music and a two gas ring stove. After three days riding the bus from Mercado de Abastos to our street with a few of minor additions in tow, we are just about as set as we need to be.

So let it begin. After four months on the road, I finally have my own stash of chile chipotle, a kilo of cocoa beans, and a tortilla maker to play with amongst the rest. Down two flights of stairs, a great queseria (cheese store) selling daily made chorizo, Oaxacan cheese, tortillas –still warm when i pick them up– and too many other great things for me not to start thinking about exercise.

Over the next six months, I will be trying out the recipes collecting from the 20 or so Mexican cities we have vivited on this trip. So it is that I'll find myself in the Lab, pen and knife poised to amend, correct and consume. But not quite yet.

The first night, very tired, we celebrated our little space by putting together a few things we'd picked up in El Mercado. We had a simple mushroom and jalapeño quesadilla, and a small bowl of salsa roja. The Oaxaca cheese that binds the quesadilla is hard to find anywhere else in the world, so it can be reasonably substituted for a blend of good bocconcini and feta provided they are melted together. Oaxaca cheese, or quesillo (kay-see-yo) is truly one of the wonders of the Mexican kitchen. This semi-soft cheese is made from slightly soured cows milk, curded then stretched and wound into balls. It has a wonderfully unobtrusive flavour, slightly salty yet sweet as it is still very young at it best. The photos below show how it is dealt with: easily pulled apart by the grain of its stringy-curd form. I won't bore you with the recipe, you can see the steps below. The real recipe is the same as all the others: just good things treated well, as they should be.

Wishing you all a safe and peaceful New Year amongst your favourite people.

Trav & Karin

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Noche de Rabanos

Every 23rd of December since at least 1897, Oaxaca has celebrated an unsung edible root vegetable in a typically unique way. The Night of the Radishes heralds the Christmas break, filling Oaxaca's Zócalo with stands displaying scenes carved from oversize red radishes, or whole dioramas of intricately folded “totomoxtle” (dried corn husks). Families, visitors and tourists alike pass dozens of these exhibitions and marvel at the imagination and skill employed to contrive Zapotec dancers or a skeletal bride and groom.

The festival was inaugurated by the Mayor 112 years ago, but its beginnings reach further than that. Vendors selling salted fish and other foods after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve would carve radishes to attract families to their tables. The radishes became more and more elaborate, garnished and prettied with onions, tomatoes and eventually, “flor inmortal” (brightly colored straw flowers). Housewives would search out the most skilfully carved to dress their Christmas Eve tables.

Three days proceeding the event, the knives are drawn as these radishes are pulled from the ground. As the sculpting starts, the radishes are sprayed repeatedly to ensure they look their best come the festival. Most of the carvers are themselves radish farmers, responsible for these huge vegetables which can reach up to six kilos – a little different to your average table radish. At this size, deformity is the norm and skilled carvers see immediately the soul dwelling inside the radish. And along with steady hands, this sculptor's imagination can grant a Christmas wish: a good cash prize accompanied by a village's pride.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Horchata de Coco

A simple little thing to bring you much joy. Though an everyday drink in Mexico, Horchata's roots are at least Spanish, and in all probability Arabic. Whereas the Spanish Horchata is made with tiger nut (actually a tuber and not a nut at all), Mexico employs rice, almonds, vanilla –and on occasion coconut– to make this wonderfully refreshing drink.

Horchata is commonly found at paletarias (or ice-creameries) across Mexico, and those initiated may well skip the ice-cream and go straight for the horchata, such is it's appeal. This recipe is from Campeche, where the gulf of Mexico provides an abundance of coconut that happily augment this delicious drink.

Horchata de Coco

1 fresh coconut, pulp and juice (a small tin of coconut cream may be used in a pinch)
400ml evaporated milk
1 cup long grain rice, soaked for 2 hours in 1 cup boiling water
1 cup sugar
500ml cold water
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
100g ground almonds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Ice, as needed
  1. In a good blender, liquify coconut juice, pulp and the evaporated milk.
  2. Add rice (still in its water), almonds, vanilla, sugar and cinnamon and blend with the cold water for about 2 minutes.
  3. Strain into a jug with ice. The ice will tone down the intense sweetness of the drink, you may need to adjust this to your liking with a little chilled water.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cebollitas Encurtidas Yucatecas

Yucatecan Pickled Onions

2 medium red onions
1 chile habanero
2 small cloves of garlic, sliced in half
teaspoon oregano
6 black peppercorn
1 bay leaf
1 /2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Slice the onion into 2mm rings, place in a saucepan or bowl and cover with boiling water for one minute. Drain well then reserve.
  2. On a comal, toast the garlic until lightly charred. Remove, and toast the peppercorns and oregano for 30 seconds or so.
  3. Roughly chop the habanero, then mix all ingredients together. Prepare the onions at least an hour before they are required.

Cafe de Olla

Spiced Coffee

4 cups water
2/3 a cup coarsely ground dark roast coffee
1 inch cinnamon quill
raw sugar, to taste
1/2 inch strip of orange zest (optional)
  1. Bring the water to the boil, add orange and cinnamon and simmer two for two minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat, add the coffee and stir thoroughly.
  3. Leave sit for five minutes, add sugar to taste, strain and serve.
NB. The strip of orange zest is easily prepared with a vegetable peeler. It's addition to coffee I have never seen outside of Chiapas, but it is wonderful all the same.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Note from the Road

Taking advantage of Mexico’s relative proximity to Karin’s childhood home in Lima, we are currently on a short break amongst the mountains and sand dunes of Peru. As such, we’ve had a little time to consider the blog, its usefulness and how we can work to improve it.

So, as some of you may be aware the De La Tierra blog is a testing ground for recipes, stories and images with which we aim to compose a Mexican cookbook. In the hope of putting together the best book we can, we thought we would put a quick word out in the hope of getting a little feedback on the job thus far. Here is the short list of things on our wish list.

If you have had a shot at putting together any of the recipes, we would love to hear you thoughts on the results. Should you have fond memories a Mexican dish and would like the recipe, please submit a request. I have quite a number of them on the hard-drive that need testing. Additionally, if you have a recipe you would like to share, we would love to hear from you. All contributions will be duly acknowledged and highly appreciated.

We have changed our format to allow anyone to leave a comment below each post. If you prefer you can also send us an email directly at

We hope you are enjoying the content, and that you won't be shy to help us make a beautiful book about the country and food I have loved for many years.

Gracias y Saludos,