Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mole Coloradito

It can be said that there are as many recipes for a mole as there are last names in Oaxaca. The tradition of the mole seems to me kind of like an inter-generational competition for the tastiest, most complex, supremely appealing mix of chile, spices, blood, sweat and tears. Oaxaca is of course the most famous region for mole (though Puebla boasts its own Mole Poblano), and everyone here has an opinion on which mole is best, which ingredient can never be omitted, and sometimes even tips on which ingredients are more soothing to the stomach (charred tortillas are high on the list, which reminded me that charcoal tablets are a common remedy for a bad stomach back home).

So, to cover some common questions about mole. The difference between mole and salsa is that a salsa is usually thin, made from combining cooked or raw ingredients into a well seasoned but watery liquid. A mole, however, can end up a little closer to a solid form, the ingredients being prepared then ground together and usually cooked again to amalgamate the flavours. The texture and complexity of the sauce is somewhat more akin to a dense curry than anything else.

Mole more or less translates to "concoction", and is derived from the Nahuatl word Molli. Famous for being a chocolate and chile sauce, most versions are far from hot and are only nuanced by chocolate, rather than defined by it. The following recipe might have some Oaxacans rolling in their graves, and others queuing up for a second plate. It is impossible to define any mole given its variety of interpretations, its ability to be identified through any combination of ingredients (peanuts understudy almonds, cloves act as allspice), the soul of the mole despite its changing face. The following is special to me, and has earned its own kudos here from time to time. I hope you enjoy it as much.

Mole Coloradito | makes 4 portions
1/2 cup vege oil or manteca
2 ancho chile
3 chile guajillo
2 chile pasilla
20g raisins
1/2 cup raw peanuts
300g egg tomato
1 onion halved
150g tomatillo (or 150g more tomato + 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar, if unavailable)
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
2 bayleaves
3 cloves
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
30g dark Mexican drinking chocolate (or good quality dark chocolate)
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt

poached chicken
  1. After wiping the chiles clean, split, de-seed and fry one at a time for about 5 seconds in vegetable oil. Place in a saucepan with the raisins and cover with boiling water. Leave sit for 10 minutes.
  2. In the same oil, fry the peanuts for 2-3 minutes until lightly golden. Drain from the oil and reserve.
  3. On a comal, toast the tomato, tomatillo, garlic, and onion. When the tomatoes are soft all the way through, remove from the heat. Quickly toast sesame seeds till golden than add the cloves, oregano, and thyme and heat for 30 seconds.
  4. Place all ingredients in a blender with 1/2 a cup of the chicken stock. Blend until very fine. Pass the mixture through a fine strainer, reserve.
  5. Take a small amount of the oil used for frying the chiles and peanuts, and heat it in a frying pan. Carefully add the paste, fry for 2-3 minutes until very fragrant. Add the salt, chocolate and remaining chicken stock. Simmer for 10 minutes and serve over poached chicken with warm tortillas.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mex and the City

Image courtesy of Racial Profiling at Mex and the City.

Take a minute to have a look at a very interesting and cool blog that documents most anything to do with Mexico, Mexicans and Mexicanity there is to be found. Photos, videos, tacos and tidbits here at Mex and the City (that's New York City by the way). Amongst other things, you'll find a link to the site of photographer Carlos Alverez Montero and should you venture, expect to encounter some amazing portraits and work.

We will return with the long awaited Mole Coloradito recipe in a few days. Happy Mexing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Memelitas de Oaxaca

The memelita is a little tease. She sings to me as I wander past the fondas of the Parque Llano, releases fragrant smoke though the doorways of comedors I pass, insinuates herself in my thoughts without prompting–sometimes whilst I am with another meal. When not described as a temptress, she might be described as (the use of this allusion is unintentional, I assure you) a crispy corn dough tartlet, filled with anything from chorizo and potato, pulled chicken in tomato sauce, mushrooms or simply cheese and black bean.

We frequently make these at the cooking school, and often find ourselves eating them for the next day or two until we get through the kilo of masa. It's a simple little process that leaves me plenty time–and hands free–to take photos with a certain brand of phone that shall not be named here (but thank you Lucas for the wise words on the apps).

So onto the little darlings, and it's all about the sauce. A fiery and smokey little number that is both delicate and robust, and a five minute preparation to boot. But then, I suppose it's all about the masa, which is still warm when at the moment of purchase from a sweet smelling tortillaria hidden down an alley I found by chance. In fact, it may be the quesillo from Etla that melts lusciously on top binding flavours so elegantly*. Whatever it is, it is as good as it looks. Provecho.

de Frijol | serves 6

200g fresh corn masa (or commercially prepared masa flour)
100g black bean paste
100g quesillo or queso fresco
finely sliced white onion
  1. Divide the masa into 6 even balls, flatten them slightly, then press firmly in a tortilla press.
  2. Turn over and press again, but not too hard as you don't want them too thin.
  3. Cook briefly on a comal before flipping over and pinching the edges to form a slight crust.
  4. Fill with a little black bean paste, top with shredded quesillo and cook a little longer till crispy on the base. Top with a little sliced onion and the salsa of your choice, my favourite is the Arbol sauce below.

Masa manipulation from basic dough to tartlet case.

Salsa de Arbol

1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
10-15 chiles de Arbol
1 small clove garlic
1 tomato
water, as needed
½ teaspoon salt
  1. After wiping the chiles clean, warm them gently in a pan with the vegetable oil. Fry the chiles softly until they are lightly fragrant (30-60 seconds).
  2. In a small saucepan, cover the tomato with water and bring to the boil. Cook for 4-5 minutes, then remove from the heat.
  3. Place the chiles in the blender jar, then add enough of the water from boiling the tomatoes as is needed to cover them. Add the tomato, garlic and salt and let sit for ten minutes, in which time the chiles will soften.
  4. Blend until smooth, then place in a bowl.
*Most principle tenants of the De La Tierra blog is to provide something inspiring and interesting, whilst keeping the content ultimately useful for the average reader. In this regard, this post may ultimately fail as a few of the key ingredients are not as common as I wish they were. Nevertheless we provide you with a little treat from the streets, kitchens and cooking schools of Oaxaca, and assure you that the effort if you make it, is well worth it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cinco de Mayo: Thanks a Maximilian.

Mexico was only 40 odd years free of Spain's colonial claims when in 1861, President Benito Juárez provoked the French by refusing payment of debt interest. The country had had some rough years, from the bloodshed of the 11 year War of Independence, to the Mexican-American War which saw Mexico cede almost half its territory to the United States. (Losing California, Nevada, Utah, parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, and the disputed Texas, all of which were part of Mexico until 1848.)

Mexico was in a ruinous state economically and its debts to England, Spain and France were too great a burden for the fledgling republic. Juárez, a Zapotec Indian, national hero and liberal reformist, declared a moratorium on debt payment and saw the three debtor nations respond by seizing Customs House in Veracruz. The French Emperor Napoleon III had had designs on empire expansion for a time, and Mexico presented a keen opportunity. When both Britain and Spain receded from the conflict, the French Army marched on to Puebla in 1862, but on the 5th of May they were defeated by a Mexican militia just over half its size. Though the victory is still widely celebrated today by Mexicans in the States and Puebla, the net result was Emperor's decision to fortify the French troops to an un-assailable 30,000, which easily took Mexico city in 1864 and installed Maximilian I on the throne.

Maximilian I, in all his 1860's hip glory.

The occupation only lasted four years, still it continued to fortify a strong French influence on culture and of course, cooking. Reduced stock-based sauces, pastries, baguette style bread, bechamel and veloute all became for a time–at least in wealthy circles–quite common. Techniques were adapted: the Bain Marie became the Baño Maria and puff pastry took on peasant food applications. (I discovered this on a Veracruz beach, when I purchased a crunchy mystery from a man yelling rather excitedly, "bolobanez-bolobanez-bolobanez-bolobanez-bolobaneeeez!". He was in fact advertising ham and cheese stuffed volovanes, a less elegant descendant of the vol-au-vent [those of us who lived through canapes in the 80's will just have to accept that they can be elegant]. The incredible array of Mexican baked goods both sweet and savoury are testament to this legacy, an insertion into a culinary repertoire whose closest cousin to an oven was a pit filled with hot stones.) The country restored to Mexican rule, yet Francophilia continued under dictator Porfirio Diaz, who's programs and influence emulated the architecture, fashion and cuisine of the French.

Samuel Ramos wrote extensively on the influence of French culture on the Mexican psyche, arguing that the tendency to rebel and a working towards democracy from oppression offered lateral similarities in culture. To the point of the culture of individuals, Ramos states that both Mexican and French ideals consider "culture" to be the domain of every man, accessible by all. The abstractions of many other nations cultures were not shared in the Mexican or French self-image, who preferred pragmatic and useful philosophy, concerned with practical applications.

Some of these aspects have drawn me to Mexico. And more of them than I had imagined have kept me here. So this 5 de Mayo, I'll give small but real thanks to Maxi and the French connection for the ill-conceived plan. Not for the baked goods, but for the Paseo de la Reforma, the embrace of the moment and, well, the baked goods.