Friday, October 15, 2010

Sopa Tlalpeño

Calle Real de Guadalupe, San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Living at an altitude of 2100 m (6890 ft), I suppose one should learn to make a very good broth. San Cristóbal de las Casas sits precisely at this height, and though close to the equator, the city still suffers incredibly cold nights (which surprises many tourists, resulting in a booming trade for scarves and sweaters). Some years ago I very briefly lived in San Cris, but the decidedly spartan surroundings I rented precluded any great broth production, since I was equipped with little more than a saucepan and a flame.

Moreover, a ten minute walk and a five minute wait would get me a huge portion of any one of the amazing soups from El Caldero. They boast a simple menu of eight caldos and little else, the secrets of which I have tried to procure since the first bowl. When we returned the other day, the Señora clearly remembered me and my efforts to wrench the truth out of her. She also continued to avoid any commitment to exactitude, knowledge of specific chilies, or any prolonged conversation on the topic.

I don't mean to sound so ambitious or obnoxious. The truth is that I like talking to her, and I guess she is quite flattered with my near half-decade of persistence. Anyway, at a rate of one ingredient divulged per bowl I've eaten there, I have figured out four and a half soups and have my own versions of the rest. The two we had the other day were the Caldo Chilango–a variation on Sopa Azteca–and Caldo Tlalpeño: a broth with shredded chicken, vegetables, chayote, lime and chipotle.

The Caldo Tlalpeño can be composed in a number of ways, some with a spicy broth and many with chick peas as a main component. The simplicity of El Caldero's Tlapeño appeals to me, because it needs no more than a well made stock and good vegetables to be incredibly satisfying. Incidentally, the name Tlalpeño denotes the soup's geographical origin of Tlapan, the largest borough of the Federal District of Mexico City. The word Tlapan comes from the Aztec tongue of Náhuatl and means "on the land". Here, I offer my own humble recipe of the good Señora's life-giving soup.

Caldo Tlalpeño with Caldo Chilango in the supporting role.

Caldo Tlalpeño | serves 4

1600ml Caldo de Pollo
1 choko, peeled and cut into a large dice
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2cm rounds
1 large potato, quartered
1 cup green beans, cut into 2cm lengths
2 zucchini, cut into a large dice

To serve
250g cooked chicken breast, shredded
2 ripe avocados
2 limes, halved
A few sprigs of coriander, chopped
4 chile chipotle (of the dried variety)
Oil to shallow fry
  1. In a large pot, bring the chicken stock to a simmer and add carrot, potato, choko and season well. Cover and simmer and simmer until the potatoes begin to soften.
  2. Add the beans and zucchini, and continue cooking until the beans are quite soft.
  3. In a shallow fry pan, heat the oil to a moderate temperature then fry the chilies very briefly. They will need no more than 5 seconds on each side, the aim being to crisp them without darkening the skin.
  4. When the vegetables are tender, add the shredded chicken to the broth and check seasoning.
  5. Serve the soup into 4 large bowls with one chile chipotle in each, accompanied by a plate of avocado, the cut limes and chopped coriander.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tlahui Appeal

As some may know, in the past month Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico have been devastated by floods and landslides caused by the heaviest rainfall in recorded history. The convergence of both Hurricane Karl and Tropical Depression Matthew have caused incredible damage to regions of some of the poorest regions in Mexico.

Early morning on Tuesday the 28th of September, the mountain village of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec suffered a huge landslide that covered much of the mountainside in mud and rubble, killing 11 and leaving many more homeless.

The aftermath is perhaps more devastating. With thousands forced to leave their homes fearing further landslides and many subsistence crops washed away, Tlahui is still in the grips of a major humanitarian crisis. Some suggets that one of Tlahui's main obstacles to rebuilding will be the Government's ineffective response to the situation, which is likely to be slow in coming and unsustainable.

Some are stepping in to fill the void. Amongst them is Puente, an organisation in Oaxaca that promotes sustainable food sovereignty and health in the State. Karin and I have both worked with Puente in our time in Oaxaca and are lucky to know some of their staff. The following is lifted from an email sent out today from Puente:
"Four members of our team went to Tlahui last Friday and delivered goods to five of the six temporary shelters that have been set up around the town, housing over 2,000 people.
Amongst the goods that were delivered were; tarpaulins, water and food disinfecting drops, nappies, toilet paper, raincoats, shovels and pickaxes, and foodstuff including ground corn, canned foods, biscuits and powdered milk.
Safety permitting, the team plans to deliver water purification systems and more food in the coming days, the items that the are needed most urgently.
Indeed, apart from the landslide, the heavy rains have destroyed harvests and rivers have swept away acres of agricultural land, meaning that it is likely that the citizens of Tlahui and the surrounding areas will need support with food shortages for the coming months, at least. They are also concerned that a proper geological study needs to be conducted to determine whether it will be safe to return to their homes.
Puente will be coordinating with the local population and partner organizations in the area, to develop a strategy to address these issues as well as to harmonise the general recovery process in the coming months"
Perhaps some of you may follow this blog because you've been to Oaxaca, or perhaps you have Mexican heritage or friends. And every time I post a recipe I'm encouraging you to go out and spend some amount of money on chilies, chocolate or corn husks to make yourself something wonderful to eat. This time I ask you to please consider donating a few of those dollars to help others to eat, and rebuild their lives after this tragedy.

To donate, click here. The link will take you to Puente's existent donations page, where you can safely give the quantity of your choice. Just specify in the comments field that the money is for the Tlahui Appeal. Thanks to everyone in advance.