One of the tensions I’ve always struggled with in regards to cooking Mexican food is that of cooking “authentic” Mexican food with the ingredients available to me in Boston. I promise this is not another one of those posts where I complain about how much Mexican produce sucks around here. Although I’m often disappointed by…
Our stay in Puebla last weekend was short but magical. We arrived Friday night and left Monday morning. During that time we stayed in a gorgeous historical inn, “discovered” an outstanding new restaurant and took two cooking classes.
First on the menu were chiles enogada. We took our chiles enogada class with the chef at our hotel, Mesón Sacristía. Chiles enogada, an iconic Mexican dish, are a seasonal but iconic Mexican dish birthed in Puebla. According to tradition, the chiles were created by nuns for the visit of emperor Agustín de Iturbide. The dish reflects the occasion. It is complex, multi layered, laborious and well suited for an emperor. To make the dish, a chile poblano is stuffed with a sweet and savory filling consisting of meat, fruit and spices. The chile is then coated with egg whites, fried and topped with a white walnut sauce. It is then sprinkled with a green herb, usually parsley, and pomegranate seeds, yielding the colors of the Mexican flag. The final result is beautiful.
This is the part where I have to admit that… I’m not a fan. Alright, Alright, they were good and I might make them again but not with the same exact recipe. The stuffing for the chiles, which consisted of pork, chicken, almonds, raisins, cumin, cinnamon and sugar, was sweet. You already know how I feel about sweet and savory. But, even when I got past the sweet-ish filling, the sweet sauce is what made the meal not really edible for me. The sauce that we made contained goat cheese, walnuts, and milk (so far, so yum) but then we also added rum and sugar (yuck). So I hope I am not offending any Poblanos, but I was not a huge fan of the overall effect. Luckily, the next day when visiting a friend in Puebla, his grandma informed that her walnut sauce recipe did not contain sugar and is more savory, so I may give her recipe a try when I get back home.
Our second class was on two Pueblan street foods, pelonas and chalupas. I’d tasted chalupas before and thought of them as small fried sopes with salsa on top. They are actually small tortillas, topped with fresh green or red salsa, raw onion and quickly fried in lard, resulting in delicious, crisp and soft disks of saucy goodness. Pelonas are small sandwiches whose name means “bald.” They have this name because unlike cemitas, another Pueblan bread used in a delicious Pueblan food, they lack sesame seeds. The pelonas we made were lightly fried, filled with meat, queso oaxaca, beans and lettuce and were delicious. This class took place in the home of Ale and Tere with whom we connected through Traveling Spoon. I loved that for this class, Nicole and I cooked in the backyard of a Pueblan family we would have otherwise not had access too. After the lesson, we sat together and conversed over our meal.
Apart from the classes, I also learned a lot about Mexican cuisine through the meals we had in Puebla. Our first day in Puebla we stumbled upon the beautiful open courtyard of a restaurant called Casa Barroca. Since Nicole and I are both foodies, we did what we normally do, we asked for a menu to scope out the place before sitting down. After a shorter look through the menu than usual, we looked at each other in perfect agreement, we wanted to eat there! I had read phrases like “black bean risotto,” and “chicharron crusted” on the menu and I was sold.
After deliberating over such an amazing menu, I finally settled on a green pipián, a thick sauce made with pumpkin seeds, served with a oaxaca cheese stuffed chicken breast over a bed of black bean risotto. This dish was delicious! Nicole, ordered a fideo soup with king crab, aged cheese and chorizo cream which was also tasty. For dessert we shared a Dulces Besos and a Vervena. The Dulces Besos was a pink pine nut mousse filled with chocolate cream, paired with fruit and horchata ice cream. The Vervena was a deconstructed lemon meringue pie paired with lemongrass ice cream, maracuya custard, and fresh citrus slices. The vervena was amazing.
Our love affair with Casa Barroca continued when we returned for breakfast Sunday morning. This time I had green eggs and ham (not actually called this) and Nicole had molletes with tasajo. Both were also outstanding! We did some research and found out that Casa Barroca is a historic building that dates back to 1541 which was recently renovated to house a beautiful new restaurant, hotel, and art gallery in Puebla. We haven’t heard much about it on the internet or yelp since it’s very new but you should definitely plan to go there if you’re in Puebla.
Finally, also of note, was the molten cake we had at el Mural de los Poblanos. The gooey oaxacan chocolate molten cake which smelled of cinnamon and citrus, paired beautifully with vanilla from papantla ice cream. The dessert was aptly named El Regalo de Quetzalcoatl. Do you know that both vanilla and chocolate originate from Mexico? (I know! More on this later)
It’s hard to synthesize what I’ve been thinking about these past two weeks but I am amazed by Mexican cuisine. I was telling my husband yesterday that throughout the 8 classes that we’ve taken so far, no dish has overlapped without us telling any of our instructors what we’ve already cooked. Mexican cuisine is so rich!
I loved a moment during a market tour when our tour guide went over 10 different salsa combinations using a handful of dried chiles, stressing how different each of the salsas would be using those same chiles and a few ingredients. Later that week we got to see this in action by making three different salsas using the same tomato base. By adding gusanos de maguey, cumin, and avocado leaves, we got three completely different salsas.
Chiles have always been a staple in my cooking but I’d never understood that dry chiles like pasilla, guajillo, ancho, and chipotle are simply poblanos or jalapeños before they are transformed into their new state by smoking or drying during different levels of ripeness. After trying dozens of delicious salsas and moles during this trip, I am determined to grow my own chiles next summer and start experimenting with new salsas and moles.
Overall, I am incredibly grateful for this experience and feel that I have already learned so much about Mexican cuisine in the past two weeks. The list of foods I want to cook as soon as I get home grows by the day. Excited to share about our week in Oaxaca soon!
Hello! I am sitting in the beautiful pink courtyard of 200 year old hotel in Puebla, Mexico listening to a trio sing live Mexican ballads and sipping on coffee as I type this. The first leg of our Mexico Trip has been dreamy. I have been continually astounded by the richness of Mexican food and culture.
It is such a shame that America’s proximity to Mexico sometimes blinds us to the diversity and beauty of the culture and cuisine of our southern neighbor. I hope that by sharing some of the foods that I’ve been cooking this week you will be inspired to try a new recipe or to travel to Mexico for yourself and experience some of this magic.
This week started with an enchilada class in Mexico City at Esgamex. We made six different enchiladas from different regions of Mexico and I was hard pressed to pick a favorite after we got to taste them all. The chef there deeply impressed upon me a respect for traditional Mexican cooking techniques. One of the things he said that stuck with me most was when we worry too much about appearance we actually end up altering the recipe or the food that we are cooking. As a food blogger, I often find myself cutting things a certain way or serving meals differently than how I would if I were just eating it myself, so this definitely struck home. I do think that food can be art, and that it is ok to spend time styling food and cooking with esthetics in mind BUT his comment, and the humble but delicious presentation of the enchiladas in the course, certainly made me question my motives and practices. (More pictures here)
Tuesday we headed to Casa Jacaranda and learned to cook Cochinita Pibil, Sopes, Salsas, and a sweet corn tamal from Guerrero. This class started at el Mercado Medillin where we learned that goods were brought to the mercado by boat as recently as the mid 1900s. I loved hearing about the waves of immigrants that have come to Mexico City and the impact they have left on Mexican cuisine through foods like tacos arabes and flour tortillas. I was also astounded by the beauty and abundance of Mexican produce in the market- I’m pretty sure the mango I ate there was the best mango I’ve ever had. I was shocked to touch some chiles secos in the mercado and to feel their pliable and soft skin. By the time I get chiles in Boston, they tend to be brittle and even dusty! After the market tour we headed to Beto’s home to prepare the meal. His gorgeous home and cooking school is located atop a gorgeous boutique hotel. Beyond the market tour, the cooking techniques and the food and drinks we prepared, Beto impressed upon me a deep desire to host people, to make my guests feel like family, and to share Mexican cuisine with others.
Wednesday we started off our morning at El Cardenal in the center of Mexico City and after devouring some delicious pan dulce, enchiladas, and eggs we headed to la Biblioteca Herdez to dive into their diverse Mexican cookbook collection with over 4,900 volumes. Here I engrossed myself in books about tamales, salsas, and Mexican history. I found a recipe from an hacienda dating back to the 1700’s! After our restful morning we headed to an airbnb experience on Pan Dulce. This was my first airbnb experience and though I was not quite sure what to expect, I loved getting to take a small class and learn the basics of how to make a classic Mexican bread, pan dulce. The resulting conchas were perfectly moist and flaky on the inside while the concha topping was perfectly crunchy. I foresee lots of conchas in the near future. (More pictures here)
Thursday we partook in EatMexico’s Journey through la Merced. La Merced is not the safest neighborhood in Mexico City so I appreciated having a tour guide to lead me through the market, sharing the stories of the store owners, while sprinkling in a bit of Mexican history and culture. I honestly cannot even recall everything that we ate and my phone died halfway through the tour so you only get a short glimpse of the tour, but I was especially impressed by the tacos de lengua. The cow tongue was hacked off, peeled, diced and placed on warm corn tortilla for me on the spot. Topped with cilantro and salsa this taco was a work of art. After a dozen or so stalls, when I thought I could not possibly eat more food, we ended the tour at a small restaurant where a requezon, guacamole “cake” topped with chapulines was presented to us. Our tour guide was delightful and I loved getting to know Lola from Lola’s Cocina better. (More pictures coming soon!)
Today, Friday, we arrived in Puebla where we will be for the weekend before we head off to Oaxaca. I’m so excited to keep sharing everything that I am learning with you in the next two weeks. Make sure to follow along on instagram for daily updates.
Finally, I can’t leave you without a recipe. So bringing together my love for something totally Mexican, agua fresca, and something from Boston, my new home, I have some Rhubarb Agua fresca for you.
I made this rhubarb agua fresca right before coming to Mexico for my friends birthday party. The Rhubarb agua fresca tasted like a mild, tart pink lemonade. It was delicious and refreshing. Although, I didn’t add anything else to the agua because I wanted it to be purely agua fresca, I bet it would be great with lemon, hibiscus or with strawberries!
Notes: You can strain this to different degrees. I only strained mine with a normal mesh strainer the first time and it was kind of pulpy which I was OK with. However, if you want a clearer and brighter pink drink, then you should strain through a strainer and cheese cloth but know that this will yield much less liquid. The Rhubarb Agua Fresca is best within a day or two.
Rhubarb Agua Fresca
Yields: 5 cups
Rhubarb Agua Fresca
- 1 lb of Rhubarb, washed and cut into small pieces
- 1 cup of sugar
- 4 cups of water, or enough water to cover rhubarb completely
- Place rhubarb, sugar and water in pot and boil for 10 minutes or until rhubarb starts to come apart.
- Place the entire contents of the pot in blender and puree completely.
- Strain the puree through a thin mesh or sieve into a pitcher.
- Then add water until rhubarb reaches your desired level of tartness. For me this was about 2 more cups of water.
I am in Houston today before heading out to Mexico on Sunday for my teacher fellowship! I always love coming home to visit family but am taken aback by the crazy Texas heat. There is only one thing on my mind on a hot day like today- fruit paletas!
Mexican paletas are fruity and delicious popsicles that are often characterized by their freshness and fun flavors. One of my favorite paletas as a child was a chamoy paleta. There are no chamoy paletas to be found in Boston, but luckily one of my favorite ice cream shops in Boston, FOMU, carries a seasonal habanero mango flavor that reminds me of the tart and spicy chamoy paletas of my childhood.
When a heat wave hit Boston last week, I knew that habanero mango popsicles would hit the spot, so I made a batch of these paletas and added candied habanero pieces to the bottom of the mold. Turns out the “bottom” of the paleta is the first thing you bite, and so my first bite was liquid fire. After I recovered from the first bite, I fell in love with the spicy and refreshing habanero mango combination. They were perfect on a hot summer day!
These mango habanero popsicles are tart and especially refreshing due to the habanero taste. Although they don’t feel that spicy upon first taste, after the first bite the warmth from the habanero will begin to spread throughout your mouth and tongue. A spicy but fun experience!
That’s all for now, folks. I’m off to pack and spend time with family here in Houston while I can. Let me know if you try these paletas! They are not for the faint of heart.
Notes: Make sure to turn on your stove fan when cooking the habanero syrup because you will cough due to the pepper smell. I added candied habanero pieces to the bottom of my paletas for a nice pop of color, but they increased the spiciness of the paletas significantly, so do this at your own risk. I would add it at the bottom, or wider end of the paleta, for the brave to try at their own risk. Although the recipe calls for 1 ½ tablespoons of habanero syrup, if you don’t have a high tolerance for heat, I recommend that you start with less. Maybe start with ½ tablespoon at a time and see how that feels for you. You don’t need a special tray to make these, I regularly making them in cups, but if you’re looking for a mold, I like this one.
Mango Habanero Paletas
Yields: 3.5 cups of mango puree
Prep time: 20 minutes
Mango Habanero Paletas:
4 mangos, or 2 cups of cut up mango
½ cup water
½ cup of orange juice
1½ tablespoons of candied habanero syrup*
Candied habanero syrup:
4 habanero peppers, deseeded and stemmed
⅔ cup of sugar
⅓ cup of water
1 teaspoon of cider vinegar
- In a small saucepan, add habanero pieces, sugar, water and cider vinegar. Cook on medium low heat until the habaneros begin to crystallize and the simple syrup becomes a pale orange color. Approximately 10 minutes.
- In a blender, puree mangos, orange juice, habanero syrup and water until smooth and uniform in consistency.
- Pour mango habanero puree into paleta molds and freeze until set, about 4 hours.