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Posts Tagged ‘Mexican Markets’

Most of my friends know that I take cooking classes in whatever country I travel to:  China, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos all have cooking schools of varying levels of sophistication and value for the educational dollar. Here in San Miguel de Allende I chose to immerse myself in the cuisine of Central Mexico by taking four different cooking classes in one week.

Cooking classes in foreign countries do more than simply teach you how to prepare an authentic Pad Thai or Cantonese delicacies like steamed spareribs in black bean sauce. Although while there is nothing wrong with collecting recipes when in the country of origin, you may find that you actually prefer your naturalized version back home. It really is a matter of what you get accustomed to. For example, I was shocked at how much sugar and salt go into genuine Thai and Balinese cooking. Literally fistfuls! My blood pressure went up just watching it!

I take cooking class for a variety of reasons. They ease you into the culture, particularly if a market tour is included.  Cooking and culture of course intertwined, and you learn about the history, customs and values of a people by understanding their cuisine. As an example, here in Mexico, olive oil is never used in cooking (and I mean never) because the Spanish overlords forbid access to both olives (and grapes) by non- Spaniards. Hence viniculture in Mexico is still relatively new, and olive oil is rarely used in the comida of the country, even though the climate is perfect for the cultivation of both the olive tree and the grape-vine.

I also take cooking classes to meet like-minded travelers and locals. Cooking classes here in SMA led to an evening with a documentary film maker from California. Later that week, my friend and I attended a showing of two of her wonderful films:  Songs of a Jewish Cowboy, and the Chicken Farmers of Petaluma. Afterwards, we were invited to join her group for dinner at a nearby restaurant whose walls were covered with photos and memorabilia from bullfights, in Spain Mexico and SMA. Ole! Things like this just don’t happen sitting in your hotel room, or confining your experience to a bus tour.

Authentic Mexican food, like traditional cuisine everywhere, is that curious dichotomy of “rules which are never to be broken” and “every family has their own version of everything”.  For example, in the making of salsa’s which are really sauces, mostly meant to be served hot over some kind of protein, you cannot use more than one fresh pepper, or one type of fruit in a salsa, but you can use more than one kind of dried pepper, but never a fresh and dried salsa in the same meal. Yes, it can get that complicated.

The “rules” also dictate that only beer and tequila are to be served with true Mexican food. The food related rationale is that the fruit of the wine might compete with the fruit in some moles or salsas, or conversely, be consumed by the heat and spice. Of course, it is rooted in the historical prohibition on the growing of grapes; hence no tradition of serving wine with food.

I don’t drink beer and I have yet to appreciate the joys of tequila*.   So I prefer to think that wine and Mexican foods are like a lovely couple that just have not been properly introduced yet. A Mexican meal would be well suited to an Ontario Riesling, that versatile food wine, the natural spicy food pairing of Gewürztraminer, and my personal choice, a medium bodied Cava, that inexpensive, all-purpose bubbly from Spain. A crisp fruity Albarino from the North Eastern region of Galicia in Spain would be a contender too.

So I leave you with a recipe for guacamole, upon which there are many variations, but this is the simplest and the most authentic.  You can use a fork to mix the ingredients, but I think that using a mortar and pestle (preferably stone based) to create a paste from the onions and chili first will produce a better result. You will notice that they use fresh Serrano chilies, not Jalapeños, which here are used dried and or pickled, never fresh.

You can tell that a Hass avocado is ripe if it slightly gives to your touch:  if not ripe enough, and the success of such a simple approach will depend upon few ingredients in perfect condition,  ripen in a paper bag on the counter for a few days.  Don’t forget to remove the seeds from the Serrano chili;   much of the technique in authentic Mexican cooking focuses on controlling heat, not accentuating it.

The result should be a bowl of pale green mounds, smooth and voluptuous in texture and unctuous in the mouth. You should want to take a bath in it, or at least slather it all over your body!

Failing that impulse, it can be used as “green butter” in sandwiches, a healthy dip for vegetables, or served Tex Mex style, with good quality, lightly salted corn chips.

A gentleman  from California whom I met one evening on a terrace as the sun was setting beautifully over San Miguel said that problem with Mexican cuisine is the use of  corn tortillas:  the corn flavour overpowers everything and makes it all taste the same. Well, that may be true, and I need to do more research (poor me) but there is something ridiculously appealing in the contrast of crisp salted corn and the velvety, voluptuous texture and taste of guacamole. Enjoy!

Guacamole

4 generous servings/3 cups

3 ripe avocados, preferably Hass

½ medium white onion, minced fine

1 Serrano chili (green, seeded and minced fine)

2 tbsp cilantro, carefully rinsed, dried, and chopped fine just before using

2 ripe red plum tomatoes, seeds and pulp removed, medium dice (about ¼ in squares)

1 tsp lime juice (only needed to prevent darkening if you are not eating the Guacamole right away)

½ tsp coarse sea salt (or kosher salt) to taste.

Pound the minced onion, chili and half the salt in a mortar and pestle until it becomes a fine paste. Put into a mixing bowl.  Cut the avocados in half lengthwise, remove pit, and then remove the avocado flesh from the shells  with a spoon and put into same mixing bowl. Mix the paste and the avocado gently, breaking up the ripe avocado into smaller and smaller chucks until you get a thick rich consistency, not unlike a bowl of your best, richest buttery lump free mashed potatoes.  Mix in the cilantro and tomato with care. Taste and add more salt if necessary. If you are serving with chips, you may not need any additional seasoning.

* Since writing this entry, I spent a cold wet San Miguel evening in the company of a lovely man, conducting a not entirely scientific survey of various grades and brands of tequila. But that is the subject of another post entirely.  🙂

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