The cooks and laborers who built the foundation of our county's culinary traditions have often gone unnoticed throughout history.
Our Local Restaurant Worldtour continues with a look at Mexican cuisine. We learn about the exquisite alchemy of mole, find the best local restaurants (not to be confused with Sal-Mex) and taquerias, and examine the links between food and culture.
- Pati Jinich Cooking Instructor, Food Writer and Chef, Mexican Cultural Institute
- Rolando Juarez Owner, Guajillo (Arlington, VA) and Casa Oaxaca (Washington, DC)
- Alejandra de la Paz Cultural attache of the Embassy of Mexico; Director, Mexican Cultural Institute
- Monica Bhide "iSpice" Columnist, WashingtonPost.com
From Pati Jinich
Mole Amarillo con Pollo y Chochoyotes de Oaxaca (Oaxacan Chicken in Yellow Mole with Corn Masa dumplings)
One of the famous Moles from Oaxaca, the Amarillo has an exotic and sophisticated flavor. It is made with ingredients that used to be very hard to find in the US only 10 years ago, but these days they can be found just around the corner. It is also one of the simplest Moles to make.
8 chicken breasts (skins and bones optional)
1/2 white onion
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 chiles anchos
2 chiles guajillos
2 cups water
1 pound or about 10 tomatillos, skinned and rinsed
1 roma/guaje tomato
4 garlic cloves
2 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon oregano
3 tablespoons safflower or corn oil
1/4 cup white onion, chopped
5 cups chicken stock
3 medium fresh hoja santa or 5 dried
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, or to taste
Chochoyotes (optional, recipe follows)
- In a big cooking pot, add about 8 cups water, 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 white onion and 1 teaspoon salt and bring it to a boil. Let it simmer for a couple minutes and incorporate the rinsed chicken breasts. Cook them for 10 to 15 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon from the cooking liquid and set aside.
- To prepare the chiles, rinse them and make a slit down the side. Take off the stem, seeds and veins. On an already hot comal or dry skillet over medium heat, toast them for about 10 to 15 seconds per side. They will become more pliable and release their aroma.
- Place them in a cooking pot along with 2 cups of water, the tomatillos, tomato and garlic cloves. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes, until they are soft and cooked. Place in the blender along with the cooking liquid and 2 whole cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 5 whole peppercorns, and oregano. Puree until smooth.
- In an extended skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat, add the chopped onion and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, until soft and translucent.
- Incorporate the pureed sauce, hojas santas and salt, and cook until it has seasoned and thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, bring to a simmer and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Keeping a steady simmer at medium heat add one by one the Chochoyotes, or masa dumplings (recipe follows). Cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until Chochoyotes are cooked and mole thickens as to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Incorporate chicken breasts, let them warm up in the mole for another 5 minutes and serve.
Makes about 15 Chochoyotes
1 cup corn masa flour such as Maseca
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or to taste
- Mix corn masa flour with water and knead for about a minute, until dough is smooth and has no lumps.
- Add lard or vegetable shortening and salt and mix for another minute until it is incorporated.
- Make little balls of about 1 inch with your hands. Using your little finger make a dip in the middle of the dumpling.
- One by one add them to the simmering sauce, mole or soup that they will be cooked in. It will take about 10 to 15 minutes for the Chochoyotes to be fully cooked at a medium simmer.
Tamales coloraditos (Colored Tamales)
Makes about 20 tamales
Mexico’s quintessential festive food, the tamal covers a world of possibilities. With an immense variety of them in throughout Mexico, the coloraditos, are known for their deep color and rich flavor.
Tip: Prepare filling first.
25 dried corn husks
3/4 cup vegetable shortening or good quality lard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cold water
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pound instant corn masa mix for tamales, as MASECA
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
To make masa for tamales:
Place vegetable shortening or lard in mixer and beat, until very light, about 1 minute. Add salt and 1 teaspoon cold water, and continue beating until it is white and spongy, a couple more minutes. Add baking powder, and then take turns adding the instant corn masa mix for tamales and the chicken stock. Continue beating until dough is homogeneous and fluffy.
You know the tamal masa is ready if:
1. When you lift a big spoon with masa, drop it into the dough it falls “de golpe,” or heavy.
2. It has the consistency of medium thick cake batter.
3. If you place 1/2 teaspoon of masa in a cup of cold water, it floats.
To prepare steamer:
Place hot water in the pan of a steamer and bring it to a simmer. Line the steamer with one or two layers of corn husks. Use dough to form about 20 cornhusk wrapped tamales.
To make tamales:
- Soak dried corn husks in hot water for a couple minutes, or until they are pliable, and drain. Lay out a corn husk with tapering end towards you. Spread 3 tablespoons of masa into about a 2 to 3 inch square, the layer should be about 1/4 inch, leaving a border of at least 1/2 inch on the sides. Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle of the masa square.
- Pick up the two long sides of the cornhusk and bring them together – thus the masa will surround the filling – and fold them to one side, rolling them on same direction around tamal. Fold up the empty section of the husk with the tapering end, from the bottom up. This will form a closed bottom and the top will be left open.
- Prepare all the tamales and place them almost vertically in a container. When you have them all ready, place them as vertically as you can on the prepared steamer, with the open end on top. If there is space left in the steamer, tuck with more corn husks so tamales will not dance around. Cover with more corn husks, and steam covered for 50 minutes to an hour. You know the tamales are ready when they tamales come easily free from the husks.
- Finished tamales will stay warm for about 1 to 2 hours in the steamer. They can be made ahead several days before and stored in refrigerator, well wrapped. They can also be frozen for months. In either case, reheat in steamer. For refrigerated tamales it will take about 15 minutes, and for frozen tamales about 45 minutes.
Filling for tamales coloraditos
5 ancho chiles, without seeds and veins
1/2 cup chile soaking liquid
3/4cup roughly chopped onion
1 garlic clove
1/4 tsp sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup pitted manzanilla green olives, sliced.
1 cup shredded chicken
- Rinse ancho chiles and take off their tops, seeds and veins. Place them in a pot covered with water, bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Place them in a blender along with 1/2 cup of their cooking liquid along with the garlic, onion, sugar, cinnamon and salt.
- In a pan, add 1 tablespoon of safflower or corn oil until hot but not smoking. Add chile puree and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, so it will start seasoning. Incorporate chicken stock and cook for about 10 more minutes.
- Add shredded chicken, raisins and olives and let cook for a couple more minutes, for all of the flavors to come together.
Quesadillas de Hongos con Queso (Mushroom and Cheese Quesadillas)
Quesadillas are found throughout Mexico but in Oaxaca they are larger and thinner than usual. Especially during rainy months, you can find some filled with different kinds of mushrooms that are cooked and seasoned to make an earthy and tasty antojito or nibble.
1 tablespoon safflower or corn oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup white onion, chopped
1 chile serrano, finely chopped (seeding optional)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound fresh mushrooms, white or baby bello, or any you prefer, cleaned and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh epazote leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1 cup Oaxaca cheese, shredded (can substitute for Mozzarella)
Corn tortillas, if you want to make them at home, recipe follows, if not use store bought.
- Heat the oil and melt the butter in a large saute pan, over medium-high heat. Add white onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add chile serrano and cook for another minute. Add chopped garlic, stir a couple times and add the thinly sliced mushrooms. Cook the mushrooms for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Their juices will come out and then they will begin to dry out.
- When they begin to dry out, add the epazote and the salt, stir and cook for another minute. The mushroom mix should be moist, not wet or dry, which will be perfect for filling the quesadillas.
- Heat the tortillas on a hot comal or dry skillet over medium heat for about 30 seconds. Place a tablespoon or two of shredded cheese and a tablespoon or two of the Mushroom mix (depending on how chubby you want them!) on half of a tortilla. Fold it as if it were a turnover and press down.
- Cook for about 2 minutes per side, until cheese is completely melted.
Homemade Corn Tortillas
Makes about 10 to 12 tortillas
2 cups corn tortilla flour, such as MASECA
1 3/4 cup water (or enough to achieve a play dough consistency dough! varies with climate)
- Set a comal or ungreased dry skillet over medium heat, for at least 5 to 8 minutes, until hot.
- To make masa or dough, pour 1/4 cup water into a large mixing bowl so the flour will not stick to the bottom of the bowl once you mix it in. Slowly add the corn tortilla flour and the rest of the water as you knead the masa in an evolving motion. Do so for a couple minutes, until it is smooth and has no lumps. If it feels to dry, add a bit more water. Masa dries out fast, so if you leave it unattended, cover it with a a clean moist kitchen towel or cloth.
- To make the tortillas, divide the dough into 1 1/2″ balls. Cut out 2 plastic circles from a thin plastic bag, like ones you get at grocery stores. With one ball at a time: Place one plastic circle in the bottom of the tortilla press and place the masa ball on top. Place the other plastic circle on top of the ball and press down the press, to make a flat disk. Open the press, take the top plastic off, lift the bottom plastic with the tortilla in one hand and peel the tortilla from the plastic with the other hand. Alternatively, you can place a ball between plastic pieces and roll the tortillas out with a rolling pin.
- Place the tortilla on the hot comal or skillet. Let it cook for about 30 seconds, or as soon as it can be flipped without sticking to the comal, and it becomes opaque on the side that it was cooking on. Turn over and cook for about a minute, until opaque and starting to freckle on the other side. If it is opaque but it has whit-ish areas, you need to leave it a bit more, until those whit-ish shadows become freckled with brown spots. Turn over once more, and now, after a couple seconds, tortilla should puff up like pita bread, if not all over tortilla, at least in an area of it. Let the tortilla cook still, for about 10 seconds, so that it cooks in between the area that puffed up.
- If eaten that same day, tortillas may be kept wrapped in a clean kitchen towel or cloth. If not, wrap in a kitchen towel, inside a closed plastic bag and place in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to 3 days, afterwards they will turn too hard. Reheat in hot comal for 30 seconds or so on each side before eating. They can also be frozen and kept for months.
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