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A Cooking Class in Mexico

While taking a week of Spanish grammar and conversation classes at Academia Falcon, in the lovely town of Guanajuato, Mexico, we brightened our day by adding a cooking class—one of the few culture classes at the school open to those not already fluent.

The first day (Tuesday, since it was a holiday week), we learned how to make two kinds of authentic chilaquiles: with red (roja) and green (verde) sauces. The red has red tomatoes, chiles and oregano; the green has cilantro, tomatillos (called tomates here), and a pinch of cumin. Both kinds involve grilling the vegetables, blending them into a sauce, and then pouring them over the tortilla chips we made by cutting and frying soft tortillas. then they get covered with two kinds of cheese (monchego, a local equivalent to mild cheddar, nothing like the Spanish cheese of the same name—and a feta-like crumbly cheese called rancho) and baked briefly.

Wednesday was chiles rellenos—and the Mexican heartland version is very different from the New Mexico-style version that’s common in Mexican restaurants in the U.S. It’s quite a complex dish. To begin, blacken chiles poblanos on an open flame, on all sides. Then scrape off the burned skin, cut a slit and remove the seeds. Separate eggs and beat the whites until just short of meringue. Then slice up some manchego cheese, put three or four slices into each chile, roll it in flour, dip it thoroughly into the beaten egg white, making sure that the egg covers the slit, then deep-fry at high heat and drain thoroughly. Once drained, gently ease each chile into a pot of salsa roja (without chiles) and cook on top of the stove for 10 minutes or so.

Thursday was much easier: a very delicious guacamole, with much less garlic and no lemon at all, but more onion, lots of cilantro, chopped tomatoes and a bit of diced roasted chiles, with the avocado left somewhat chunky.

Nopale salad was the second course. Taking one big nopale leaf (already de-pricked), we sliced it, boiled it, sautéed it with onions, garlic, and tomato until it was no longer slimy, and served it.

The final day was another substantial endeavor: cheese enchiladas with home-made mole poblano sauce (in chicken and vegetarian versions). The mole included all sorts of things I’d have never predicted would ever be combined: raisins, boiled and skinned almonds, a small amount of stale bread, half of an overripe banana, chocolate squares of course, garlic and onions, fresh cilantro, cinnamon, salt, three kinds of dried chiles (ancho, pasilla, and mulato, all seeded and torn into strips) and a hint of cloves. All of this was sautéed and stirred until the chocolate had melted, then thrown into the blender with some purified water, then cooked again on the stove. Meanwhile, we rolled tortillas tightly around cheese. For the meat eaters, we put some of the mole in another pot with about as much diced chicken as sauce.

Well, I’m not likely to make chiles rellenos as a Mexican would (I already make a vastly simpler version, baked instead of fried)—but everything else is something I might easily try at home.

Related Stories:
Studying Spanish in Mexico
A Cooking Class in Mexico
Guanajuato in 1985
Mexican New Year
Mexico Journal

Shel Horowitz is the editor of Global Travel Review and the author of seven books including The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant’s Pocketbook.

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