While I arrived in Tlaxcala at the Mexican Home Cooking School last night, this morning was the first day of classes, which as you may imagine started off with a quick primer on chiles - dried and fresh. There are many and this wasn't even all of 'em, just what was in the kitchen today.
On the menu for today - we cook the food for both our lunch and dinner every day.
- Sopa de Hongo (mushroom soup with nopales - cactus - poblano peppers, and squash blossoms
- Ensalad de Napolitas (cactus salad)
-Pollo Almendrado (almond chicken)
-Tortas de paps con espinaca (potato pancakes with spinach)
-Salsa roja en molcajete (red sauce in molcajete)
-Buñueolos (thin fried dough)
So any day that I can cook with an ingredient that I've not used before is a great day. Make that new ingredient a chile and that's double good. Today had new ingredient and new chile, so it was all manner of excellent.
I had cooked once before with cactus paddles but today learned a better way to do it (boiled not baked) and to clean them. The trick with the cleaning is to scrape in the same direction as the spikes, not against them. Faster and more efficient. Also less chance of getting spikes in your hands. So good lesson on that front. We also used squash blossoms in the soup, which I have not cooked with before. They're basically what you get before the zukes and pumpkins etc turn into veg. So if you want to cook with them, you have to give up the chance of having the zuke or pumpkin, which if you grow zukes and never know what to do with the bounty is a blessing in disguise. Here's the soup of the brew - it has squash blossoms, cactus, mushrooms, onion, garlic, roasted poblano peppers and more!
And the finished product at lunch:
Today's new chile was the cascabel, which we used to make a red salsa. Now with all salsa you roast the ingredients. For the most part I have done it in the oven but I think perhaps my new purchase here in Mexico is going to be a comal, which will let me do the roasting right on the stovetop as we did with the cascabels.
The tomatoes, onion and garlic were also roasted in such a fashion and then all mashed up together in the traditional mortar and pestle of Mexico known as a molcajete, which is special because it's made of volcanic rock. It's a lot more work than making salsa in a blender, that's for sure.
And the potato/spinach pancake (which is really like a mini quajodo to those who know that is) with cactus salad and salsa rojo at lunch - this is an all vegetarian meal for those keeping track of such things:
Dinner was the pollo almendrado, which unusually for Mexican food had cloves in it, which our teachers Jon and Estela say comes from the Arab influence in this area. The almonds, along with dried bread, are used to thicken the sauce so it has a very creamy texture without any cream. Good for the low fat and kosher diets! The sauce also includes dried serrano chiles, cinnamon, and roasted tomatoes (cue the comal!) As we made it in the morning, it sat all day so the flavours could get to know each other better. It was much smoother and deeper in flavour by dinner time.
The day finished off with buñelos, which again may be recognizable to some as pitikas. These were dough rolled out really thinly then fried in very hot oil for a few seconds and doused in vanilla sugar. Crispy and delicious.
Thank you and good night!