My BFF (since age twelve) has briefly escaped Alaska’s winter to spend two weeks with me in Oaxaca. A couple of things happen when I have out-of-town guests. The first is that blog posts are few and far between. The second is the reason why. It’s because I’m too busy going places and doing things that I’ve always wanted to do! Thus, a couple of days ago we walked down to the zócalo to meet Agustín of Cooking Classes Oaxaca.
After all six budding Oaxaca street food cooking students had gathered, we proceeded to mercados Benito Juárez and 20 de noviembre to begin our lessons in products and cleanliness. We then hailed a couple of taxis to take us up to Colonia Reforma to our classroom for the day, where we gingerly wound our way up the narrowest and steepest spiral staircase I have ever encountered.
Once at the top, we were introduced to our teacher Esperanza (“Hope” in English), shown where the beer was stocked, and oriented to the many types of chiles we would be using. Then commenced the hands-on work, beginning with making two salsas (verde and rojo), guacamole, and chicken tinga.
Next up was making tortillas. We mixed the masa placed a “3-finger” size ball onto the tortilla press, pressed, turned, pressed, turned, pressed, turned and removed our thin and perfectly shaped tortilla. Piece of cake! However, the most difficult task of the day was yet to come. Believe it or not, laying the tortilla on a very hot comal proved to be incredibly challenging for most (not all) of us. Holes and wrinkles happened more often than not, but Esperanza provided patient and gentle guidance and encouragement and occasionally we were rewarded with a nicely puffed tortilla.
Following a brief snack of chicken tinga wrapped in our freshly-made tortillas, we turned our attention to quesadillas filled with epazote leaves, flor de calabaza (squash blossoms), a sliver of jalapeño, and a generous pinch of shredded quesillo. We then folded, fried, and topped each with guacamole, chapulines (grasshoppers), guaje seeds, and queso fresco. We took our creations out onto a table thoughtfully set on the rooftop with tablecloth, utensils, glasses, and a bottle of water. Ooops, that wasn’t water, it was mezcal!!! By the way, if we had cooked our quesadillas on a dry comal, they would have been called empanadas. Either way, they were light, tender, and delicious!
Once fed and refreshed, we returned to the kitchen for the day’s crowning achievement — mole coloradito. We separated various types of dried chiles from their seeds, added pinches and “lady” handfuls of herbs, spices, nuts, onions, garlic, ginger, raisins, and more to a pan to sauté. However, I admit, we all fled the room when Esperaza began cooking the chiles, but returned for the blending, stirring, and simmering.
Once Esperanza discovered one of our class members was a vegetarian, she adapted a portion of each recipe for her. Thus, while the carnivores among us prepared and savored chicken bathed in a silky smooth chicken broth-based red mole, our vegetariana dined on a equally divine water-based red mole enchilada.
As rave Trip Advisor reviews attest, our smiling and satisfied group was not alone — there have been many happy customers. The handwriting was on the wall…
By the way, for my Bay Area friends and relations, Agustín used to cook at the Hayes Street Grill, Zuni Cafe, and Vicolo Pizza, among other popular San Francisco restaurants.
Tomorrow, BFF, several friends and neighbors, and I head out for a day of mezcal tasting. Hmmm… I wonder how long it will take to work that into a blog post?
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