Archive for May, 2006


Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

Call me a collectivo

To anywhere you may want to go


Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

A Kilo of Anchos

Monday, May 29th, 2006

Okay, even though I don’t speak Spanish, a guy in a hat “talked” me into buying a kilo of ancho chiles. Willing victim, I slightly misunderstood the amount I was buying but then I thought what I could do with a world of chiles.

Well it all starts now!

The Fruits Of El Refugio

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

The fruit grows everywhere. In your garden you are blessed. You pick.

Main Squeeze

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

The simple limone squeezer has had a long and storied place in Mexican history. The Zapotecs were known to honor the invention.

And with the arrival of the Spanish, the squeezer went on to find a sacred place in the cultural and spiritual life of the Mexican population.

Mango Sorbet

Friday, May 26th, 2006

Lovely Manila Mangos

1) The Syrup

2/3 cups of superfine sugar
1 cup of water

Stir the sugar into the water over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely

2) The Fruit Puree

2 pounds of chopped mango flesh
1/2 cup of lime juice

Puree the fruit and juice in a blender

3) Mix the puree and the cooled sugar syrup together in a metal bowl or a cake pan and freeze for 1 hour. Remove from the freezer and beat with an electric mixer or a whisk. Return to the freezer. Repeat at hourly intervals 3 more times. Store in a closed container

* For an extra treat, reserve about 3/4 cup of finely chopped mango pieces and add to the sorbet when you beat it then final time.


Thursday, May 25th, 2006


Frijoles Negros

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

Lourdes took one look at the beans and even before she saw the critters she said, “Vejaya y feo!!!”, which means old and ugly. We had old and ugly beans.

Old and Ugly Beans


Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006


We explained to the very helpful salesman that ‘no we were not going to Huatulco’. In these semi arid parts, where water collectted was very rare, He had every right to wonder what we were up to.



Monday, May 22nd, 2006





The Hats of El Refugio

Sunday, May 21st, 2006

The sun is always there, except when it rains. This is a place where you want a hat sometimes. Luckily th landscape is littered with them.


Saturday, May 20th, 2006

In the Etla Wednesday market, just round back of the zocalo, we stumble across 3 women vending agua miel and pulque. These are often described as aquired tastes but I took to them immedietly. It was with no small passing amusement that we realized as we were drinking our pulque and complimenting the ladies, a group of Japanese tourist were taking a video of us. Doomed Americans.

From My Mexico by Diana Kennedy

Pulque is the fermented sap of the century plant. It has a rather sour, earthy, fruity flavor and slightly slimy consistency, and is very much an acquired taste. Pulque is often curado, flavored with fruits – strawberries, pineapples, tunas, among others and sold in pulquerias or cantinas and even canned for consumption at home. Not only is it consumed as a drink, but it is also used for leavening bread, for rustic table sauces ( salsa borracha, etc. ) for grinding dried chiles, for seasoning pastes for bbq meats, for stews or adding with piloncillo to make a fermented tepache ( a drink more often made with pineapple).

Frijoles Con Pulque

8 ounces bayo, canario or pinto beans
salt to taste
1 large ancho chile, seeds and veins removed
1 cup pulqe or light beer
2 tablespoons lard
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 rounded tablespoons finely chopped onion
6 ounces queso fresco, crumbled

Pick over the beans, rinse, drain, cover with water and cook over low heat until the skins are soft, about 3 1/2 hours. Add the salt and continue cooking for 10 more minures. Reduce over high heat to 3 1/2 cups.

Lightly toast the chile, cover with hot water, and set asie to soak for about 15 minutes or until soft. Drain. Put 1/2 cup of the pulque into a blender, add the chile, and blend until almost smooth.

Heat the lard and oil in a skillet, add the onion and fry without browning until translucent. Add the beans and chile mixture and cook until reduced and shiny. Add the rest of the pulque and continue cooking for about 15 minutes. When the mixture has reduced to a thick paste, stir in the cheese. When it has melted, serve immediately.

Now I took several liberties with it. The first is I used frijoles negro, 16 ounces cooked with some onion and some epazote. From that I took my 8 ounces for the recipe. Then I used 4 guajillo chiles instead of the ancho. Both Bonnie and I love the ancho chile but I think the guajillo is sweeter tasting and I love the red color. Also I didn’t use any lard in the dish and actually only used 1 tablespoon of oil to fry the onion. And a final disgrace, we didn’t put any cheese in the dish. This and the reduction on oil was an attempt to reduce the calories. I suppose I will have to prepare it someday exactly from the book but we liked our version just fine. The pulque was tart and tangy, with the guajillo sweet in contrast.

The Grace Of Teotilan del Valle

Friday, May 19th, 2006

We spent a graceful day in Teotitlan del Valle


Thursday, May 18th, 2006

There is an Italian spirit stalking this land. I mean it. The freshness, the tv, the string cheese, it’s not Spanish, it’s Italian. Okay maybe it’s Mexican but I am reminded again and again of Italy and of things I experienced with my Italian-American parents and grandparents. In the Etla market, Lourdes, our guide and faithful family cook, pointed us to an unassuming bunch of greens in amongst the cilantro, epozote, and hoya de santa. I thought at the time Lourdes was telling Bonnie and I it would make a wonderful Salsa Verde. I later learned she meant it would go well served with a Salsa Verde but that it was a dish unto itself. We took a taste and were delightly by it’s lemony and slightly sweet flavor. We learned it was called verdolagas.

Once home, we gave it a quick but thorough wash, put some onion, garlic and salt in a pot of water, threw the verdolagas in after separating out some of the thicker stems, and cooked it about 15 minutes, until it had wilted and fade to a pale green. It was deliscous undressed like this.

But as promised by Lourdes, it was delectable with some Salsa Verde. It was also delicate and tender enough to be eaten uncooked, in a tomatoe salad, or with avocado or mixed with other greens. And apparently it grows wild everywhere. We want to get some for the garden here.

Pozole Rojo

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

Well that is one impressive logo

The Etla mercado was a real treat. It snaked through the hilly streets and would it’s way to the Zocallo and the indoor mercado and the absoulutely wonderful church round back. We exit the cab way before it got to the town square and so kinda entered the market through the back door. This proved to both lemon squeezer and banana bonus.

Creameria de Locale

Las Floras

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

To alleviate the efforts of some overly enthusiatic gardeners, we took a little trip to a local garden center on the road to Tlalacalula. It had the flavor of any western garden center except for again the value and there was a lushness and variety that belongs to places south of where we are from.

Mutant Poblanos

Monday, May 15th, 2006

Nowhere have I ever read or heard that poblano chiles get spicier and hotter after you cook them. But on two occasions now, both involving chile rejanos (one classical and the other detailed later involving a chayote and chicken stuffing) we have had the occasion to be starstle by the aggresive heat of the cooked chile poblano. wassup here?

Discounting any evidence of a Mexican based conspirisy working to keep the truth from us, we decided to tackle a chile rejanos dish where the chile is not batter dipped and fried. And we wanted a fully stuffed chile but not fully with queso. We arrived at a stuffing plan that consisted of chayote, chicken and quesillo. We planned to ccok these in the oven and maybe cook some in a tomatoe based sauce. Adventures ensue

As with some many things, you start by cooking a chicken. Lourdes loves her pressure cooker and we though this would be a splended way to cook the bird while we attende to the chiles and the cayotes.

Lourdes threw half of the chiles into a red hot skillet

And let them cook till the skins blistered and charred

Meanwhile Bonita Chicata got going on the chayotes. She cut them in half and put them in a pot to boil for 2o minutes or so

And then scooped out the pulp from each shell

Now here comes another universal in the chile world. After all the poblanos are blistered and burn, they are put in a plastic bag to steam a little. This tenderizes the flesh and more importantly loosens the skin so it just pulls right off.

Of course another effect of putting them in the bag, is that they become cool enough to handle. I know, I know, all you old italian housewives out there are shouting “Paper bags. We always use paper bags” Er… no real difference.

Doesn’t Lourdes make it look so easy? Well it really is and it’s fun too.

With a plateful of gorgeous poblanos, (which are now three or four times as picante as when they were raw, little did we suspect ), it’s time to turn our attention back to the chayote part of the stuffing.

Oh, okay, I think our pollo needs some attention. We quickly take it out of the pot, let it cool and shred the meat we will require.

We put some onion, garlic, and a few chopped tomatoes is a sautepan and cook a few mintes and then add the chayote pulp.

Allowing the flavors to mingle and the chayote to surrender some of it’s juice (about 8-10 minutes), we then add the shredded chicken and some salt and pepper.

We get ready to assemble the rejanos. Gathering the cheese, the chicken and chayote stuffing and the poblanos.

We have a few stuffed when Lourdes realizes she should be putting some epazote leaf in along with the stuffing.

She makes a mad dash to the garden, to a secret location she now reveals to us, where the epozote grows.

The Ghosts Of El Refugio

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

You could see the chairs swaying. And if you shut your ears and opened your eyes, you knew something was there, something that haunted the place and really just wanted to sit and relax and take in the wonderful stormy view

Food as Work

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

There is a heritage of labor that many great cusines share. It is completely possible to appreciate and aspire to great effort when great result are to be achieved. I once had a coisant stuffed with chocalate on the Isle St. Loius that sent my mind spinning. It all at once possesed the qualities of a pastry, a cookie, a cake and a bread. You progressed from state to state entirely at the command of the baker who had prepared it. And you knew it was no simple task, thrown together from some premixed flour and fat trucked in from Indiana. The baker had been there from before dawn, preparing 30 of these things as well as hundreds of other savories. The work, the genuine effort, informed by great skill and priceless experience

I have found many such qualities in some other world cusines. In Mexico there is sometimes an hysterical level of labor, a hyper task… ah but the results, it’s the results that matter. After working hard at some of these things, I can completely see the point (with the exception of nopales but that’s another story). The following recipe from Zarela Martinez is very labour intensive and she has actually simplified the procedures. The quest for results, such as the special flavor the pumpkin seeds gain by being toasted in their shells ( if you have eaten fresh roasted peanuts in their shells you can begin to understand) and the texture of hand grinding, don’t need explaination or justification. they merely need to be tried and the results will speak for themselves.

Pepian Zapoteco

1 cup dried white beans
3 cups whole unsalted pumpkin seeds in the shell
3 chile de arbol, tops and seeds removed
4 cups homemade chicken stock
1 medium onion coarsely chopped
four 8 inch sprigs fresh epazote or one tablespoon dried crumbled
6 dried avocado leaves
3/4 cup dried shrimp
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Carefully pick over the beans and rinse under cold running water. Place in a medium size Dutch oven or saucepan and add enough cold water to cover by at least an inch. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil rapidly for 1 minute. Remove from the heat at once and let the beans sit in their cooking liquid for 1 hour

Meanwhile spread out the pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet in an even layer. Bake until lightly toasted, 10 to 15 minutes. Do not let them scorch or the entire dish will be bitter. Remove from the oven and let cool completely about 1 hour. Place the pumpkin seeds in a food processor and pulse on / off for about 3 minutes. The seeds will break up but fragments of the hard shell will remain. Do not process any longer or the seeds will become pasty

Working in 2 or 3 batches, turn out the pumpkin seeds into a medium mesh sieve placed over a bowl and shake to let the fine particles go through. After sifting each batch, pour one cup of water over the contents of the sieve to rinse through as much as possible. Discard the fibrous residue. Pour the strained seeds and water into a deep narrow container such as a blender jar or narrow pitcher; any bit of shell that went through the sieve will float to the top and can easily be skimmed off. Add the strained skimmed liquid to the pot of parboiled beans.

Wash and griddle dry the chiles. Puree the chiles in a blender with 1 cup of chicken stock. With a wooden spoon or pusher, force the pureed chiles through a medium sieve into a bowl. Add the chiles to the beans and pumkin seeds along with the onion, epazote, avocado leaves. dried shrimp, remaining chicken stock and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer and cook uncovered, until the beans are thoroughly cooked, about 45 minutes

Pepian Zapoteco is routinely eaten with white beans, which must cook with the sauce for a while to help mingle the flavors. Zarela sometimes stirs 3 cups of shredded cooked chicken into the dish about 5 minutes before serving, cooking just to heat the meat through. Potatoes are a delicious meatless alternative

From The Food and Life of Oaxaca by Zarela Martinez

Salsa de Tomitillo con Pasilla de Oaxaca

Friday, May 12th, 2006

Taking the chile paste we made the other day, now it’s time to make a salsa. This is essentially the Diana Kennedy recipe for Salsa Cruda but we add the passila de Oaxaca instead of serranos (or as I have been substituting, a chile de agaua). The character of the smoked pasillas is so dominate and so flavorful, the salsa needs to be named after them.

Salsa de Tomitillo con Pasilla de Oaxaca

Makes about 2 cups (500ml)

18 medium tomatillos , husked
5 chiles pasilla de Oaxaca, cleaned, seeded, toasted, and made into a smooth paste
4 large garlic clove chopped
1 cup loosely packed roughly chopped cilantro
Salt to taste.

Put the tomatillos into a small pan. barely covered with water, bring to a simmer, and simmer until soft but not falling apart – they will become a washed-out green color – about ten minutes. Drain and reserve a little of the cooking liquid. Put 1/4 cup of the cooking water into a blender with the chiles, cilantro, and garlic and blend until smooth. Gradually add the cooked tomatillos and blend briefly after each addition. the sauce should have a slightly rough-tectured appearance. Add salt. The salsa will thicken as it stands and may need to be diluted with a little more water

Now my salsa is fruity and tart and smokey and surprisingly not killer hot. It has bite and a long lingering burn, that is very tolerable and probably not up to real chile head standards. Zarela Martinez has a recipe for a Salsa de Chile Pasilla de Oaxaca which uses red tomatoes and is sweet and is nice and hot because you do not seed the chile.

Salsa de Chile Pasilla

Makes about 2 cups

3 medium-small ripe tomatoes
1 pasilla de Oaxaca
1/2 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon dried Oaxacan oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Place the tomatoes and chile in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Drain and let sit until cool enough to handle. Peel the tomatoes and remove the stem from the chile.

Place the tomatoes and the chile in a blender with the onion, garlic, and oregano. Process until smooth. Season with salt to taste.

But when it came time for me to make the salsa I deviated a bit because of the suberb quality of the Huayapam tomatoes and my liking of garlic over onion.

Salsa Rojo de Chile Pasilla de Oaxaca

Makes about 2 cups

4 ripe Roma tomatoes
2 pasilla de Oaxaca
1/4 small onion, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon dried Oaxacan oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Proceed pretty much as before although I stemed the chiles before boiling. I also trimmed out the green point of the tomatoes while peeling them. This is still not atomic level hot and the addition of a chile de arbol might be called for. Just adding more pasilla de Oaxaca would spice it up but would also unbalance the smoke flavor.

The Price Of Pollo

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

We spent the morning about 20 miles south of Oaxaca in a town called Zaachila. Thursday is market day there. And Zaachila, like Mitla, is built right on top of unexcavated Zapotec and Mixtec ruins. (How important this town was in Zapotec times and how it became a mix of Zapotec and Mixtec is a story worth telling but not here and not right now). We took a collectivo (7 pesos) from our town Huayopaum to Oaxaca, south of the zocalo, where we could get a collectivo (9 pesos) to the Zaachila zocalo, where the market is.

And then there was the guy and his wife down by the fountain, where the sides were plenty and the chicken was plenty good and less expensive then Mary’s

Pasilla de Oaxaca

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

Maybe the price was too high but I belive I really did buy high quality Chile Pasilla de Oaxaca in the Comsatti outdoor market. Our young yawning merchant had a friendly manner and did not seem to be a thief. And I have read in more then a few places that passilla de Oaxaca is sold by the piece ( 100 count ) rather then by weight. Still I paid too much(4 pesos for five) that first day and bought dozens of them for 14 pesos at the Reforma indoor market.

Today I decided to make the five I had bought earlier into a paste to mix into other dishes and possbly combine with cumin, celantro, oregano, and lime juice and smear of some chicken to be grilled the next day. Also a few of these smoky gems will find their way into a salsa verde in the next few days.

  1. First off, then chiles need to be seeded, and cleaned

  2. Then we need to toast the chiles. Sometimes I do this in the oven but today I am using a cast iron skillet to toast them on the stove top. The idea is to vaguely color the chiles, and release an aroma but not to darken or burn them

  3. Transfer them to a blender jar

    and blend till you have a rough paste. Adding a 1/4 cup of warm water will help

  4. Using a spoon, press the rough paste through a strainer till you have a very smooth paste. For greater quantities of chiles it is easier to use a food mill.

This last step is not 100% necassary. I myself do not mind the bits of skin and ribs left in the chili paste after the initial trip through the blender. I did in fact reserve those bits after I finished straining the paste and will incorporate them as I see fit into various dishes.

So while I was making this paste I decided I would devout this batch to a salsa. It would be a typical Salsa de Tomitillo but I have a feeling the pasilla de Oaxaca is going to muscle in and take over. This would not be a bad thing.

The Road To Chochoyotes

Tuesday, May 9th, 2006

Today we spent most of the morning with our cook and companion Lourdes at her favorite market in Colonia Reforma. She showed us the places where on our previous visits to Oaxaca she had brought home the most marvelous quesos and the most flavorful pollo and camerones. She walked through the indoor market, held everyday and identified the mysterious and the interesting. She introduce us to her quesso merchant first and then we meet the pollo butcher. In front of us she trimmed the breast off of a chicken and slice it into 5 fillets, which she passed back to her assistant ( maybe her daughter ) who pounded them scaloppini thin. The whole procedure took less then 5 minutes and cost 35 pesos.

In our previous trips to Oaxaca, we had unfortunately intimate and continuous contact with the medical community, because of the condition of Bonnie’s mother. Her insurance had made it rather easy and inexpensive. But it was the level of attention, of concern and willingness to do the both small and large things (like housecalls) that had put us in mind of our childhood, growing up in the fifties, where this kind of attention was regular and normal from medicos. The Reforma Market pollo merchant put me exactly the same frame of mind. It made me remember Saturday morning shopping trips, where my mother would stick her head inside the butcher shop, call out her order ( which was regular and memorized by the butcher, but the communication, the quick repetition was really a way of saying hello, things are just fine ) and now she could return in 20 minutes and the chicken and steaks, stew meat, roast and chopped meat, would all be freshly prepared and ready as well as the gravy meat set aside separately for the sunday tomato sauce ( which was always called gravy by my grandmothers )

The skill of the Reforma butcheress was amazing but it was really the attention to our needs, and some knowledge that when we returned in a week, she would remember those needs and offer again the quick but still warm satisfaction. That the chicken was fresh and flavorful and tender were all kinda of givens. We hadn’t yet bought a bad chicken ( although earlier last years Lourdes and Bonnie had both encounter a chicken which after being prepared caused Bonnie to utter the colorful criticism “This chicken had died twice”. We had bought half a chicken in the Comsatti Friday market, which was quite good but had cost us 32 pesos. Not a great price but again the skill and attention of the butcher made me want to by from this man again. It’s really a very basic requirement of a transaction in food. Not just getting your money’s worth but getting some attention, some sanctification of the items we are going to consume in the most fundamental of ways. So many things we buy can do without this but food needs a blessing and I felt blessed the whole morning being with Lourdes and Bonnie in the Reforma market.

Salad con Camarones de Anochecher

Monday, May 8th, 2006

As the sun set last night, we came home with fresh camorones from the market and concoctted this simple but wonderful dish. The trick is enough marinade time without totally cooking the shrimp. We are going to practice this little dance and see if we can master it. Shouldn’t be too painful….

.5 kilos camarones, about 28 medium count
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro
4 garlic cloves smashed
1 chile de agua, roughly chopped
juice of 3 small limones
1 teaspoon of honey
1/2 tablespoon of cumin

For The Salad

1 head of escarola (endive or some such lettuce)
2 cups cooked ejotes or judia verde ( green beans ) in 2” pieces
4 plum tomatoes, chopped into 1” pieces
1 avocado sliced into 1” pieces
1/4 cup oiless dijon vinegrette

Cafe Frio

Sunday, May 7th, 2006

coffee people

In the town of San Andreas Huyapaum, where the lovely El Refugio is situated, there is a coffee merchant, really a coffee family. We sat with them and discussed their wonderful product and Bonnie promised to bring them her wonderful Ice Coffee and the method and we could sit one afternoon and talk beans and refreshments

The day we finally got to talking was also the day Mexico was unfortunately eliminated from the World Cup. This explains Bardomiano’s colorful outfit and also somewhat explains the abundant amounts of mescal we all wound up consuming as we were talking.

coffee people

Alright that isn’t a bean Bardomiano is holding but a tasty bug. In addition to showing us the beauty and intricacies of coffee roasting and chocolate making, Bardomiano and Micaela slyly raised the gringo quotient and playfully offered us a Mexican bug snack, popular from way back when.

bugs from coffee people

coffee people

coffee people

coffee kilo

coffee label

Green Sauce

Saturday, May 6th, 2006

Just as I have run across dozens of mole recipes (and heard of hundreds more) I seemed to stumbled into a whole world of green salsas, all made from tomatillos or sometimes in the market called tomates. The sauces are all intended to be table sauces, although a few cooks have hinted at cooked versions that would accompany pollo or pesce. There is a basic ingredient list but the addons begin to reach impressive numbers, from with onion to without onion to smoked pasilla de Oaxaca chiles and gusanitos de maguay (grubs) to lots of cilantro to very little cilantro and even a little avocado. When I am through sampling a few months from now, I will let you know which is my actual favorites.

Salse Verde

Salsa Verde (Cruda)

Makes about 2 cups (500ml)

1 pound tomatillos, about 22 medium, husked
4 chiles serranos roughly chopped
1 large garlic clove chopped
1 cup loosely packed roughly chopped cilantro
Salt to taste.

Put the tomatillos into a small pan. barely covered with water, bring to a simmer, and simmer until soft but not falling apart – they will become a washed-out green color – about ten minutes. Drain and reserve a little of the cooking liquid. Put 1/2 cup of the cooking water into a blender with the chiles, cilantro, and garlic and blend until smooth. Gradually add the cooked tomatillos and blend briefly after each addition. the sauce should have a slightly rough-tectured appearance. Add salt. the saude will thicken as it stands and may need to be diluted with a little more water

From My Mexico by Diana Kennedy

Salsa De Tomate Verde

Makes about 2 cups (500ml)

1 pound tomatillos, husked
3 chiles serranos, seeded, deveined, and chopped
1 small onion chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
A pinch of sugar
Salt to taste.

Cook the fresh tomatillos in a small amount of boiling salted water until tender, about ten minutes: drain. Puree the tomatillos, chilies, onions and garlic in a blender or food mill. Add the cilantro and sugar and season to taste with salt.

From Flavors of Mexico by Angeles de la Rosa and C. Gandia de Fernandez

Salsa de Tomatillo

2 pounds fresh tomatillos
3 dried pasilla de Oaxaca chiles or 2 ancho chiles and 2 chipotle chiles
4 garlic cloves, peeled
12 ‘gusanitos de maguay’, crumbled (optional) *
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1) Remove the outer papery husks from the tomitillos. Drop the tomitillos into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 4 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer to a blender container.

2) Clean and dry the chiles. Remove the stems. Split them and remove all the seeds. Spread the chiles out flat and toast until they darken and release aromas. At the same time toast the garlic. Transfer the chilies and garlic to the blender with the tomatillos.

3) Crush the gusanotos de maguey and add to the blender ingredients. Puree until almost smooth, keeping a bit of texture. Pour into a serving bowl and top with cilantro. Serve at room temperature.

*Gusano de maguey – Aegiale hesperiaris grubs found in maguey plants are dried and used as flavoring. Tiny gusanitos are flavored in Oaxaca, where they are coated with salted chile powder and strunf to dry in market cheese stalls.

From “A Cook’s Tour of Mexico” by Nancy Zaslavsky

Recipe Dreams

Friday, May 5th, 2006

Often times when first learning a recipe, either from a friend or a book, I concentrate so much on what the other person is saying, their method and their choice and amount of ingredient, I tend to lose sight of the most important component of cooking; how does it taste. As a social exchange recipes have their own charms and fascinations. But if i was alone and figuring it out for the first time, if a cinnimon stick and an allspice berry both dropped from the sky as I sat dozing beneath my coffee tree and wrapped me on the noggin, what would I make of them? No No what would I make with them? And if within the constant barroom brawl that goes on in my mind where rational thought is suppossed to take place, someone dared to throw a bottle of black chocolate stout at me, could I deftly catch it, snap it open and blend it into the frioles borrachas of my dreams?

2 cups dry black beans
2 cups water
2 large yellow onions, chopped
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon sugar
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bottle black chocolate stout
4 ounces costeno chiles
4 ounces guajillo chiles
1/3 cup pecan meats
1/4 cup blanched almonds
2/3 cup sesame seeds
1 6-inch piece canela
1/2 bunch thyme (about 2 dozen sprigs)
1/4 cup dried Oaxacan oregano
6 allspice berries
1 tablespoon cumin seeds

Soak the beans overnight. Drain and rinse them well.

In a 4 quart dutch oven, saute the onion in the oil over medium-high heat until clear, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the chili paste and cook another minute or two, until the cumin smell is covered by the chili smell. Add the stout and the water and bring to a simmer. Add the beans, bring everything to a simmer, then cover well and cook over low heat for 3 hours or until the beans are soft to the bite. If you think additional liquid is needed, add more beer. Finish the dish by seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and garnishing with chopped scallions. Keeps up to a week, covered and refrigerated. Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

The day before beginning the sauce, remove the stems and tops from the chiles; carefully shake out and reserve the seeds. Rinse the chiles under cold running water. Spread them out in a single layer where they can dry completely. Let stand until the following day, turning occasionally and checking to be sure not a drop of moisture remains.

Crush the bread to fine crumbs or grind in a food processor. You should have about 1 cup. Set aside

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Spread the chiles ( they must be bone dry ) in one layer on a baking sheet. Toast them in the oven, turning frequently, until crisp and deeply blackened, about 20 minutes. Let the chiles stand at room temperature until completely cooled.

Spread the pecans and the almonds on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Place the crisp toasted chiles in a food processor and process until finely ground. Set aside.

On a griddle or in a small cast-iron skillet, heat the reserved chile seeds over high heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until thoroughly charred and black on all sides, about 5 minutes. (Because of the fumes, this is best done outdoors if you have the means.) Place the charred seeds in a bowl, cover with at least 2 cups cold water, and soak for 1 1/2 hours, changing the water twice. Drain and set aside.

Heat a griddle or medium-size cast-iron skillet over low heat. Roast the garlic, onion, tomato, and tomatillos, each in it’s turn, and setting it aside in a separate small bowl. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the husks from the tomitillos and peel the rest, making sure to save the juices.

Place the sesame seeds in a medium size heavy skillet over medium heat and toast until golden, about 3 minutes, stirring constantly and shaking the pan. Immediately scrap out the seeds into a small bowl to stop the cooking. Set aside.

In a small heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the lard over medium-high heat until rippling. Add the canela, thyme, oregano, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and ginger. Fry the spices, stirring constantly, until fragrant about 2 minutes. Set aside.

In a small skillet, heat anothe 2 tablespoons of the lard until rippling over medium heat. Add the raisins and the bread crumbs; cook, stirring until the raisins are puffed and the bread is lightly colored, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

Now you are ready to puree all the ingredients, using either a blender/food processor combination or a blender alone.

If you using both machines, place the pecans, almonds, sesame seeds, bread raisin mixture, ground chiles, and drained chile seeds in the food processor (working in batches as necassary). Process to a smooth puree. Next place the fried spices, peeled garlic, onion, tomatoes, and tomatillos in the blender and process to a smooth puree. Combine the two mixtures in a large bowl.

In a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of lard over high heat until rippling. Add the puree, all at once and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, until the harshness of the chiles is mellowed, 35 to 40 minutes.

The mole should now be a heavy paste like a thick frosting mixture. It can be stored for later use or used at once. In either case, it should be thinned before further cooking. Place the paste in the blender when ready to thin; add 1 cup chicken stock and process to combine thoroughly.


Thursday, May 4th, 2006


Because we have eaten fruit our whole life, and more importantly have grown up in a city where commercially grown fruit predominated the selections available, we settle back in the illusion we know everything there is to know about fruit. Yes this could be said about food in general but something like fruit, that may have a short growingseasons and an even shorter time to market, the time it takes the fruit to ripen to it’s fullest flavor, there has to be many surprise revelations and absolutuly joyous experiences awaiting the travellers when they go to local markets.

Mia Chiles

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

So today in this new journal I will record from some favorite sources the chiles I love and seek to love.

Chile Ancho

The name means “broad chile” from the shape. This is the most common form of the dried chile poblano. I have used them with great pleasure, for body but they contribute very little fruit or fire.

Scoville Heat Units: 2,500 – 3,000

Chile de Arbol

This small very very hot red chile is available both fresh and dried. My grandfather used to grow these in his garden. I always thought he was calling them “Diablo” and they have some claim to that name also

Scoville Heat Units: 15,000 – 30,000

Chile Chipolte

This brownish chile is a smoke dried version of the chile jalipeno. They are available plain or canned in a spice-paste sauce called adobo. Very hot, very good.

Scoville Heat Units: 3,500 – 4,500

Chile Costeno

This small chile is native to the coastal regions of Oaxaca. Dark yellow to orange in color, it can fairly or very hot. They have very nice fruit undertones and I have used them extensively in my bean recipes

Chile Pasilla de Oaxaca

This chile has become the basis for my favorite sala here in Oaxaca. They are smoke dried, like the chipotles. the Mixte people are the preeminent producers of Oaxacan passila.

Chile Guajillo

In terms of quantity, guajillos are the most used chiles in Oaxacan cooking, and common throughout Mexico. Sometimes they are very fiery but usually they are mildly spicy and very fruity in flavor. They make a great enchilada sauce.

Scoville Heat Units: 10,000 – 20,000

Chile Morita

A lesser know variety of smoked dried chile that hails from Veracruz. Pretty hot but not as a deep smoke flavor as the Pasilla de Oaxaca or the Chipotle. I have bought some here in the village of Huaypaum but the best I have bought came from Tlalocalula. It was fragrant and raiseny in texture.

Ole Mole

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

Sorry. I think I can do better about the title but the chiles have taken hold and I am a little giddy. After two trips to Oaxaca, a total of five weeks there so far and the prospect of another sixty days, starting today, I am more then a little giddy. Pasillas, guajillo, costeno, pulla, arbol, dance around my head as I lay in bed, like little fever dreams, hot and daring me, challenging me. Really it’s that intense.

To try and settle in, I want to talk about moles, and the chiles I have become attached to and the possibilities there of.

First thing about moles, it’s like sunday tomato-meat sauce in Italian American neighborhoods. Everyone has a different approach and everyone has the best approach and everyone makes the best sauce. It’s all true you know. The seven moles of Oaxaca is really the several moles or even the seven hundred moles. There can be just a few ingredients and a few hours or a fistful of ingredients and a day’s work. This is not to say the results are the same but every result is valid and every results walks you down that ole mole road to a satisfying and suprisingly deep experience.

Here is a mole inspired chile paste

  • 3 to 4 dried chilpoltes
  • 10 – 12 costenos chiles
  • 5 – 6 guajillos chiles
  • 1/4 inch stick canela
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted, then ground in a spice or coffee grinder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

Pre heat oven to 250 degrees. Seed the chiles and lay them out on an 18 inch baking sheet or sheet pan. Toast the chiles in the oven for 5 – 10 minutes. Be very careful not to burn the chiles. You are just looking for a little richness of color and a potent intoxicating chile aroma. Remove from oven and break chiles into a 4 cup pyrex measuring cup or some such vessel. Soak the chiles in boiling water for an hour or two. Drain almost all the liquid. Add the spices and the garlic and salt. Using a hand blender. make a smooth, thick paste out of the chiles and the spices.

You can use the soaking liquid to make a picante rice. The canela bears some discussion but i need to get the details from a book I currently do not have.

Here is a variation on Frijoles Borrachos, with the spicing insiration taken from mole and made into a chile paste.

  • 2 cups dry red beans
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 medium red onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bottle brown ale
  • 4 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 cup chili paste (see above)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

Soak the beans overnight. Drain and rinse them well. In a 4 quart dutch oven, saute the onion in the oil over medium-high heat until clear, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the chili paste and cumin and cook about 10 minutes, until the cumin smell is covered by the chili smell. Add the vinegar and cook another minute. Add the beer, the sugar and the broth and bring to a simmer. Add the beans, bring everything to a simmer, then cover well and cook over low heat for 3 hours or until the beans are soft to the bite. If you think additional liquid is needed, add more beer. Finish the dish by seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and garnishing with chopped scallions. Keeps up to a week, covered and refrigerated. Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

Here’s a interesting sidenote. As I read more and more mole recipe, the various requirements for raisen, nuts and seeds made me think of trail mix. A quick perusal of the local grocery store produce a package of trailmix that had just about the right mixture and proportions with the exception of some cashews. which i dutifully seperated out of the mix and then ate.

Casa de El Refugio

Monday, May 1st, 2006

Dear Alice

My husband and I often remarked to each other how the pictures on the El Refugio’s website somehow did not seem to do it justice. This is not because they are bad pictures but because there are qualities and features to El Refugio mere photography can not capture. And I am afraid mere words might have the same limitations but here goes.

I hardly know where to began when talking about El Refugio. When you approach the house the simple sturdy walls give little clue as to the treasures that lay behind them. But from the moment you pass through the gates you feel you are some place very very special. Behind those stone walls is a world of creative inspiration and freedom. It is a house most appreciated by those who love art, music, books, food, a beautiful garden, and warm wonderful people.

Just the the way the grounds are planted creates a private and very intimate set of spaces. The total effect makes you feel as if El Refugio is the only house for miles around. But the rushing water of the stream and the plaintive sounds of roosters and donkeys connect you to your neighbors in the most wonderful of ways.

And the varieties of plants on the property grown both for beauty and utility. That there is so much useful and productive planting is one of those unexpected bonuses the place is full of. To pick ones own limones, to drink coffee made from beans grown on the property, or to snack at will on sweet nisperos that grow everywhere, or just to wait patiently as the bananas ripen, the pleasures are many.

Of course this wonderful plant life leads to even more wonderful birds and butterflies. Every morning begins with a cascade of hummingbirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, sturdy potoo, flycatchers and most impressive blackbirds. As the days goes on the sky often shows hawks and eagles riding the warm air. Sitting on one of the many terraces you get a real feeling of being connected to the gardens and thus to the land.

(But our absolute favorite animal on the property is Betty. To me El Refugio would be incomplete and a less friendly place without the dutiful and charming antics of sweet Betty, the dog.)

All this and I haven’t even begun to write about what I love about the house itself. First off, as a book lover, the thrill of the main entrance lies mostly in the seven bookcases that line the walls, all stocked with the most wonderful treasures, accumulated over many years. A quick right off of the entrance reveals the colorfully tiled kitchen, a kitchen that is so conducive to warm and friendly cooking, as the house is conducive to warm and friendly entertaining. Straight on down the entrance hall leads you to the huge and open living room. Towards the dining area is an outside wall completely of glass widows, which affords a view of the property and the surrounding mountains. But one of the amazing features of the house is that every room affords a magnificent and inspiring view. The main bedroom for instance has its view through glass doors that open onto one of the terraces. The mountains you see from there stay with you. I picture them in my memory often.

Probably the thing I love most about the house is the separation of the guest space from the main house. There is a wonderful terrace and guest rooms and a bath up on the roof. The view from here is quite breathtaking. And even better a second building on the property that houses an artist studio and two more bedrooms and a bath above. Most of my fondest memories are from the terrace of this building, from which every aspect of El Refugio can be viewed. The pool, the main house, the surrounding lands and again those haunting mountains. Many a serene hour was spent here.

To add to all of this, El Refugio’s location in the town of Huayapam itself is one of the best features of the house. I grew to love walking to the markets and little stores in town, where I could find everything I needed. Meeting the neighborhood children and discovering what lay up that road or behind that bend was a genuine pleasure.

Finally the staff that was assembled for my mother’s stay at the house will be held warmly and quite fondly in my heart. It’s hard to describe the kindness and caring these people showed us. A list would be too long. Words really fail to describe how deeply they touched us. They made our stay so peaceful and cared for us so well, I will be grateful for having met them the rest of my life.

I know this was supposed to be a brief letter. After having written all this, I still feel like I am holding back something. My experience of Oaxaca and Huayapam was so intensely changed by staying at El Refugio, I really don’t have the words to say precisely how. I feel changed by my stay and inspired to return.


Bonnie Kassel

El Refugio Slide Show