Cooking in the Kitchen with Nora
Today our Oaxacan culinary education begins with a market tour and four hours of cooking with Nora Andrea Valencia. We are greeted at the market by a striking woman with sparkling eyes and upswept jet black hair, dressed in traditional garb: a long blue skirt, embroidered top and a garnet wool wrap. She greets us, gives us a little preparation about what to expect and who not to photograph, and our gaggle of five were off to follow Nora in a flurry around the market.
Once we have all that we need for our feast, we follow Nora back to her lush oasis behind large streetfront doors. We had such treats in store in our four course meal preparation. She started us off making tamales dolce, or sweet dessert tamales with coconut, pineapple and raisins. She them moved on to begin the many steps in making mole coloradito, a red mole. We toasted 5 different kinds of chiles with lots of garlic and onions and then soaked them. Then the raisins are sauteed in lard and removed and the garlic and onion are sauteed and removed. The sesame seeds (with salt down before and after the seeds go in to prevent popping), with the Mexican oregano, Mexican cinnamon, cloves, and pepper and this roasts until the seeds start to brown. While this is happening, the almonds blanch.
Still with me? Good, because there are actually more steps…but I’m not going to take you through all of the details. All of these good things get pureed to a fine consistency in a Vita-Mix (like a blender that most of us own, but on steroids). Then its cooked AGAIN for a bit and the chocolate is added. This creates the paste that can be frozen. They often make it in big batches and freeze some for later meals to make the most of all of this work. The sauce gets pureed, blanched tomatoes, chicken stock, sugar, and salt and is cooked more. It is a divine creation, this mole. She served it over chicken with sesame seeds sprinkled on top. The rice she serves it with is cooked with minced garlic, onion, chicken stock and MINT! Who would have thought, mint, with mole? Not me, but it was a light and refreshing counterpoint to the rich mole, delicious and subtle.
She also whipped up, in what seemed like 5 minutes, a Nopale (cactus) and shrimp soup and zucchini flower blossoms stuffed with onion and ham and topped with the salsa di gusano (salsa with dried worms) as an appetizer, both of which were very simple. I fully intend to try both out as soon as I can a.) find little cactus paddles and b.) zucchini blossoms are in season.