11 May 2015

Oaxaca: In the Kitchen with Oscar

If you're in Oaxaca for a few days and love the city's food, I would definitely recommend that you take one of the cooking courses offered by many of the restaurants in the town. I booked a four-and-a-half hour class with Oscar Carrizosa of Casa Crespo, which cost US$65 and which was great fun.

We met at Casa Crespo, just across the street from the Templo Santo Domingo, at 10 am and decided what we were going to cook over a cup of coffee. There were five of us in our group — a couple from San Francisco, a couple from Rome and London, and me — which was the perfect size. The first task was for us to decide what we were going to cook: this proved quite challenging, as everything sounded great!

Then, we went off to the market to buy the ingredients, and Oscar provided a lot of information about local food and culture along the way. Even after a week in Mexico, it never ceases to amaze me how fresh and fragrant the fruit and vegetables are. We also stopped to get our corn ground into flour to make tamales.

Back at the restaurant, we all helped to make the various dishes. We each pressed our own tortillas — one plain and one with squash flower and cheese — and toasted them. We also made some quesadillas — I added chapulines (grasshoppers) to mine, but if I'm honest, I couldn't really taste them. We whipped up a squash flower soup and a batch of guacamole and created three different salsas (one flavoured with cumin, one with avocado leaves and one with agave worms), and then set about making the 17-ingredient mole (I can't remember them all, but there were chiles, garlic, onions, cinnamon, pecans, almonds, raisin and, of course, chocolate!).

This class would suit beginners and those interested in the local culinary specialities very well — if you are an advanced chef (I'm definitely not), you may find it a little basic. One of the dishes we made was poblano chiles stuffed with tamales. I struggled a little to remove all of the seeds from the skinned, roasted pepper, and I was worried it was going to be super spicy, but it was fine.

For pudding, we prepared a mezcal nieve (sorbet), which was delicious. Now that I have my own bottle of mezcal, maybe I will try to make this at home — Oscar emailed us all of the recipes after the class.

While the food cooked, we all went up to the rooftop to chat and enjoy the view over a beer, and then we got to go back downstairs to enjoy the fruits of our labours with a mango agua fresca, and with a mezcal and a little Oaxaca chocolate tasting to finish. Everything tasted great, especially the mole and the nieve and, overall, it was a really nice way to spend half a day and to learn a bit more about the local cuisine.

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