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A Culinary Trip to Mexico


docsconz
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John, the masa post just made me think I just have to go to Mexico.  I Just have to go.  That's all.  And it was cruel to put the table of tortillas just after that.  Not fair at all.  :laugh: I imagine as you watched and learned how all of these basics are done, your appreciation of everything you saw and ate must have exponentially shot up with each passing day.  Like mine is with this thread.  I didn't think it possible.

Lucy, I have always enjoyed the truly Mexican cuisine I have had, which is one reason my wife and I took this trip, but I never realized just how ignorant I was. I am now by no means an expert, but you are right my level of appreciation is exponentially higher than it was. Mexico is a marvellous country. If there weren't so many other places in the world I also wish to get to know I bit I could see making it a frequent habit to visit there. As it is I can't wait to return and explore other areas as well as the places I have already been to.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Mole, Mole Mole!

After a little bit of time exploring the beautiful old town of Tlaxcala (pronounced sort of like To LaScala - at least that is how I remembered it) we came back to the base for Rick's first full scale cooking demonstration. He would show us a salsa verde, Mexican white rice a fava bean soup and squah blossom and cheese quesadillas made with Mexican string cheese that was very much like mozzarella. In addition he would show us an approachable way to make a true Mole Poblano. At this point I will cut right to the chase and show the mole. I will not show all the detailed steps of the process though.

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Mise en place for the mole.

This mole had 16 different ingredients not including the chicken that was enrobed in the sauce. Mole means "sauce". In Mexican haute cuisine the sauce is the reason for the dish. People order or perhaps more commonly make for a special meal "mole with chicken or whatever" rather than "chicken or whatever with mole". The same is true for pipians and other sauces. The protein is secondary to the sauce. In certain respects that reminds me of classic French cuisine that relied much more heavily on sauces than modern French cuisine does. Well with sauces like moles, why not? Not only are they delicious, they are also quite nutritious as they are full of vegetables, vitamins, minerals and fiber while being relatively low in fat.

While still fairly labor intensive Rick's demonstration made the process accessible. Indeed later in the week one of the groups made a fantastic red pipian with guidance from Rick and Richard James. More on that in a later post. Nevertheless, my wife and I came away from there feeling that the process is indeed do-able.

Many people equate mole poblano with chocolate and yes there is chocolate as an ingredient - typically mexican style granular chocolate with cinnamon and perhaps other ingredients such as vanilla. Even so we learned that a mole is not a "chocolate sauce". Indeed it is not a sauce of any one thing. It is a new entity built of the some of its parts. It was said that if the individual components of the mole can be readily identified that the mole is not a good one. A mole is a symphony on the plate without a defined solo.

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Richard James saucing the chicken with the mole prior to replacing the chicken back in the oven.

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The Final Product.

The mole was fabulous! It was dark, rich and complexly delicious. Indeed this was a sum of its parts working in unison and not a conglomeration of clashing dissonance (not there is anything necessarily wrong with that!). As good as it was fresh, we had the opportunity to taste the sauce several more times over the next few days although not as much as we would have liked as a good portion of it was accidentally spilled :shock: The mole, as many great sauces and dishes do, continued to evolve with even greater depth and complexity. If I had to choose one culinary highlight of this trip it would have to have been the mole.

The supporting elements of that afternoon's cena weren't so bad either. I will attempt to post more on them soon.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Salsa Verde

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Chopping tomatillos (tomates) There are green chiles (either jalapeno or serrano in here as well)

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Adding chopped white onions to the tomatillos that were more finely chopped in the Vitamixer.

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Sprinkling chopped cilantro on top.

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Voila. The final product.

Delicious

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Squash Blossom Quesadillas

Tortillas made directly from fresh masa were used to make these delicious squash blossom and string cheese quesadillas.

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Pressing the masa into a tortilla.

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Laying on the hot comal.

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Placing the cheese.

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Placing the blossoms.

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Folding it over and letting it cook.

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Hot off the comal.

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Ready to eat.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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John, what's the white stuff on the comal?

Joe, That is left over lime paste used to make nixtamal from the dried corn. It is used here to season the comal's porous earthenware.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Here's a photo of Classic Mexican White Rice made for the same cena. The plantains, an optional component to the recipe, made this an outstanding rice dish in my opinion.

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The green herb is parsley. The rice is a medium-grain that was initially fried in oil. The initial cooking of this dish is much like for a risotto except that once the broth is added tthe rice is slowly simmered rather than continuously stirred. Fresh lime juice provides an additional component along with onion and garlic. The fried and caramelized plantains are added at the end. We have since made this at home. So long as we can get good plantains, this will be a regular.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Hot Tamales!

That evening we met Ricardo Munoz Zurita for the first time for his lecture demonstration on tamales. He is the author of the much acclaimed, sought after and rare Diccionario Enciclopedio de la Gastronomia Mexicana. He is also the Chef-Proprietor of the popular cafe Oro y Azul on the UNAM Campus in Mexico City.

Tamales (tamal for only one) are an ancient and important component of Meso-American cuisine. Basically they consist of corn dough with or without other fillings wrapped within an outer leaf, most commonly corn husks. Banana leaves are also common depending on the geographic origen of the tamal variety. These stuffed leaves are then steamed to completion and typically served with a sauce.

Ricardo and his assistant Maximiliano prepared a few different varieties for us including Tamales de Rajaas (Tamales with Chile Strips), Tamales de Frijol Negro (Black Bean Tamales) from central Mexico, Tamales de Chaya (Swiss chard) from Tabasco. The first two were made with corn husks while the latter banana leaves.

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Ricardo steaming a roasted chile to facilitate peeling.

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Working with the masa.

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Stuffing the Tamal with chile strips and red salsa.

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Folding a tamal.

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Trying my hand at one.

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The Bean Tamales were cut from a roll. The masa was spread, flattened and filled with the beans. This was then rolled up and sliced into portions before filling the corn husk.

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Black Bean Tamales awaiting steaming.

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The banana leaves treated over heat to prepare them for stuffing.

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The banana leaves were stuffed with chicharron and chard.

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Ricardo showing a steamed Tamal de Chaya

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Maximiliano and Ricardo with their tamales.

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Tamal de rajas with the mole

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The Tamal de Chaya with a red tomato sauce and Chiappas cheese.

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The Raja tamal in its husk.

The tamales were of course delicious. My favorite was the Chaya. The banana leaf gave it a very pleasant perceptable flavor.

Ricardo himself was extremely, articulate, personable and charming. This evening and the rest of his time with us was something to value. I can't wait for his and Marilyn Tausend's book. Speaking of Marilyn, I would like to add a few words about her in this trip. She is a luminous figure in bringing the world of mexican cooking to the rest of North America in her own right. Her Mexico: The Beautiful cookbook which she co-wrote is indeed beautiful and an excellent source. She has been leading culinary trips to Mexico for some time and along with her assistant ana Elena Martinez vital to making this trip happen. On the trip itself she was more of a logistical leader than a forceful culinary personality, although she often provided a quiet counterpoint during discussion. With the other culinary players on board she was happy to play a supporting role and did so admirably. I would not hesitate to take another trip under her guidance.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Day Four: Almuerzo: Rick's Green Pipian

After breakfast at the hotel (wonderful huevos rancheros with an excellent red chile sauce), we re-convened at our Studio Kitchen ( :wink: ) for another demonstration by Rick. This one featured a slow-simmered fava bean soup with mint and pasilla chile, Roasted mexican vegetables in Green-Sesame Pipian (Pipian verde de verduras) and Rustic Guava-Cajeta Tartlettes with Berry "Salsa"

I did not take many photos of the preparation as many of the techniques had been used in prior dishes.

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Rick dripping "cajeta" or Mexican dulce de Leche on the tartlette. This particular cajeta was made with a combination of goat's and cow's milk that Rick particularly likes. i was not one to argue.

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The Fava soup. This was creamy and delicious. The favas used are dried and readily available in Mexican markets. I saw them in Philadelphia last weekend. The cheese was Mexican queso anejo, but according to Rick dry feta or parmesan are reasonable substitutes.

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The Pipian. This was extraordinary. Who says there aren't many vegetables used in Mexican cuisine? This dish included nopales, zucchini, chayote, verdolagas (purslane) and potatos as the roasted vegetable component with numerous others constituting the sauce. Special herbs included epazote and hoja santa.

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The tartlette. I fell in love with guava on this trip. The Cajeta was indeed marvellous and the berry salsa a fantastic counterpoint. Rick was a pastry chef before he went to the savory side. His experience and skill was amply demonstrated here. It wasn't particularly complicated, but it was delicious.

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Richard, Rick and Ricardo - The 3 "R" Amigos, serving the soup.

After this delight we took some time to go explorer the archaelogical site of Cacaxtla and then visited a private home for beef tacos and a demonstration of the making of Alegria.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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That evening we met Ricardo Munoz Zurita for the first time for his lecture demonstration on tamales. He is the author of the much acclaimed, sought after and rare Diccionario Enciclopedio de la Gastronomia Mexicana. He is also the Chef-Proprietor of the popular cafe Oro y Azul on the UNAM Campus in Mexico City.

Ricardo himself was extremely, articulate,  personable and charming. This evening and the rest of his time with us was something to value. I can't wait for his and Marilyn Tausend's book.

Ricardo's the man! Great Post John! The photos are awesome! I can almost taste the food... mmm another trip to Mexico City in the works? Maybe!

Edited by Caarina (log)
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John, I am SOOO living vicariously through your reports :raz: I hope the CIA pays you a marketing fee as you're doing such a great job promoting the trip!! The photos are fantastic and doing a great job of conveying an accurate image of everything.

Here's the link to Marilyn Tausend's web page, and I heartily agree with your comments that her tours are extremely well run.

Almost the first thing I do each morning when I get to work, is to see what you've posted (everything loads better and faster here at work). It's such sweet anticipation to see what you've put up, I can hardly wait to see the rest of your reports :smile:

Edited by kalypso (log)
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Doc: I still have to read new posts again since I've only skimmed. This thread continues to fascinate...and inspire.

I WISH you were logged in because as soon as you mentioned medium grain rice and plantains and lime juice I thought "aha!" and decided to add a few items to my shopping list. I smiled when I read that you and your wife have made the same thing a number of times since your return. Please post if there is anything else in the rice that you've neglected to mention, though your description of a simple dish seems thorough.

Regarding epazote: I had never heard of it until I read Deborah Madison's VCFE, where her time in the Southwest affects some of her recipes. Since D.C. has a large Latino/a population, as you probably know, it's easy to find the dried stuff here. I've not come across the fresh herb though it's said to grow like a weed. If you liked the taste and can get over the smell, I strongly recommend adding it to a pot of black beans as they cook. Delicious!

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Wow, amazing thread - this is one of the things I love about eGullet: you could fit everything I know about Mexican cuisine (or about Mexico for that matter) into a thimble, but now I feel compelled to learn (or at least eat) something about it.

I assume the tart Rick Bayless made is not quite a traditional Mexican dessert - what sorts of things are? I'm imagining maybe sweetened corn puddings, fruit-based sweets, …?

Cutting the lemon/the knife/leaves a little cathedral:/alcoves unguessed by the eye/that open acidulous glass/to the light; topazes/riding the droplets,/altars,/aromatic facades. - Ode to a Lemon, Pablo Neruda

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Here's a photo of Classic Mexican White Rice made for the same cena. The plantains, an optional component to the recipe, made this an outstanding rice dish in my opinion.

gallery_8158_2659_135867.jpg

The green herb is parsley. The rice is a medium-grain that was initially fried in oil. The initial cooking of this dish is much like for a risotto except that once the broth is added tthe rice is slowly simmered rather than continuously stirred. Fresh lime juice provides an additional component along with onion and garlic. The fried and caramelized plantains are added at the end. We have since made this at home. So long as we can get good plantains, this will be a regular.

John, my understanding of basic Mexican white rice from Kennedy is that the rice it quite literally fried in a good amount of oil until golden colored, then drained of the excess oil, and then simmered in good chicken broth. Was the method you learned different? On that note, for purposes of comparison I would appreciate as many details as you can provide of the exact cooking methods you were taught in Mexico. Thanks.

-Joe

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I assume the tart Rick Bayless made is not quite a traditional Mexican dessert - what sorts of things are? I'm imagining maybe sweetened corn puddings, fruit-based sweets, …?

Actually, I believe it is. From the mid-nineteenth century on, Mexican cuisine reeived a lot of influence from the French, so while it is certainly not a pre-Columbian tradition and is relatively recent, it still falls within the bounds of Mexican cuisine. It is interesting to see other influences on Mexican cuisine. For instance, I was astonished to learn that tacos al pastor are really a product of Lebanese influence.

I will be posting some other sweets down the road.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Here's a photo of Classic Mexican White Rice made for the same cena. The plantains, an optional component to the recipe, made this an outstanding rice dish in my opinion.

gallery_8158_2659_135867.jpg

The green herb is parsley. The rice is a medium-grain that was initially fried in oil. The initial cooking of this dish is much like for a risotto except that once the broth is added tthe rice is slowly simmered rather than continuously stirred. Fresh lime juice provides an additional component along with onion and garlic. The fried and caramelized plantains are added at the end. We have since made this at home. So long as we can get good plantains, this will be a regular.

John, my understanding of basic Mexican white rice from Kennedy is that the rice it quite literally fried in a good amount of oil until golden colored, then drained of the excess oil, and then simmered in good chicken broth. Was the method you learned different? On that note, for purposes of comparison I would appreciate as many details as you can provide of the exact cooking methods you were taught in Mexico. Thanks.

-Joe

Joe, the rice is fried along with the onion and garlic in much the same way that risotto rice is before the liquid is added. Rick's recipe for the above rice did not call for as much oil as you mention. - certainly not so much that it needed to be poured off. In addition the rice wasn't fried that long to color it. The chicken broth was added after the initial frying, but then after an initial stir was essentially covereed and left to simmer. That is where it veered from risotto. There are other

Mexican rice cooking methods that may be more similar to the one you are describing. Rick gave another one for rice cooked "the Mexican way" for a red rice that takes a markedly different approach than this one because it uses a very different rice. I don't have his handout with me, but I will try to cjeck it and return to this when I can.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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gallery_8158_2659_153176.jpg
John, what's the white stuff on the comal?

Joe, That is left over lime paste used to make nixtamal from the dried corn. It is used here to season the comal's porous earthenware.

It essentially acts like a Teflon coating - to prevent the masa from sticking to the clay surface.

Memo

Edited by Memo (log)

Ríate y el mundo ríe contigo. Ronques y duermes solito.

Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Snore, and you sleep alone.

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Thanks for the interest expressed publicly and privately as well as clarifications and in some cases corrections. I have been having some trouble getting on eGullet for any length of time for the past few days and possibly for the near future due to some technical issues. I have a fair amount more to post on this and will continue when I get my technical problems ironed out.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Puebla Market

We took a day trip to Puebla. What a fabulous city!. Our foray commenced with a trip to the ex-Convent of Santa Rosa, where legend has it the first mole was created. Unfortunately they did not allow photos of this extraordinarily beautiful old kitchen lined with Talavera tiles. Although beautiful, the kitchen must have been a nightmare to work in as the fires were lit inside without a chimney. Apparently most of the nuns were severely limited in what they were allowed to eat. Their existance as described to us was incredibly spartan. Here is a link to some images of the ex-convent and part of the kitchen.

The previous evening we were once again divided into our groups with assignments to produce specific parts of a cena. Each group was given a number of recipes from which to choose. We were then to buy all the necessary ingredients at the market and were given money with which to do so. My group got off pretty easy and had to prepare a soup. We chose a recipe for Cilantro soup from our pile and added squash blossoms to augment the recipe. Here are some photos from the market. I took many more but decided not to add those that were substantially similar to those already posted from El Merced.

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Seafood shop sign on the way to the market.

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Beans on the street. Notice the sacks have the "Michigan" label. Given the variety here, I think only the sacks are from Michigan. Nevertheless US beans from Michigan have been flooding the market and under pricing the native beans. The same is true for corn.

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Heads up! I have no idea as to how this gets used.

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Trotters anyone?

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"Hey what's that down there?"

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We bought fantastic Crema from this man. Crema is a Mexican version of creme fraiche.

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This chile salesman asked me to take his photo. I hope he's reading.

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Dried husked favas.

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I bought some favas and spices from this man.

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Dried skunk is supposedly good for acne. This was from the pharmaceutical area of the market.

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Red-sugar coated bread.

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Tomates (tomatillos)

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While not directly food related, these two overdosed on the skunk.

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Live chickens awaiting their fate.

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Jamaica (hibiscus flowers) used primarily for teas and beverages.

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Another vendor who wanted his picture taken.

More Puebla to come in a few days! In the meantime here are some photos from lunch that day. The Cemita Milanesa was one of the best sandwiches I have ever had.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Excellent thread, and thanks for such detailed posting. You're welcome to come visit Guadalajara; I'd be delighted to show you around my city.

The pig's heads, by the way, are used to make pozole. That would have been a great soup for your group to prepare.

What's new at Mexico Cooks!?

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Tacos and Alegria made me happy!

Somehow in my haste I skipped over a very important and fun part of the trip. The day prior to our visit to Puebla and after our pipian lunch we drove out to the ancient pyramidal ruins of Cacaxtla for a tour. This area was an still is prime amaranth country. After our tour we stopped by the home of a local family who are makers of alegria, the sweet made from amaranth. There we were treated to a cena of beef tacos with nopales as well as a demonstration of the art of making alegria..

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Mural from Cacaxtla showing the growing of corn. The ears are represented by human heads s it was felt that corn was part of the creation of humans.

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A view of a pyramid from Cacxtla in the right background. An active volcano resides in the left background.

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Making fresh tortillas from masa for the tacos.

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Trying my hand at making the tortillas. It was not nearly as easy as it looked. With a little additional preactice I got better, however, anyone with a job making tortillas remains safe from me. :biggrin:

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Grilling beef, onions and nopales for our tacos.

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The taco.

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The family turkey or "guajolote".

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Pouring amaranth seeds and spreading them until they pop but before they burn. The white seeds are the ones that have popped. They are then swept ...

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...into a basket

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My turn...once again easier said than done for a novice.

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Mixing aguamiel in with the popped seeds.

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Taking the sticky mass and punding it into molds. The mass hardens quickly.

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Raw amaranth seeds in the bucket and large plastic bag, finished alegria stacked in bags in the rear and chewy peanut bars in the front.

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More.

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On the left are large bars of alegria with raisins and nuts. these were my favorite.

For anyone interested in making alegria at home, a good source of raw amaranth seeds is eGullet's own Rancho Gordo.

When we returned to Tlaxcala it was time to freshen up before a demo on chiles rellenos by Ricardo Munoz.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Chiles Rellenos

Ricardo started his demonstration by showing us how to peel poblano chiles and clean jalapenos

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He then proceeded to make a fw different kinds of chiles rellenos includng:

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Poblanos Rellenos de Verduras. The vegetables included squash blossoms, corn kernels, onions, carrots and zucchini. This was covered with grated queso fresco and fresh crema.

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Chiles jalapenos Rellenos de Minilla a filling of canned tuna with raisins, capers, tomato, parsley and chopped green onions. This dish was very mediterranean tasting.

and

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Chiles en Nogada Contemporaneos. Since the fresh walnuts necessary for the traditional version of this dish are only available in July, August or September, Ricardo made these with almonds. This can be made either sweet or savory. With the use of sherry these were a little on the sweet side.

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Serving the chiles rellenos. Each of them was delicious, although my clear favorite were the chiles en nogada.

Unfortunately after this demo we were to bid hasta la vista to Ricardo. He is a remarkable man and chef. it was a pleasure to meet him, however briefly.

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Next...back to Puebla!

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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