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Cooking Classes with Nora Valencia, in Oaxaca, Mexico
If you take just a fraction of what Nora’s grandmother taught her about Oaxacan cooking for nearly forty years, you will not only have knowledge about modern ingredients and techniques, but also a great understanding of history and place. the variety of Oaxacan cuisine today… and the satisfaction of finishing your delicious meal.
Oaxacan Nora Valencia inspires her students with interesting stories and funny stories that she tells in her class about the abuelita’s knowledge of food production and synthesis. But he also admits, walking from the market, that his journey was long to the place of “class” ten years ago: “What my grandmother and mother taught me was not enough. The instructor wanted to explore more and travel, in the culture of social research and sociology, chemistry and physics, and even botany, possible information about Mexican and Oaxacan plants and herbs and pre-Hispanic recipes.
The lesson day starts at 9:30, the students meet and have a short chat with each other and Nora, in the comfortable environment of her B & B, La Casa de Mis Recuerdos. Around 10, taxis arrive to take everyone to the Mercado de La Merced, one of the most popular daily markets in Oaxaca… for Oaxacans. About an hour is spent in the market, walking from stall to stall, where you learn, in different ways, about the origin and history, and modern works, dry and fresh, nuts, tomatoes, cheese, bread, many herbs, and much more. You come to appreciate how Oaxacan cuisine has arrived in the 21st century, thanks to the dissolution of the use of pre-Spanish produce and meat, which came from Spain during the conquest.
Nora provides an understanding of the difference between produce available in regular markets (which are usually bought by sellers from farmers or wholesalers and large businesses), and those sold by women who live on the ground who grow fruits, vegetables and herbs. in their towns and villages: “Now we use the word organic, what we call criollo, what these women sell.
Nora reveals everything here and several times later in the kitchen, which ingredients, which are easily available at home, which can replace what they buy in the market such as green and red tomatoes, real herbs, chiles, even. Masa: “If you buy Maseca brand corn flour in Oregon, and you’re making tamales, add a little corn flour to make it right. We’ve heard the difference between the two types of masa that we find in the market, one for tortillas and one for tamales . And you probably already know, we use santa a lot in our recipes, and it’s available in some states, like Florida, so if you can’t find it, try. using ….”
Instead of buying anything at the market, Nora has already bought the day before, and what she buys on this short trip she leaves at all the markets and picks it up when we are ready to leave. “Now I’m going back to the puestos to get what we bought, so let’s meet at the front in 10 – 15 minutes. Right now you can go buy a bunch of dry pasta to take home, that spicy pasta. I told you I like to keep it in my bag when I go to US, and maybe gusano worms that we’ll be using to make salsa in the future.” Nora offers valuable advice about what to limit, and what freezes well (ie quesillo and chapulines—Oaxacan string cheese and grasshoppers).
We walk to his nearby house on a beautiful cobblestone road, where the class goes smoothly. We will spend mornings and afternoons in its traditional, painted kitchen (talavera) with a central island, and its dining and living rooms opening onto a beautiful courtyard with trees, vines and flowering shrubs. Envelopes of comfort, if you are at home, because somehow, you feel as welcome as possible. I have only one assistant, Minerva, I am amazed at the great work that has gone into the preparation of some dishes, and the most important thing is how Nora must be “on” 100% of the time, listening to each of the ten students, from the twenties to the end of sixty years, to six hours.
That’s what Nora is all about, teaching, correcting, confirming, reminding, and correcting. With so many experts in the classroom today, making tamales, one of the most difficult recipes of the day, is not as simple as mixing dough with pineapple chunks and wrapping them in corn husks. Three ingredients are prepared, placed in the husk, and then folded very carefully: “Sorry, but these must be other ingredients, so we will combine two into one, or better yet, why not just use extra. husk to tie everything together.” There are masa mixes, coconut/milk mixes, pineapple/sugar/cinnamon fusions, plus raisins. “Now see that I don’t drain the water while cooking the pineapple, because I can use it next time instead of just the water, to make fresh fruit juice (agua fresca). It’s sweet and delicious.”
Where a part is prepared before we arrive, Nora advises how it is prepared, such as chicken and beef. When there are ingredients to choose from, Nora not only tells us what to substitute based on her preferences, but also explains the different types. And when we are preparing mole amarillo, he teaches a propos lie that there are seven moles: “Some think of siete moles because sometimes we mention seven regions in the state. For example, where shrimp is often used to make goods and as protein in amarillo, shouldn’t we consider mole as a class or a separate species?”
When we prepare our mole amarillo, we taste when the taste changes secretly, adding santa, spices, masa which, explained, absorbs and reduces some heat. The fiery salsa is magically transformed into a difficult mole, a creation that is hard to come by when it comes to commercial preparation. “How does everyone like to eat spicy food? You know I don’t promise anything because peppers are like lottery tickets: you don’t know. I told my grandmother to try it, but she refused, use your eyes. Your nose, and your mouth to try.” Nora continues that the same thing is often different in strength, taste, and absorption, for example with chicken… it’s not always the same.
While emphasizing historical and regional trends in the use of ingredients, as well as the diversity of recipes, Nora also ensures that the method is properly emphasized in the classroom. They draw participants into hands-on learning, encouraging everyone to contribute to the creation of each dish.
Printed recipe sheets are distributed, but not until the food is served. Nora thinks that it is better for students to start watching, listening, participating, and asking questions, rather than reading and writing. After the meal, they discuss the recipe and ask questions about any doubts.
By 2pm we’re ready to try some mezcal, then sit down and do what we’ve made:
1) Sweet fresh squash blossoms stuffed with a mixture of requesón cheese,
ham, onion and nuts;
2) Santa’s meal, with squash blossoms, quesillo, garlic, etc.;
3) Mint rice;
4) Mole amarillo with chicken and steamed vegetables;
5) Garnish with sliced onions in lime lemon vinaigrette;
6) Green tomato salsa with gusanos de maguey;
7) Fresh fruit juice of orange, lime and cucumber;
8) Dessert tamales with pineapple, coconut and raisins.
Even Nora’s grandmother could have been forced to create a variety, delicious and complete.
Cocina con Nora is located at Aldama 205, Barrio de Jalatlaco, downtown Oaxaca. Maximum class size is 10. You can register for Nora’s training by calling (951) 515-5645 or emailing her at: [email protected]
(Website: http://www.almademitierra.net )
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