|A Day in Mexico City|
A morning visit to La Casa Azul, the home and studio of Frida Kahlo awakened our senses and deepened our knowledge of Mexico City with rich stories about the intellectual, artistic and political life of Frida, Diego Rivera, and their free-thinking friends. Our hearts opened, surrounded by the beautiful and challenging words and images throughout the studio, bedrooms, kitchen and patios of the blue house. (If a trip to La Casa Azul is not in the near future, check out Fridas’s Fiestas for images and flavors from Frida’s inspiring, often tragic life.
Our next stop was Xochimilco and the Chinampas, the floating islands located in southern Mexico City. These floating islands were originally built by the Aztecs using mud and decaying plants and water from the canals to irrigate the crops. We boarded trajineras, highly decorated flat bottomed wooden boats which navigate the canals powered by motors or long paddles. Along the way to our destination, Arca Tierra, we encountered other boats with mariachi bands for hire, food and drink, and families celebrating milestones. Water birds, farms, an occasional cow, soccer fields and snack bars dotted the landscape. We disembarked at Arca Tierra, an agro-ecological community and meeting place. This is a promising project; a collaborative effort of farmers, chefs, artisans, local families and story tellers working to protect and revitalize traditional agricultural methods. The work revolves around education and the effort to return to farming more of the land organically aligned with syntrophic practices. Farmer/chefs cooked in the outside kitchen and we enjoyed our al fresco luncheon seated together at a long wooden table set under the thatched palapa. The setting, the garden produced meal served on local china, inspiring morning, scenic boat ride, sincere service and my dining companions all added to this being one of the most gratifying meals of my life.
Dinner was at Rosetta, one of the top 50 restaurants of Latin America. Chef Elena Reygadas, a chef supporter of Arca Tierra, designed a menu from the collective’s provisions. The farmers joined us for a dinner which was vegetarian with the exception of Chicatana ant butter for the rye sour dough. The family style supper included white mole with fermented carrots and charcoal, corn tamales with celeriac and smoked cream and ravioli with sweet potatoes, buttermilk and macha sauce.
Photo credit: Cade Nagy, Catering by Design
Notes from the Kitchens and Dining Rooms of Puebla, Mexico
Chili en Nogada may not be a well know Mexican dish in the States but is the celebratory dish of note on Mexican Independence Day and often throughout the month of September. According to legend, Chili en Nogada originated in the city of Puebla in the 18th century, created by nuns using the local seasonal produce and aligning with the colors of the Mexican flag: green, the poblano chili and parsley garnish; red, the pomegranate seeds and white, the creamy walnut sauce. Local chefs eager to introduce this laborious dish to us bent the seasonal rules and shared some of their passion and secrets with us. The presentation is understated with all of the detail in the gathering and prepping of the many ingredients. Essentially a stuffed pepper, ingredients can include either chopped beef, pork or both, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, pears, candied fruit, raisins, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, and a walnut sauce topped with pomegranate seeds and parsley. The care put into preparing the fresh walnuts for the sauce, painstakingly peeling away all of the brown skins and hence, the bitterness is one of the clues to the level of the cook’s ability. Debates are heated on the topics of whether the dish should be served cold, room temperature or warm and whether the pepper should be egg battered or not. There is no debate about its importance in the lexicon of Mexican food and it certainly would have been found on Frida and Diego’s table on Independence Day years ago as well as celebrants in 2022.
While in Puebla we also attended culinary class at the historic Hotel Colonial de Pueblo taught by master mole maker and chef, Lulu Cortez Ruiz. I am hungry remembering the afternoon spent learning the nuances of mole poblano, chalupas and arroz rojo and various salsas. Mole, a sauce made of a mix of about 20 ingredients varies greatly by region, sweetness, spice, color and are named for their different colors or predominant ingredient. Attending class in Puebla, we learned about the most famous of moles (at least according to our instructors) mole poblano (poblano means from puebla). It has an exquisite aroma and with all of the ingredients and equipment gathered in front of us and Lulu’s expert hands and guidance it was an incredibly satisfying and delicious experience. The chalupas varieties included mole poblano as well as red and green salsas. We thoroughly understand how mole poblano has earned the title of “national dish of Mexico”.
Photo credit: Cade Nagy, Catering by Design
Another Day at the Office
In the quiet February days, our chefs dream up new dishes, tinkering with recipes and presenting their final version at a series of internal Chef Tables. Our team comprises the tasting panel (yup, tough job!). Some of the highlights and favorites from this year are Asparagus Cappuccino with Smoked Salmon Butter and Pickled Rhubarb Side Salad; Pan Roasted Sea Bass with Gumbo Sauce and Roasted Beet Salad with Herbed Goat Cheese Bread; compressed Asian pear, pine nuts, blood oranges, baby greens & tarragon lemon vinaigrette. Chef Vicky’s Sunburst Salad will delight our clients looking for a colorful summer option. A lot of dishes reflected the growing interest in plant-based options such as the Lion’s Mane Mushroom Tart and the Vegan Polenta Cake with Baby Zucchini with Carrot Gratin, Braised Leeks and Pea Vierge. Two standout crowd-pleasing desserts were Blood Orange Tart with Meringue Ribbons and a fun Cheeseboard Galette.
Harriet’s Book Picks (Double Feature): The Whole Seed Catalog 2022 and Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them by Dan Saladino One could get joyfully lost while rummaging through the 532 pages of The Whole Seed Catalog 2022 compiled by Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. It’s like waking up in Oz, surrounded by rose feathers, poppy, glass gem corn, Chinese Red Noodle Bean, Chocolate Seven Pot Pepper and other enchanting rare finds. The company, started in 1998, now offers over 1,000 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers, “the largest selection of heirloom varieties in the USA” and “has become a tool to promote and preserve our agricultural and culinary heritage.” The pages are packed with gorgeous photographs, stories and histories of plants and people, detailed descriptions of the products and even recipes. Unfortunately, this year’s big catalog is already sold out, but you can go online and see the smaller and also stunning free catalog. Or try clicking your ruby reds, and saying “There is no place like the Whole Seed Catalog” and one might magically appear in your mail box, as one did in mine.
Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them written by Dan Saladino is a perfect companion read to The Whole Seed Catalog. Saladino, a BBC reporter, spent over a decade traveling to countries located in all of the continents except Antarctica, researching and recording stories about at-risk foods. The result is an engaging and highly informative book. Reading Eating to Extinction can be worrisome- “more than half of the world’s seed supply is in the hands of just four companies”, most of our pork and dairy cows come from a single breed of each animal, and the bacteria to make half of all of our cheese comes from one company. And in addition to losing all kinds of biodiversity on farms we are also losing it in the wild. Saladino writes quite a bit about landrace foods which have been passed down for generations and flourish in specific locations and the benefits of biodiversity and heirloom seed varieties. The recounting of the Hazda hunter gatherers whose ability to talk to the honeyguide bird who directs them to beehives hidden in huge baobab trees, and of Karlos Baca, a chef who now spends his time “rescuing the knowledge and skills of his ancestors, The Tewa, Dine and Ute tribes” are two of the well-researched tales that can broaden our view. He offers hope in these fascinating stories about passionate food heroes and healthy food ways, encouraging awareness and thoughtfulness about the production and consumption of our food. Saladino’s conclusions remind me of one of my favorite quotes by Wendell Berry, “eating is an agricultural act.”
A Twist on a Maryland Tradition
by Chef Dylyn CoolidgeThe following recipe is perfect for those who are either vegetarian or are allergic to shell fish. This recipe can be made by using vegan mayonnaise. I have also added a simple vegan aioli recipe, using aquafaba (canned chickpea juice). In this recipe, crab is substituted with the tree growing fruit called jack fruit. Jack fruit is also known as jack tree. It is a species of tree in the fig family. It originates from the region of southern India and throughout all of Sri Lanka and the rainforest of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Ripe jack fruit is naturally sweet, with subtle pineapple or banana-like flavor. This recipe uses canned brined green jack fruit, which has a more natural flavor for savory dishes. Make sure to rinse the jack fruit before using to reduce the brined flavor. It’s texture when shredded resembles the texture of lump crab.
The following recipes use the A,B,C method for ease of execution and are broken into sections. The ingredients are all listed in the order they should be used.
Jack Fruit Style Baltimore “Crab” Cakes
1-lb canned green jack fruit
1-each whole egg
1-tbsp dijon mustard
1-tbsp lemon juice
1-tsp lemon zest
1-tbsp parsley – chopped
1-tsp old bay hot sauce
20-each saltines – finely crushed
Rinse jack fruit – shred/chopWhisk all of b together – add jackfruitFold in saltines to a/b and form into patties
In medium hot heat pan with canola oil – pan sear cakes – lightly browned on one side – turn sear other side – right before removing add nugget of cold butter – turn cakes on both sides to butter – do not burn butter
Vegan aquafaba aioli
1-tbsp apple cider vinegar
1-tsp dijon mustard
1-cup sunflower oil or other vegetable oil
1-tbps lemon juice – you can add the zest of lemon as well
Method Add all of A to blender and blend until frothyTurn blender down to lower speed and slowly add B, until smooth and consistency of mayo
by Katelyn West
March 1, 2022
March 2022: Culinary Journeys