Ever since I got home from Mexico, I can’t seem to stop thinking about Mexican food. And making Mexican food. And eating Mexican food. I was in Puerto Vallarta on a press trip with the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board for five days of pure bliss (more on that in another post). As part of our tourism program, we took a cooking class with Chef Julio Cesar, owner of Gaby’s Restaurant, who would teach us how to make authentic Mexican recipes.
We’d be preparing a 6-course Mexican menu with three different salsas, Ceviche Vallarta (raw fish marinated in lime juice), Sopa de Tortilla (Aztec soup or stone soup), Mole Poblano (with more than 25 ingredients!), Guacamole (of course), and Chiles en Nogada (stuffed poblano chiles in walnut sauce, the national dish of Puerto Vallarta). For dessert, we’d enjoy Atole – a warm, sweet beverage made with masa and Tamales de Dulce (sweet tamales).
A trip to the mercado
The morning started with a trip the market, where Chef Julio would teach us about the ingredients for the Mexican food recipes we’d need for the day. We made a brief detour to the beach to gather stones for our Sopa de Tortilla. There are a number of stories about where and how Stone soup originated but here’s one I like best from Saveur Magazine. We arrived at the market where the smells of fresh mangoes and pineapples filled the humid morning air.
Chef Julio explained the ingredients and how to properly select the freshest. We selected and weighed numerous kinds of peppers, staples of most Mexican recipes. We gathered fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, and found our shopping bags overflowing with the freshest produce.
We stopped at the Tortilleria to buy masa dough for the tortillas as Chef explained that like gas, masa prices are controlled by the government (yep, there is actually a Tortilla Price Stabilization Pact). Our final stop was the meat and seafood section of the market.
Let the cooking begin
It was time for our group to get cooking! And no proper cooking class in Mexico should begin without a margarita in hand.
Chef Julio’s staff had arranged the outdoor kitchen into several work stations while we were at the market. I volunteered to char the poblanos over the gas stove (which proved to be a bad decision on a hot day, but the margarita helped). There were tortillas to be rolled and cooked on the flat-top and tomatoes and avocados to be mashed in the molcajete (mortal and pestle), while others busied themselves chopping ingredients.
We prepped and cooked away listening to the sounds of the mariachi band, all the while sipping margaritas. As a person who loves to cook, it was shaping up to be the perfect day!
We cooked and ate. Ate and cooked. And drank. Julio’s uncle arrived and offered a raicilla, the moonshine-style version of mezcal, lesson and tasting. With raicilla, the agave plants are smoked over wood for several days, giving the liquor a very smokey flavor.
Chef Julio is famous for his Chiles en Nogada, the national dish of Puerto Vallarta, paying homage to the colors of the Mexican flag. This is his actual recipe. You’ll need to prep the poblano chiles yourself. Here’s a link on how to do it: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/to-roast-and-peel-bell-peppers-or-poblano-chiles-15157. As for serving size, we stuffed 8-10 poblanos.
CHILES EN NOGADA (STUFFED POBLANO CHILE IN WALNUT SAUCE)
12 ounces (340 gr) ground beef tenderloin
Salt to taste
3 tablespoon of lard
4 ounces(180 gr) tomatoes
3 ounces of white onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove
1 pound dry and sweet peaches
1 pound apple, dry and sweet
1 pound of raisins, dry and sweet
1 pound of ripe plantain, peeled and cubed dry and sweet
1/3 cup of pecans
8 poblano chiles, charred, peeled, seeds and veins removed
1 cup pomegranate/ or strawberry
½ cup of flatleaf parley or cilantro, finely chopped
About 60 pieces of pecans, roughly chopped
About ½ cup sour cream or whole milk (raw if possible)
1 once of Jerez or Oporto wine (Port)
125 gr goat cheese or cream cheese
2 tablespoons of sugar
Put the meat into a large, heavy skillet and add the water and salt. Cover and cook over low heat until tender, about 25 minutes. You may need to add a little more water, depending on how tender the meat is. The meat should be moist but not juicy. Add the lard and fry over medium heat for about 3 minutes.
Stir in the rest of the ingredients except the chiles and cook over low heat, covered, for the first 10 minutes, stirring from time to time to avoid sticking and continue cooking for about 20 minutes. The fruit should be tender but not mushy. Set aside to cool.
Once cooled, stuff the chiles with about ½ cup.
For the sauce, blend the pecans or walnuts with the milk, sugar, Oporto wine and cream cheese.
I also wanted to share the recipe for Atole, because it’s such an unusual, but delicious drink. It would be perfect for drinking on a chilly evening. I’ve since seen other Atole recipes where you add other ingredients like chocolate. Here’s a link to another version: http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/02/how-to-make-mexican-atoles-champurrado-hot-chocolate-drinks.html
1/2 cup of masa
5 cups water
1 stick of cinnamon
5 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Place the masa, water, cinnamon and sugar in a blender. Blend until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Pour the contents of the blender into a sauce pan and bring the mixture to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. When the mixture reaches a boil, turn the heat to low and continue to whisk for 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into mugs and serve hot.
Chef Julio graciously provided us all of the recipes for these dishes. I won’t publish them here but if you’d like copies, leave a comment below and I’ll send them to you.
Gaby’s offers cooking lessons on a regular basis and I highly recommend it for your next trip to PV.