At last Thursday’s cooking class at Casa Carmen in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I taught students how to make three salsas: basic, well-known, can’t-do-without salsas. I decided on pico de gallo, salsa verde, (and its variation with avocado), and a dried chile salsa made with chile guajillo and chile cascabel. After all, what is basic to me may be exotic to others.
In my childhood home in Laredo, fresh salsas were as common at the table as the salt and pepper. It was my job to make the salsa while my mother prepared breakfast. I remarked to my students about the ease of making these salsas, and how unnecessary it is to buy a commercial sauce, not to mention the fact that it’s a totally different thing, with all kinds of additives, sometimes including corn syrup. (¡Dios mío!)
Mexican food markets are an assault on the senses with their glorious colors, sounds and smells. As part of the class, I took the students to the Ignacio Ramirez market. We arrived just when a truckload of camomille was being unloaded. The scent overwhelmed us. My friend and neighbor, Canadian travel writer, Anne Dimon, of www.traveltowellness.com was on hand to photograph the scene.
Inside, there were the homemade cheeses: requesón, ranchero, panela, and queso de Oaxaca. There were the women with the nopales (cactus), the blue tortillas, the regular tortillas, fresh eggs, fried empanaditas made with piloncillo, candied chilacayote, three types of dried beans, herbs, the place where you buy all grains and special spices, and an endless array of strange and unusual ingredients. It’s a Pandora’s box opening up a world that is unknown and undiscovered by many who travel to markets such as this. I am still trying to get a better understanding of the medicinal herbs sold there. Remarkably, for all the tourism this town has endured, it has retained its own authentic flavor.
We took it all in and headed back to Casa Carmen for class.
Back in the kitchen, my students laughed when I referred to the molcajete as the pre-columbian food processor while they took turns grinding on it. In fact, the molcajete connects us to the indigenous people of the Americas and to the method they used to prepare foods. It fascinates me to think about this three legged pumice bowl and how long people have used it as a cooking tool. Finally, we took turns tasting our finished product. Yikes! Are chilies spicier in Mexico?
My thanks to Cynthia Kulander, owner of Casa Carmen for inviting me to teach this class.
- 1 large tomato
- 1 small white or red onion
- 1 serrano chile
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
- Salt to taste
- ½ lb. tomatillos (about 4 green ‘tomatoes’ in their husks)
- 1 Serrano pepper (or more if you prefer)
- ½ to 1 clove of garlic
- Bunch of cilantro leaves (about ½ cup)
- ¼ of a mid-sized onion
- 3 or 4 combination of chile guajillo and/or cascabel (these are dry chilis)
- 3 or 5 midsized tomatillos
- ½ garlic
- Salt to taste
- 2 cloves peeled garlic
- ½ white onion
- 1 extra large tomato
- ¼ teaspoon seasalt
- ¼ cup cilantro
- juice from one lime
- 1 serrano pepper (or you can subsitute a jalapeño)
- Mince everything and mix.
- Serve on grilled meats, or even on your scrambled eggs.
- Brown the tomatillos on a ‘comal’, a stove top griddle, for about 10 minutes until you see black patches on all sides.
- Remove most of the black peel.
- Throw the tomatillo and the rest of the ingredients, which are raw, into the blender and liquify.
- Garnish with a sprig of cilantro.
- Note: A variation of this sauce is to add about half of a ripe, mashed avocado.
- Toast the chilis and tomatillo on a comal for about 15 minutes.
- Throw in a blender and liquefy.
- Serve in a salsa bowl.
- Dry roast the garlic, onion, serrano pepper, and tomato on a comal for about 5 minutes until they are slightly charred.
- Peel the tomato.
- In the molcajete grind the garlic, serrano pepper, onion (chopped fine) and cilantro with the sea salt.
- Empty the contents of the molcajete into another bowl to make room to grind the tomato.
- Mix everthing together again in the molcajete, squeeze the lime juice and fix for salt.
- Notes: This makes a chunky sauce with intense flavors. You can add or diminish any of the ingredients according to your taste.
- Grinding roasted tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and onion in a mortar, gives them a complexity of flavor you wouldn’t otherwise get.