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Posts from the ‘Cooking up a Storm’ Category

When Life Gives You Cans of Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup

buffalo wing soup

What looks like queso, contains no cheddar whatsoever and saved Super Bowl for someone rendered unable to gnaw on wings because of new not-fully-functional front teeth? Buffalo wing soup! (I did use fingers and plastic fork to de-meat two wings, but it took over ten minutes and was barely worth the effort.)

Initially I joked, but a quick search turned up an unbelievable number of Google hits, none surprisingly sponsored by Campbell’s. This is simply the first recipe that appears– to the rescue. You’re really just doctoring condensed cream of chicken soup with chicken, hot sauce, half-and-half and blue cheese until it resembles a liquid dip that tastes rich and vinegary. (And props to commenter AmberN who added a packet of ranch for “a little more flavor.”)

This crock-pot creation is actually less gross than it sounds or looks. In fact, I was microwaving leftovers (half a recipe still makes more than enough) in my office cafeteria and a young woman I’d never met before asked what smelled so “delish,” so there.

What I thought was an anomaly appears to have serious Buffalo roots. At the 2014 Buffalo Soupfest, there were no less than five variations on chicken wing soup, and it’s a regular menu item at a restaurant called Danny’s.

Christmas Dinner: Middle Eastern-ish, Malt Liquored, Mall 205s

christmas dinner gram

In a near Christmas miracle, I managed to squeeze in three dishes after my airbnb’ers vacated and my dinner guests showed up five hours later (far less time than it sounds like on the surface).

stuffed salamon

Cinnamony salmon stuffed with chunky garlic, walnuts, chiles and herbs could’ve stood alone, but the warm tahini sauce with more spice and garlic pulled everything together. I’m still not sure how kitchen string is any different from regular string.

christmas kibbeh

I made a modified version of this kibbeh without the rose petals and using a more equal ratio of bulgur to lamb. Increased meat might have actually been better for less stiffness, but it was a solid first try.

farro salad

I was already leaning toward farro in a more Middle Eastern style to match the other dishes when the Charlie Bird recipe surfaced. There is much to be said for salting the hell out of these grains while cooking, plus the apple cider simmer didn’t hurt either. With all the parmesan, pistachios and generous amount (am I the only one who can’t stand the forced breeziness of “glug”?) of olive oil even after cutting back a few tablespoons, this was a rich vegetarian salad. I’ve been completely indifferent to both Charlie Bird and Estela, two of 2013’s darlings. If this stellar salad is any indication, I need to lighten up and get out more.


It all paired well with Cran-brrr-ita on ice. Stronger and less gross than expected. You can’t tell from the ads that these aren’t beer cans, but V8 juice-sized. That’s probably all the malt liquor one needs.

tourtiere empanadas

I don’t bake so I was appreciative of the tourtière empanadas with a sour cherry cranberry sauce.


As well as this hybrid–prefab chocolate chip cookie dough wrapped around a mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and baked–that I’m shocked to have never knowingly encountered in my entire life. The too-sweet sweet encapsulated my life so well that we came up with potential names based on Portland neighborhoods, streets and landmarks. Would you like to try a nice Clackamas, Johnson Creek (pronounced crick), Mall 205? How about a Foster, Halsey or Lovejoy?

Sunday Night Special: Corn, Potatoes, Green Sauce

Peruvian dinner

Very occasionally I do this horrible thing where
someone speaks perfectly good English with a Spanish accent and I respond back
in crappy Spanish, like a reflex. There's no need for that.  I was just excited to get a cashier at Food
Bazaar who happened to be Peruvian (not what I'd expect in East Williamsburg)
and was into my ingredients. I blurted out "Mis amigas no comen carne"
when she suggested lomo saltado, I guess because coming up with a non-meaty
Peruvian menu sucked ass and the trauma was pent-up. I did make a chicken.

Peruvian ingredients

I was asked if could add a dish that didn't involve
onions, corn, peppers, potatoes or avocado, and add asparagus somewhere.
Um…no? At least I didn't suggest salchipapas or anticuchos. And clearly, I am
a control freak who can't just mellow out and have fun cooking with friends. The
dinner turned out pretty well, though. Wine smoothes things out.

Papas a la huancaina

Papas a la huancaina. Sometimes you've got to embrace the starch. Potatoes were how this whole idea started (Peruvian wasn't even my suggestion) and I can't think of a more classic dish than the simple sliced boiled potatoes with a cheesy aji amarillo sauce. I've had restaurant versions and always thought it was a little bland, but this version was spicy (just lightly–nothing Peruvian is incendiary). Recent James Beard award-winning Gran Cocina Latina had a higher-brow version, and it was tempting, but I just went home-style with evaporated milk and saltines.

Pollo a la brasa

Pollo a la brasa had to be oven-roasted, no brasa. There are a million variations on the marinade, and I'd say the most important ingredient is the soy sauce.

Green sauce

The green sauce, a non-traditional (I think) staple at Peruvian-run chains like Pio Pio and Sophie's, may have been the biggest hit. You could eat this on anything. I had habaneros on hand instead of jalapeños. Half a pepper added punch–and a little yellow-ness–but the sauce can handle it because it's mayonnaise-based.

Ceviche mixto

I did turn to Gran Cocina Latina for the ceviche,
Marisa Guiulfo's Lima Fish Cebiche (not online anywhere) since there is a whole
chapter devoted to variations. The base is simple: lime juice, garlic, red
honion aji amarillo and cilantro, and I included scallops and squid in addition
to cubes of flounder. It could've done without the squid, which was a little
bitter and chewy. And yes, corn in two forms–hominy and toasted kernels–and
sweet potatoes (some use white potatoes and yuca too) were present. There's no
harm in more starch with your nearly-raw seafood.

Sunday Night Special: Beets, Spinach, Dumplings

A million years ago, I used to post Sunday cooking
experiments. At some point I stopped because if there's anything less
interesting than hearing someone talk about where and what they ate out, it
might be what they made at home (yes, I know that cooking blogs are a huge
genre). Personally, I'm not into telling cute back stories or styling photos
with props. But I have felt the urge for a revival. Cooking is fun. I'll
probably just stick to the facts, and use the same serving dishes over and
over. So every other Sunday, I will be having a handful of friends (of varying
skill levels and dietary preferences) over for a informal cooking club that
will tackle a different cuisine each session. There's not likely to be any beef
or pork included (much to my sadness) but sticking to vegetables, a little
seafood and the occasional chicken, is a challenge I'm up for.

I'm a competent home cook, but not wildly creative
or intuitive. I pretty much follow recipes unless I know my way around a dish,
which is why I never understand people who say they can't cook. I've had
surprisingly few disasters as a result of simply following a set of rules (however,
I'm scared of empanadas and mayonnaise after a few miserable failures).

Georgian was a slightly odd first choice for
cuisine, considering no one had any first-person experience with any of the
dishes. On the other hand, that's freeing because who knows if you're doing it
wrong? Does the food taste like crap? No? Ok…success.

All recipes were single-sourced from the May Saveur.

Charkhlis chogi (beets in tart cherry sauce)

Charkhlis Chogi/Beets in Tart Cherry Sauce It's
possible that people who say they don't like beets would eat this without
trouble. The roasting and subsequent application of butter softens any
bitterness (I don't think beets are bitter, but it has been said) and the
cherries may be monochromatic, but add different dimension of sweetness.

Phkali (spinach and walnut salad)

Phkali/Spinach and Walnut Salad I think this emerald
green puree is meant to be more of an appetizer than side. That's ok, though.
There is a startling amount of spinach in this mound, enriched with an
impressive amount of toasted, ground walnuts, which is why I just went with bagged
C-Town greens. Sorry. I'm conventional–and frugal. All-baby, all-organic
spinach would've made this a $25 plate of food, I calculated. Pomegranate seeds
were impossible to come by, so this is garnish-free.

Khinkali qvelit (cheese and mint stuffed dumplings)

Khinkali Qvelit/Cheese and Mint Stuffed Dumplings
These were a little more intermediate. I wanted to make the eggplant dish, too,
but dough-making plus frying seemed a bit ambitious for a test run. Luckily,
one attendee was a confident baker (others got relegated to chopping, shredding
or Game of Thrones-watching). If you can't find farmer's cheese (I found
it–Friendship brand is common in NYC–but it was past the expiration date) and
live somewhere where queso fresco is common, that'll do. And if you eat the
leftovers the next day with untraditional Thai chile paste, that's ok, too.

What did you cook this week?


Green Is Good


Baking hasn’t really been my thing for years (I’m not sure if I’ve lost interest or if my kitchens have shrunk impractically) but I couldn’t really say no to the Serious Eats Cookie Swap.

All I knew is that I wanted something unnaturally green. And pandan paste to the rescue. I imagined that these semi-invented cookies that I dubbed Spicy Pandan Cashew White Chocolate would be spicy and limey from the Trader Joe’s flavored cashews and feared they’d be cloyingly pandan’d from the artificial paste, but all of these seasonings somehow disappeared during the baking process.

I tried combatting this by sprinkling after the fact with a sugar-cayenne blend and putting defrosted pandan leaves in the bag I transported the cookies in to perfume them. They weren’t perfect, but they grew on me. Most importantly, they were very green.

Speaking of Taste of Home

Egg & tortilla

I broke my five-day staying in the house streak yesterday and forced myself to go into the office. You don’t realize how obnoxious coughing fits sound (though I have an unusually low tolerance for the sound of coughing) until you’re surrounded by others in near silence. Today I am back at home where I can choke on food and hack up phlegm in peace.

Tuesday, I still had Sichuan leftovers in the house as well as some homemade pho from a not half-bad Cooking Light recipe (you never know with them). Normally, all I want to eat is Asian food. But both of those options sounded meh. What I really wanted and rarely ever think about was eggs and bacon in a tortilla. Meatloaf? Mac and cheese? No, not comfort food to me.

Who knew the foresight in my family? This slapdash meal that we frequently ate for both breakfast and dinner presaged the wrap craze and the breakfast burrito of the late ‘80s. This was a popular item in my household for obvious reasons: the ingredients are cheap, it’s easy to make—it was one of the few things my dad cooked, and my sister and I ate it without complaint, and we complained a lot.

The simple process involved warming a flour tortilla on a gas stovetop burner, then filling it with one fried egg, bacon (I say two pieces), grated cheddar cheese and a scoop of jarred salsa, probably Pace.

Open egg & tortilla

I think it’s the fried egg that makes it because logically you would use scrambled eggs in a breakfast burrito. Breaking the rules. I always had my bacon undercooked so it was still chewy and fatty (my sister like hers crisp), often the tortilla would be blackened in spots and the cheese never fully melted creating sharp orange patches. This wasn’t plate food—another advantage, no dishes—you would eat it wrapped in a paper towel. Inevitably, the yolk would burst and pool at the bottom, soaking through the napkin.

Recreating this special, I had to resist many temptations. No fancy cheese. I pushed aside the aged gouda and Manchego in the fridge, though I did deviate by using a slice of Kraft Deluxe American cheese for its melting properties (I have a sick obsession with these slices). I would also be inclined to use Sriracha, but used a bland watery jar of Target salsa leftover from Super Bowl. Besides, you need the tomato chunks; it’s not really about the heat. Sometimes we have nicer bacon in the house, but these low sodium strips from Costco did what they were supposed to. I guess freshly laid eggs, you know from the backyard chickens that everyone is keeping now, would completely gild the lily, but I don’t eat like that. I’m still not sure how brown organic eggs even ended up in the fridge. I think it’s because at Fairway, their house brand is the same price as a standard Styrofoam carton of eggs.

I also never said this was healthy, and it’s certainly isn’t helping with the ten pounds I vowed to lose in 2010 (sometimes I think I will just have to give up reading rood blogs—it pains me to eat my morning oatmeal when I’m constantly reading about things like peanut bacon Shake Shack burgers and artisanal egg and cheese biscuits). How hard can one pound per month be? I will eat fruit and yogurt for lunch and all will be well.

Sunday Night Special: Penang Curry Mee

Curry mee

Sunday Night Special has fallen by the wayside. I can only focus on so many things and detailing cooking projects is low on my list. It's not like there aren't already thousands of recipe blogs to read. While I love looking at others' food-styled meals, I can't stand fussing with photographing the things I make at home.

But I did attempt to recreate the curry mee I recently had in Penang using a recipe from Rasa Malaysia. Yes, you can get it for maybe $5 a bowl in Queens, and I probably will next time given the time consuming nature of preparing this and many Malaysian dishes. It's fun to cook at least once, though.

Just beware; the strong fermented smell shrimp paste will take over your entire living space. It doesn't bother me in the least but James wanted to kill me when he got home from work, opening every window in the house, blasting fans. (I heard my neighbors coughing in the hall and half-expected a knock on my door. Frankly, I just consider it payback for using the space in front of my door as a stroller parking lot.) I had also been simmering shrimp head and shells for hours and soaking dried squid. It was cacophony of sea creatures. The only thing missing was the pig's blood cubes. I have no fear, but wasn't sure the best place to pick them up in NYC.

Mallard Reaction

Sauerkraut duck confit gratin

Christmas is done, over dead. So, twelve days ago. But now that chicken skin has been declared the new bacon so soon into the new decade, I must mention that duck skin is even better, a fact I discovered while piecing together a casual Christmas Day meal based on items I already had in the apartment.

Christmas cheese fondue

I made classic Swiss fondue for the second time that week (and now I'm wondering why my pants are snug) as well as a salad using more gruyere, bitter radicchio and toasted walnuts. I also wanted a more substantial dish to go along with melted cheese. German? Austrian? Not themes I've ever dabbled in. Ok, then, Alsatian?

Treviso, gruyere, walnut salad

I had the necessary eggs, cream, milk, nutmeg and duck confit (courtesy of Costco—these legs had been in our freezer for an emergency quick meal. What I didn’t realize was that they came coated in a ginger-orange sauce) for an unusual gratin. Only the sauerkraut and juniper berries were lacking. Yes, a casserole using two pounds of pickled cabbage.

Carroll Gardens can be a frustrating neighborhood for like ten million reasons and my complaints shift daily, but on Christmas Eve my beef was with the absence of a normal pesticidey fruit and processed cheese selling store. You cannot buy sauerkraut at Korean delis or Caputo's or Gourmet Fresh or the brand new useless Union Market or the Trader Joe's that had two lines wrapped around the entire circumference of the store and only one wedge of Emmental left on the shelf.

Ultimately, I ended up at the Met (which I don't consider a quick one-ingredient neighborhood grocer because it's eight blocks away) where a nice refrigerated bag of White Rose, (Krasdale's kissing cousin) sauerkraut was on sale for $2.09. Thank you, regular grocery store.

I won't even get into juniper berries. I'm certain if I'd walked the extra few blocks to Sahadi's I could've found them but one patience-trying wait was all I could take on one almost-holiday afternoon. Note to self: next time you see juniper berries, buy them to stash for later. This will practically guarantee never needing them for a recipe again. I ended up splashing a bit of Bombay Sapphire into the pan hoping to capture a little juniper essence.

But back to the skin. You remove the fatty layer from the duck legs, shred the meat into the sauerkraut and custard, which gets baked, and then slice and slowly pan-fry the strips until brown and crunchy. They become the salty, crisp-chewy garnish.

I even managed to an alleged duck-hater to sample a bit of this dish. I actually thought the sauerkraut would be the hard sell, not the water fowl. But there you go. Rich poultry and fermented cabbage are not so bad together.

Duck skin wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese? Peking duck poppers? Canard croutons? So many pork-free possibilities.

The Dinner Party that Wasn’t

Despite sharp back and stomach pains kicking in a few hours after eating an enormous wedge of red velvet cake, I don’t think sugar overdose was the culprit. I’m not convinced that food even had anything to do with it. All I know was that I was unable to eat and alternated between shivering and sweating for the next four days.

The biggest victim was my already low key dinner party that I had planned a month in advance to test out my mole making skills after returning from Oaxaca and to eat some Thanksgiving food staples that I would've missed out on by not being in the US. So, the dinner party turned into an even lower key Sunday late brunch. I couldn’t wait until the following Saturday or all my groceries would’ve rotted. Never mind the issue of cooking for people when possibly teeming with virulent germs like a modern Typhoid Mary.

The first thing I discovered was that my cooking class recipe was missing vital steps in the directions. At no point does mention adding the thyme, oregano, marjoram or avocado leaves (so I didn't notice until the next day) or what to do with the roasted onion, garlic and tomatillos (which I did catch and rectify). Also, my blender seriously couldn’t handle all the grinding and I had to get a second run using an immersion blender. What I really needed was the star of Will It Blend?

Belated thanksgiving turkey mole

But the end result was surprisingly good, extremely thick even after thinning down with quite a bit of chicken broth (I thinned it down even more later) and spicier than expected much more vibrant than dull heavy moles you often get in restaurants. It was served atop turkey to go with my belated Thanksgiving theme (yes, the plates and tablecloth had already moved on) and also because it's a traditional poultry for fiestas. I think my ingredients didn’t get as toasted as they did in class because mine came out a more burnished brown than black but not off from a perfectly authentic black mole I had at Las Quince Letras. I doubled the recipe to 12, which is really more like 20. I know I will be happy to find the remainder in my freezer in a few months.

Horchata-sm Horchata as a cocktail base seemed fitting and being on my mezcal kick, Death & Company’s Smoked Horchata (pictured—I didn't take a photo) fulfilled both needs. That was why Friday night after being home sick all day, I forced myself out of pajamas and into sampling mode. Tasting the original was important. Yet the usual pleasant vegetal undertones of the tequila wasn’t sitting right with my stomach and the fat from the pork belly snack we ordered only worsened matters. Super horchata When pork and alcohol, my two favorite vices, cause distress I know something is seriously wrong. I had to jump up and leave instead of ordering a second cocktail.  The odd thing about this particular drink, especially since it was listed under a Ladies’ Choice heading (or some such), was that it could’ve been a touch sweeter and I don’t normally like sweet drinks.

We added a bit more cinnamon simple syrup when we made our version and used instant horchata because crafting a ricey beverage from scratch was way too much to tackle. The mole was enough. Don’t you love the logo from Salvadoran brand Dona Lisa?

Belated thanksgiving sweet potatoes

Fiery sweet potatoes with coconut milk and Sriracha came from a recent New York Times article. They were ok, I don't find sweet potatoes particularly inspiring ever.

Belated thanksgiving spicy brussels sprouts with mint & rice krispies

Dead opposite were the David Chang spicy brussels sprouts with mint from Food & Wine. The sweet-salty fish sauce dressing was perfect and the toasted chile-coated Rice Krispies and sesame seeds on top added both snap, crackle pop texture and heat. This is a side to tuck away for future weeknight usage.

Belated thanksgiving stuffing

This fruit-studded Oaxacan stuffing was featured in the November Saveur. (I love all the pedantic comments about the ingredients not being Oaxacan. I guess it would be a bit like me making up a stuffing, possibly substituting bagels chunks for bread [has anyone done that?] and calling it Brooklyn stuffing but who really cares if it tastes good).  I chose it not only because it was timely but also because it was meat-free (I try to keep sides with vegetarians in mind).

Interestingly, I ended up cooking the budin de tamala y pan featured in the same article while taking a cooking class with Susana Trilling the day before Thanksgiving. It was so much better than it sounded on paper (or maybe I just don't find bread pudding compelling) perhaps because we made ours with a caramel sauce spiked with passionfruit crema de mezcal instead of rum. This dish convinced me to pick up a bottle of the sweetened spirit (El Rey Zapoteco) which initially I thought would be cloying. If I weren't already dead set on the ode to Gourmet’s bourbon pumpkin cheesecake, I would’ve switched to this dessert.

Belated thanksgiving chipotle cranberry relish

Chipotle cranberry sauce. I just realized this Bon Appetit recipe is from Marlena Spieler, whom I follow on Twitter. So weird, Twitter, I also got a DM from Rick Bayless this evening. 

Belated thanksgiving bourbon pecan pumpkin cheesecake

Back to that Gourmet pumpkin cheesecake with bourbon sour cream topping. I've been thinking about this particular recipe ever since the venerable magazine was given a death sentence a few months ago. The criticism that Gourmet was a fount of elitism just didn't ring true with me. (The recipes in Saveur, for example, are more obscure and hold to no 30-minute-and-under meals format yet the magazine is thriving. And the fun Frank Bruni article in the latest Food & Wine where he harasses Le Bernadin’s sommelier contains recipes rife with ingredients no average American would have on hand: sea beans, veal demiglace, herbes de Provence, escolar, wagyu beef, to name a few. ) I first baked this particular cheesecake for Thanksgiving in 1990, the year the recipe originally ran.

Despite never being much of a cook and seriously not using an oven for all of 1990, my mom was still a Gourmet subscriber (as well as a reader of Sunset and Victoria—anyone remember that flowery-powdery mag? Ha, it still exists). I can say with 99% certainty that she never made a single thing from it but the fact that it ended up in the living room of our apartment at all says something. My 2009 mom can’t stand keeping it real, everyman Tony Bourdain because in her mind he’s a snob. I think that special where he went on about his $1,000+ meal at Masa kind of had something to do with it.

1990 was the year that I would've gone off to college, lived in a dorm, played beer pong, gained literary references for future cocktail parties and had all sorts of independent life changing experiences if I were a TV kid (even if I were a TV kid I would not join a sorority). Instead, I went to a teeny tiny art school almost exclusively on student loans (which I might actually still be paying off—it’s too painful to calculate) and couldn’t afford to move out of the house. It was one step up from community college and wasn't unusual. My best friend that year also lived with his family (including his morbidly obese mom who put him over his knee and maniacally spanked him in front of shocked guests including myself on his 19th birthday) across the Columbia River in Vancouver. 

I brought this pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving dinner with my mom and I think my sister at my then boyfriend’s mom’s apartment, one of those sprawling ‘70s complexes with outdoor staircases, The Birnamwood, next to Mt. Hood Community College, the higher education institute that I would rather incur debt to avoid attending (my wizened, bearded and denim-vested hippie English teacher disparaged the place as "high school with ashtrays" but I just discovered that even that has changed).

Despite being easy to cook and kind of foolproof, the cheesecake seemed very classy, maybe because of the bourbon, maybe pecans were expensive. I didn't even bother with the 16 decorative halves on top this year, leaving the creamy porcelain surface naked because I'm frugal by nature and was using a bag of nut bits from Trader Joe's.

I also made this cheesecake when it was republished in Gourmet in 2003 and was then shocked that 13 years had passed. Now it has been 19 and I am training myself to stop being distressed over years disappearing with increasing frequency because it’s only going to get worse. Not having children, rapidly growing human timepieces, does tend to mute the passing of time. (If I had a child in 1990 when I was a young but legal adult that child would now be a young but legal adult and could be baking me a pumpkin cheesecake.) The only upside to Gourmet ceasing publication is that I won’t have any future recipe reprints reminding me how swiftly the world moves forward.

Oaxacan Black Mole

Black mole with chicken

Mexican black mole. It really does have as many ingredients as you’ve heard—30 give or take in the version below—and yes, there can be too much of a good thing. Moles like this are reserved for celebrations because of the time involved in making them. But I think it’s also because this is some intensely flavored, seriously heavy food. I felt kind of guilty for getting completely mole’d out during my week in Oaxaca, but apparently that’s not unusual. The second cooking class I had steered clear of mole recipes because the instructor, herself, had burnt out on moles during a festival the week prior.

The first of two cooking classes I took in Oaxaca was from Pilar Cabrera at La Casa de los Sabores. I had no idea what to expect only having taken lessons abroad some time ago in Bangkok and a class in Singapore last year this very same week. Neither of these classes in Asia included market visits, though, because I can never get up early enough on vacation. It’s a miracle to make it out of the hotel before 11am

That’s one way that I benefited from traveling by myself. By having no late night temptations in Oaxaca, I went to bed before midnight and was able to report at 9am (an hour earlier than I normally show up at work) for shopping duties and chitchat with my fellow out-of-towners.

I’d already been in Oaxaca for three-and-a-half days floundering around over the weekend before taking this class. Consequently, I had already been to the Mercado de la Merced, a small market for locals, on the recommendation of my Spanish teacher. It was definitely helpful to go with a regular who knows the vendors and can explain unusual ingredients and techniques.

Taking photos of people in general, and especially in markets, isn’t my thing. Though of course photos of people tend to be my favorite subject to look at when shot by professionals. Both Dave Hagerman, the image half of Eating Asia and Austin Bush do this well, but I am not them. I just find it creepy to snap photos (especially with a flash) of people going about their business. It makes me feel more other than I already do. But I did loosen up a bit with these groups since the vendors were accustomed to it and we were instructed to ask not just start shooting. My sparing Mercado de la Merced snapshots are here.

Oaxacan chiles

I brought back a shitload of chiles. Well, not the shitload I originally was handed and had to give back because my small suitcase was already pushed to its limits. Left to right, chilhuacles, the deep brown round chiles seemed important since I was told they were native to Oaxaca. I also wasn’t convinced that I would find stubby mulatos in NYC. Pasilla de Oaxaca are smoked and also native to the region, but we used Mexican pasilla, the long skinny chile pictured. Having no sense of metric weight, I asked for medio-kilo of the chilhuacles and the small pillowcase sized plastic bag was filled to the top. Ah, no, I then went for quarto-kilo which was still a ton so I split it was a woman in class. This bag on the left contains a mere 1/8 kilo.

I chose this Tuesday session especially to learn how to cook black mole (Wednesday was Zapotecan conducted in Spanish and Thursday was tamales). My plan was to master it so I could recreate it for a dinner party the weekend after I got back to NYC. That would be tomorrow. I hope I don’t mess it up.

The full menu for my class included:
Quesadillas de flor de calabaza
Salsa de tomate y chile de agua
Mole negro con pollo
Arroz a la hierbabuena
Nieve de petals de rosas

More photos from the class are here.

Black mole ingredients
Oaxaca is often cited as having seven moles. But in reality, we were told, there are hundreds. Everyone has a variation and recipes differ by region even within Oaxaca State. Here is the recipe for the black mole we made. It certainly helps to have a group of 12-plus deft kitchen assistants to cut down on the prep time. This nice basket was already awaiting us after we returned from the market.

Black Mole with Chicken


4 chilhuacle chiles
8 mulato chiles
8 pasilla mexicano chiles
4 tablespoons lard
¼ cup almonds
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup pecans
¼ cup peanuts with skins
4 slices of egg bread (semisweet) torn in pieces
¼ cup sesame seeds
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/8 teaspoon oregano
4 avocado leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/8 teaspoon anise (a.k.a. fennel seeds)
3 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon cumin
3 whole black peppercorns
2 plantains
1 tomato, roasted
3 tomatillos, roasted
3 cloves of garlic, roasted
¼ medium onion, roasted
4 cups chicken broth
8 pieces of boiled chicken
3 tablespoons sugar
½ cup Oaxacan chocolate
Salt to taste


 Clean the dried chiles with a damp cloth. Open the chiles by making a lengthwise slit down one side of each. Take out the seeds, veins and stems. Reserve the seeds.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the lard in a saucepan, and then fry the chiles. Remove the chiles from the saucepan as soon as they begin to change color and become crispy, and place them in a bowl lined with absorbent paper towel.

In another pan, heat the remaining lard and fry the raisins until they puff up and brown a bit. Remove the raisins and then add the almonds, pecans and peanuts frying for five minutes until they are a dark brown color, remove them from the pan. Then fry the pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, cinnamon, anise, cloves, cumin and black peppercorns in the same pan, until they obtain a deep brown color. Remove them and then add the dried bread pieces to the remaining hot lard for two minutes, then remove.

Roast the tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and garlic.

Place the spices, tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and garlic and one cup of chicken broth in the blender. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Put into a bowl and set aside.

Place the fried chiles and one-and-a-half cups of chicken broth into the blender. Blend until the mixture is a smooth paste.

Remove the remaining lard from the pan in which the nuts and spices were fried. Pour into a deep pot, heat and then add the blended chiles. Cook for three minutes; then add the spice mixture and cook for three more minutes. Add the sugar and chocolate and stir for five minutes. The sauce is ready when, while stirring, the fat rises to the top of the mixture.

Add the rest of the chicken broth and season with salt. Cook for three more minutes over medium heat. Add the pieces of chicken before serving.

Garnish with fried plantain.

Serves six.

Ack, I just realized this recipe never says when to add in the thyme, oregano, marjoram or avocado leaves. I really want to say that the herbs get added with nuts and that the avocado leaves would be simmered whole in the final stages. But that's just how I would do it.

Grilled onion, tomatoes, tomatillos
Plantains frying, chiles frying too and tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and garlic being grilled.

Toasted herbs, spices, nuts 

Toasted herbs, spices and nuts.

Black mole puree 

Everything pureed with chicken broth minus the chiles.

Black mole chiles added 

The chiles (also pureed with chicken broth) give the black mole its deep color not the chocolate as many believe. Said chocolate and sugar are added at the very end.