Admittedly, I am not much of a cook. It is not that I cannot; I just do not enjoy it. I consider myself to be a creative person- -everywhere but the kitchen. Following a recipe stresses me out. Slicing and dicing is not mindless or therapeutic. I need exact measurements and do not understand the concept of a pinch of this or a dash of that. Do I really need to put onions, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes in cute little prep bowls? And the dishes! Ugh!
But a cooking class combined with the history of Mexico? I could not sign up fast enough. Ruth and her husband, Rudy, have a passion for food and Mexico. They made a mid-life career change and opened a bakery in San Carlos. They added a classroom and offer cooking classes several times throughout year. In addition, Ruth and Rudy organize and lead tours throughout Sonora and other states in Mexico. They also make the best chocolate eclairs I have ever eaten.
While they rest of my classmates oohed and aahed over the fresh ingredients and delicious smells, I was busy writing every single thing Ruth said about the origins of Mexican food and its changes over time, the influence of the Spanish in popular dishes, Aztec celebrations and how they evolved with the introduction of Catholicism, and incredibly interesting facts about the food itself in my “Taco ‘Bout Awesome” journal. After just one class, cooking was something I believed I could get excited about after all. Knowing the story behind the recipes even made eating more enjoyable.
When I returned home after each class, my husband wanted to know about the food. While he sampled the leftovers I always brought with me, I bombarded him with all the incredible things I was learning. Yes, I shamelessly took advantage of my hungry audience. For example:
- It was the Aztecs who introduced the turkey as we know it today to the Spanish.
- The main meal of Montezuma, the ninth Aztec Emperor, included more than 300 dishes every day.
- The dishes for each of these meals were only used once.
- One of Montezuma’s favorite meals was shrimp. A recipe we prepared (Shrimp in Guava sauce with Morita chile) was rescued from precolonial times.
- Aztecs steamed or baked their food until the Spanish introduced them to oil.
- Mole sauce originated in the town of Puebla during the 15th century. It was served during a welcoming ceremony for the second viceroy from Spain.
- Rice was introduced by the Spanish.
- Chocolate was eaten exclusively by priests and the upper class prior to the Spanish arrival.
- A true punch is made from at least five ingredients.
- If chiles are pointing down on the plant, they are domesticated.
Going to the grocery store used to rank up there with cooking as one of my least favorite things to do. Oh how I loved going after classes and searching for the items Ruth had used in her recipes. It seemed exotic to be able to find corn husks, tomatillos, tamarind, jamaica petals (that is huh-my-ka, as in the orchid, not the island), guavas, piloncillos, and tejocotes. I discovered the best place to buy tortillas and masa for tamales. On weekends I drug Steve from one tianguis (open air market) to another searching for cazuelas (clay pots).
Finally, it was time for me to test my own skills in the kitchen. I had avoided it long enough. Ruth and Rudy had prepared me well. I could do this. I started with one of the easier recipes. (I may have known where to buy masa, but I was no way near ready to attempt tamales on my own yet.) I handled the chopping. I didn’t need the little prep bowls. I had exact measurements for each of the ingredients. The Coastal Style rice was just as delicious as it had been when we made it in class. While we ate, I told Steve again about the Spanish bringing rice and oil to the Aztecs. I added that the Spanish liked to cook in copper pots. I mentioned a little town three hours up the road that sold them. He listened closely and nodded at all the appropriate moments. And he even did the dishes!
Arroz al estilo Costeño
2 cups long grain white rice
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
4 cups hot water
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn
2 cups coarsely chopped cabbage
Soak the rice in warm water for 5 minutes to remove the starch, rinse well, and drain. In a blender, puree the onion, garlic, and 1/2 cup water. Set aside. Heat 1/2 cup of oil in a large skillet, add the rice, and sauté, stirring lightly. Once the grains separate and become translucent (about 5 minutes), pour off the excess oil.
Add the carrots and stir for 2 minutes. Add the pureed onion and stir for 2 minutes. Add the hot water and salt. When the water comes to a boil, add the corn and cabbage. Stir. Cover the skillet and cook over a medium to low hear for 20-30 minutes (water is absorbed and rice is tender).