Oaxaca Forever

This year I spent my birthday on an airplane, but I didn’t mind, because that plane was headed to Oaxaca.  My aunt is helping me work on a special project (to be revealed soon), and we thought it would be our best chance to get together there and meet some producers.  I have been to Oaxaca many times, and it holds a very special place in my heart, as well as for my family.  We have had some great moments there together, and it is always a pleasure to go back, for whatever reason.  And I seem to always invent a good reason!  I arrived very late the first night, and my aunt and her friend Cynthia were waiting for me at Casa Crespo.  They have a lovely restaurant and make artisanal chocolates, with a myriad of flavors that are interesting and delicious.  I love their hot chocolate with anise.  Hot chocolate is one of the things that you have to drink and take back with you if you go there.  Oaxaca is famous in Mexico for its hot chocolate, and there are plenty of companies that make it there.  You can even make your own molienda with the proportions of cacao, sugar, cinnamon, and almonds that you would like to have.  Just know that the freshly ground chocolate will harden, so you have to mold it within a couple of hours.  And go for the bitter varieties, as the traditional versions tend to be on the sweeter side.

Casa Crespo Oaxaca

It was in Oaxaca that I discovered my favorite drink, a Margarita de Mezcal con Tamarindo.  It can be ordered in various ways, and most restaurants in Oaxaca have a mezcal-based cocktail with fruit choices, so you don’t have to go through the trouble of saying “margarita de mezcal”.  However, in other places you might have to explain more thoroughly.  It was in Tulum that I discovered this, as I asked for my drink and caused a lot of a confusion for the barmen.  Eventually, I got freshly pounded tamarind, seeds and all, in the most amazing version of this cocktail, which was very delicious, and shows the extent of how great Mexican service is.  They told me it was a “margarita de mezcal con tamarindo”, and it has worked ever since.  Below is my cocktail from Los Danzantes, my favorite restaurant in Oaxaca.  This cocktail there is call “Los Danzantes”. That is worm salt lining the rim, by the way.  Enough said.

Mezcal con Tamarindo

Mezcal con Tamarindo

We also ate a few Tlayudas, which are unique to Oaxaca, and you will have a very hard time finding in other parts of the country.  It is basically a large, flat cornmeal based disc (like a large tostada), topped with lard, meat or fish of choice, cheese, lettuce, salsas, etc.  At Los Danzantes, we had this amazing shrimp one with a delicious salsa and beans.  They folded it over, which is why it doesn’t look like a large, flat disc, as I just described.  Below is a photo of another one that we had at a cute cafe, this time with carnitas.

Tlayuda with Shrimp at Los Danzantes

Tlayuda with Shrimp at Los Danzantes

Tlayuda in Oaxaca

Tlayuda in Oaxaca

We also had an amazing meal at Casa Oaxaca.  You don’t just eat at Casa Oaxaca, you learn, you discover, you grow.  I never feel over-indulged there, because despite the richness of the experience, you feel like you are part of this amazing act of food culture.  They use so many local ingredients and work with small farms from the area.  Half of the things on the menu I have never heard of before, and I love discovering new chile peppers, herbs, salsas, and preparations.  It is such a great pleasure to see that amount of care and quality going into a dish; it reminds me of why I love food and cooking.  I didn’t take photos of every dish (I really don’t love doing it!), but I did sneak a shot of this tableside tomato salsa that they prepared in a molcajete in front of us.  I know that they do this all the time with guacamole here, but the tomato salsa was just so simple, and just the perfect detail.

Salsa de Molcajete

Salsa de Molcajete

These were my lovely companions.  We had a lot of fun!  This is us in front of Santo Domingo Cathedral.

In front of Santo Domingo.

In front of Santo Domingo.


Roasted Poblano Dressing

I came up with this Roasted Poblano Dressing for our new Si Por Favor salad that we are serving at Victory Garden NYC.  The salad offers a simple, yet wonderful combination of contrasting textures and colors: bitter kale, creamy avocado, sharp feta, sweet corn, crispy radishes, and smooth black beans.  I wanted to create a dressing that was warming, gently spiced, and, most of all, comforting.  I use nutritional yeast to give it that nice salty/cheesy flavor without adding cream or additional cheese to the dressing, allowing the feta to be the main star.  Poblanos are easy to find in most grocery stores.  This dressing is vegan, so feel free to use it on roasted veggies, etc.


Roasted Poblano Dressing

2 Poblano peppers roasted, peeled, and seeded

1/2 cup cashews, soaked in water for 4 hours

1/2 cup water, or as necessary

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1-2 pinches of garlic powder

1-2 pinches cumin

1/4 cup olive oil

1 1/2 Tablespoons cider vinegar

Roast the Poblanos over an open gas flame until charred and blistered all over, or in 375 degree oven for about 15 -20 minutes or until blistered.  Put directly into a bowl covered with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit another 15 minutes.  Once cool enough to handle, peel the peppers and remove the seeds.

Meanwhile, put the cashews in a blender and start to blend with as little water as possible.  Allow them to break up and become a smooth paste, only adding about 1/2 cup of water, or slightly more if you need to keep the mixture moving with the blade of the blender.  Add the poblanos and the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.  Pour in a little bit of water if you want to loosen it up a bit.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Pozole Moctezuma

My aunt Isabel had been telling me about this amazing pozole restaurant in Mexico City for some time, and I had it on my “to-do” list for my last trip there. I did not grow up eating a lot of pozole, besides for the breakfast that follows dinner at a wedding where you dance until the morning. Rather, I got in the habit of eating the dish here in NYC a few years ago. I have since moved downtown, but when I was living in the Upper East Side, I would get it at Sabor a Mexico II on 77th between 2nd and 3rd. All winter long I would order this soup, especially if I felt even the slightest hint of a cold coming on. Pozole is a Mexican soup that comes green or red, with chicken or pork, but there are variations of it, and I am not exactly sure if there are any rules. The common thread is that it has pozole, a large and puffy type of corn that we call hominy here in the US. It is fun to eat because the kernel is large and spongy- I watch my niece pick them out of her soup with delight. The version I order here from Sabor a Mexico is green and comes with chicken. It seemed to have tomatillos and lots of oregano in it, but I learned that in Mexico green pozole usually has pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and not tomatillos. When I told my employee, who is from Oaxaca, that we were going to be making a green pozole at Victory Garden she was shocked.  She only knew pozole to be red. Hence, I don’t really think there are any rules besides that it normally comes with either chicken or pork, and can be green or red. It is always really filling, and the broth can heal you from whatever the universe send your way.

We had spent the day in the Centro of Mexico City at Bellas Artes before heading over to Pozole Moctezuma. The restaurant is located behind the Plaza Garibaldi, and you would not be able to find it even if you were trying. There is no sign on the outside, only a handwritten name placard next to the buzzer. The other buzzers were last names, and one of them was for “constellation” therapies. However, there is a little parking lot across the street that fills up with cars every afternoon around 3pm with people coming in for their lunch, and a parking lot attendant to take care of everything.


Half the week they make red pozole, and half the week they make green pozole. We went on a Thursday, which meant green. The only options they gave us for ordering were what type of pork we wanted, and if we wanted sardines with it or not. They brought a whole avocado on a plate with a knife, a side plate of chicharron, some sardines, limes, and a spoonful of mezcal to pour in to cut the fat. It was rich, with the pepitas thickening the delicious pork broth. The chicharron added the crunch, the sardines added a little bit of salt, and the mezcal and limes blended in beautifully to tame down the richness. I dreamt of this dish afterwards for days. It was so harmonious, with all of the textures, depth, and layers of flavor that one seeks in Mexican cuisine. I washed it down with a Paloma (with only a tiny hint of guilt).


At the end, we were talking with the proprietor, who happened to go to school with my aunt’s husband’s brother. He had some jars of products that they made there in the kitchen. I purchased a jar of Alacranes, habaneros fried in olive oil, to take home with me. They are the most amazing condiment I have ever purchased. . . I will let them be the subject of another blog post.

In the meantime, if you would like to try some pozole here in New York, we make it every Saturday at Victory Garden at 31 Carmine Street. Call ahead to make sure (212) 206-7273. Otherwise, you can go to Pozole Moctezuma in Mexico City.



I am not going to make any more excuses for not keeping up with this blog of mine as much as I would like to.  I am running a full fledged ice cream store in NYC, so I have come to terms with only being able to update this when I can.  The other night I was fully inspired to write an entry, but now that I am writing, it is clear to me that there are about 3 entries that will need to follow.  The first one is about margaritas.  I have a hard time following recipes in general, but there is a Mexican cookbook that I have been loving for almost a year now, and it has been very worth my while to follow the instructions.  It is called Amor y Tacos by Deborah Schneider, and I have made quite a few of her recipes.  I have also loved reading through her dichos and anecdotes.  Anyway, her Margaritas Sol recipe is killer, and I have made it twice very recently.  Both times they were received with “these are the best margaritas that I have ever tasted”.  That statement, coming from 30 year old women who drink a lot of margaritas, is a pretty major compliment.  They are really well balanced with acidity and alcohol- they are just perfect.  I opt out of the salted rim, and garnish with some sliced orange and a nasturtium blossom.


Ceviche de Toronja

Ceviche de Toronja

My grandmother brought me home the latest O magazine the other day, and in the recipe section I found this amazing photo of a blood orange salsa.  I tore it out and stuck it on the fridge for us to make the next day.  I didn’t copy the recipe exactly, because the photo was inspiration enough.  We had just received 1/2 bushel of grapefruits and oranges from The Orange Shop in Citra, Florida, and we had the rest of the ingredients in the fridge.  I segmented 1 grapefruit and 2 clementines (a bit tricky, but we had to use them up!), working over the serving bowl to catch the juices.  Then I added the seeds of about  1/4  pomegranate; 1/2 an avocado, diced; 1 handful of cilantro, roughly chopped; 1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced; and 1/2 a jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced.  I seasoned it with salt, 1 tablespoon of honey, and a squeeze of lemon.  The juices collect at the bottom of the bowl, and the “ceviche” marinates itself as it sits.  We ate this with a special chicken dish I will share one day, along with sweet potato.  My grandmother thinks it would be the perfect bed for any type of fish ceviche, and I agree.  The combination of grapefruit and pomegranate is rare, but they compliment each other perfectly.

Buen Provecho!

Shiso Salsa Cruda

Shiso Salsa Cruda

My mother often thinks of me when she goes to the market and brings me home veggies and fruits that she knows I will like.  The other day she went to the Farmers Market at the Hill Stead Museum in Farmington, CT and brought me tomatillos and serrano peppers.  We have found that many serrano peppers grown locally are not as spicy as the ones in Mexico.  She promised that these were really spicy, and that I should make a Salsa Cruda with them.  Salsa Cruda is a raw salsa, in which the tomates (tomatillos in English) are not roasted before being blended.  I went through my fridge and found that I had a ton of herbs, except the only one that I was missing was cilantro.  I didn’t want to have to go out and buy cilantro, but at the same time, I didn’t want to stray too far from what I wanted.  I ended up adding the Japanese herb shiso, which is also known as perilla and sesame leaf.  It has a flavor that combines mint, basil, and fennel in very slight undertones.  It is fun to cook with, and I have also mentioned it as a possible taco shell.  I absolutely loved the shiso in the salsa cruda.  One would never think that it was replacing cilantro as a main ingredient; it came through as a perfect match for the tomatillos and serrano.  I poured it over my black beans and was in heaven.  I promise you that Shiso Salsa Cruda will be a favorite summer salsa for time eternal!  To make the salsa, blend together a dozen tomatillos, 2 serranos (you can use more or less, according to your taste in spice), 1 clove garlic, a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and salt to taste. You will have about 2 cups of salsa, which should last about a week in the fridge.  Use over hard-boiled eggs, with black beans, stirred into hummus, atop quesadillas, and of course with chips.  !Buen provecho!

Mango and Rhubarb with Yogurt and Pistachio

Rhubarb does not exist in Mexico, but that does not mean that Mexicans in the US can’t adopt it into their recipes and dishes.  The other day I was thinking about how strawberries and rhubarb go so well together.  The sweetness of the strawberries, paired with the sour tang of the rhubarb compliment each other beautifully.  Mangoes are all over the place these days and they are all so sweet and delicious.  I try to eat as locally as possible, but sometimes I simply cannot resist a juicy mango!  I thought that the sweetness of the mango would be a nice match for the tart rhubarb, and I was right.  I stewed rhubarb with a little sugar, and served it with goat milk yogurt, mint, toasted and chopped pistachios, and mango slices. Originally, the idea has been to chop the mint very finely and make it so that it was a mint yogurt, but I was so hungry when I was making this, that I completely forgot about that detail!  Anyway, here is the yogurt cup that I made.  I hope you enjoy the mango rhubarb combination as well!