Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mexican Cooking Class with Ruth Alegria

It's hard to spend time with Ruth Alegria, and not want to jump on the next plane to Mexico City. To say she knows Mexican food would be an understatement. Ruth has lived in Mexico City for almost 10 years and before that studied the cuisine with luminaries including Diana Kennedy and Enrique Olvera. She also opened the first Mexican restaurant in Princeton, N.J., in 1980 and received two stars from the New York Times.

Her culinary tours and cooking classes at Mexico Soul and Essence are not just beloved by her students, but were singled out by Saveur magazine as among the best in all of Mexico. But it's not just the recipes, it's the techniques and insights into shopping, ingredients and the history and culture that make her such a wonderful teacher and guide.
This past Sunday at the lovely Tamarindo Antojeria restaurant in Oakland, proprietor Gloria Dominguez hosted a cooking class with Ruth. We made salsas, agua fresca, a creamy poblano soup, an ensalada with nopales and another with grilled spring onions, cochinita pibil and pollo pibil, fish wrapped in hoja santa and more. I learned so much, it's hard to know where to start! But here are a few tidbits:

* Seek out Mexican oregano, it is much different than the Mediterranean variety, and very fragrant (a bit sweeter I'd say).

* Toast herbs on a comal, in addition to spices and vegetables. A cast iron comal is probably better than non-stick.

* Cook your salsas, if you want them to last longer in the fridge.

* Add chia seeds to agua fresca.

* Cut chayotes in half, then boil them just until a knife will pierce them, not till they are soft!

* If dried chiles are brittle, do not buy them. They should bend, not break.

* After grilling poblano peppers, put them in a paper bag, not a plastic bag, before scrapping off the peel otherwise they will continue to cook.

* Use only Mexican Jamaica flowers in vegetarian dishes, not the Sudanese variety which turns pink after steeping to make agua fresca.

I am looking forward to trying some Ruth's recipes, especially for salsas, and Gloria's recipe for Capirotada, a Mexican style bread pudding (with no eggs!).

Ruth is spending time in the San Francisco Bay Area, to take a class with her or to find out more about her tours and classes in Mexico, visit her Facebook page.