Lesson 1: Forget the French

Lesson 1: Forget the French

Mushrooms, fresh cactus leaves and squash blossoms

Chef Estela Silva runs a tight kitchen.  There is no deviation from her recipes (which have been handed down exactly as they are for generations).  There are no shortcuts, no substitutions.  If you have questions, ask them.  And if you can follow these rules, you’ll find she is one of the warmest, knowledgable and interesting chefs to work with.  I am absolutely loving my time with her in the kitchen.

Estela told me to forget my French culinary training — I was in a cocina now.  When we made chicken stock, it was whole chicken, one onion, water and nothing more.  No celery, no carrots and certainly no bouquet garni.  As for skimming the fat, Estela said that wasn’t necessary if you use the stock the same day you make it. She is right, of course, as the fat provides a perfect full-mouth texture and boosts the flavor of the stock.

Chef Estela Silva

She also doesn’t believe in being a stickler with meticulous knife skills.  Just a few rough chops then throw everything into a processor.  Who has time for perfect julienned strips or squarely diced tomatoes?   When French recipes call for concasse, peeled and seeded tomatoes, she instead pan fries them whole — because the skin blisters nicely and the tomatoes break apart themselves. Finally, she also loves to use whole garlic cloves, peels and all, in her sauces.  It’s wonderful to watch it all come together.

Today we made Sopa de Hongo (Mushroom Soup) made with fresh cactus leaves and epazote sprigs, Ensalada de Nopalitos (Cactus Salad), Pato Almendrado (Almond Duck) and Tortas de Papas con Espinaca (Potato Pancakes with Spinach).  Judging by the happy faces and warm smiles from the guests staying at her bed and breakfast, the dishes were a hit!  I absolutely loved the tortas and my favorite was the soup.

Now, it’s time for cerveza and some homemade bunelos.  Buenos noche!

Sopa de Hongo (Mushroom Soup)
Chef Estela Silva, Mexican Home Cooking School

Serves 8

The beautiful and delicious mushroom soup

Ingredients
4 nopal leaves, cleaned
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 fresh poblano chiles, toasted or grilled until soft
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
10 white or yellow squash blossoms, stems removed
5 cups chicken stock
epazote sprigs

  1. Prepare the nopal leaves by cleaning, dicing and boiling in salted water with the baking soda.  Add a tomatillo or two to reduce the foam.  Boil for 25 minutes.
  2. Slit open the chiles, remove seeds and char the chiles until the skin blisters.  Wrap in plastic and allow to sweat for 10 minutes.
  3. Removed the charred skins from the peppers and slice into thin strips.
  4. Saute onion, garlic and chiles in oil for 2 minutes, add the mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes more.
  5. Add the squash blossoms and simmer for another minute.
  6. Add the chicken stock and epazote and simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. Garnish with the cooked napoles and adjust seasonings as needed.

At home in the kitchen!

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