I’ve loved Mexican food for as long as I can remember. I eat some form of taco at least three times a week, and my life would be very sad indeed if tortillas or chiles were to disappear. So when my culinary school announced an intensive Mexican Master Class that would be offered between the spring and summer quarters, I emailed my advisor immediately and told her to sign me up.
What makes the class really special is that Kendall College flew in Chef Fernando Malpica de la Vega from Mexico to teach the course, and Chicago celebrity chef Rick Bayless is also making appearance later this week. Together with Kendall Chef Thomas Meyer, the 10-day Mexican Master Class is a culinary tour de force of traditional Mexican cuisine, and I get to spend the next week from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. participating!
This course is not a course in high-end Mexican cuisine. Instead, it’s a snapsnot of the classic dishes prepared in each of the 31 regions on Mexico, for example, enchiladas from San Lois Potosi, salas borracha nortero from Nuevo Leon, menudo (tripe and beef feet stew) from Coahuila, and moles from Oaxaca and Puebla. We’re talking about street food and the people’s food—not haute restaurant cuisine.
On our first day we prepped for the days to come and organized the kitchen with all the supplies we would need. We had lots of amazing ingredients—10 different kinds of chiles, shellfish, catfish, pork skin, fresh Mexican herbs and spices—but I was super excited because I got to prep the beef feet for Menudo Norte, a slow-cooked stew of tripe (cow intestine) that uses beef feet as a thickener. As you can tell, I was maybe a little too pumped to work with the shiny gelatinous hooves. I had to split the them down the middle with my knife, then cut through the bone with a hand saw. Fun, right? Traditional Mexican cooking lets nothing go to waste; hence the use of all sorts of animal parts like feet, skin, glands, even eyes. (Apparently eye tacos are a serious specialty. Each animal only has two of them, after all.)
On our second day, my partner Angela and I were to assigned to make Cortadillo, a filet steak marinated in vinegar, garlic, cumin and Worcestershire sauce and topped with a warm tomatillo salsa, crispy onions and serrano peppers. Cortadillo is a dish traditionally served at weddings in the Nuevo Leon region, and it’s really delicious.
We were also charged with making Enchiladas de Quelites. According to MexConnect’s guide to Mexican herbs, quelites have “been eaten as a vegetable since pre-Hispanic times. This herb tastes similiar to young spinach, and is prepared in much the same way. It is delicious sauteed with a bit of chopped onion, and its delicate flavor is hightly esteemed by the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada Oriental, who eat it with green salsa.” The quelites really have a much more mild flavor than I was expecting.
To make the enchiladas, simply flash fry corn tortillas in oil to make them pliable, put a sprig or two of quelites into the tortillas, and roll them up. Arrange them in a pan and pour over a warm tomatillo salsa that’s been mixed with sour cream. OUr tomatillo salsa was a bit acidic, so chef suggested we add some sugar. When we couldn’t find any, Chef Fernando pulled a packet of Splenda our of his pocket and added it to the salsa. “Perfect!” he said in his adorable Mexican accent.Who knew Splenda was going to be just what our salsa needed?
We ladled it over the enchiladas and sprinkled chihuahua cheese on top and baked them until they were golden brown and bubbly. Needless to say, when we set up our afternoon buffet tasting, our enchiladas went pretty quickly. One things for sure, I’m going to be eating well this week!