Monday, March 25, 2013

Cooking Class with Dan

I suspect I've told you this recently but here it is again.  My life is so busy I hardly have time to take a deep breath.  That's lovely but I find that my blogging tends to suffer.  I love blogging and miss it when I don't make time to do it (or to edit the photos I've taken to put into posts).  So, here goes--let's see if I can be a little more consistent.

Earlier this month friends and I took another of Dan Delgado's cooking classes.  We primarily focused on dishes with a slightly spicy, somewhat Mexican flavor but with a few interesting touches.  Well, of course there were interesting touches--Dan taught the class.

We started working with purple potatoes.  Aren't they lovely?  The skins are so dark they almost look black but I absolutely love the way they look inside.

They lent themselves very nicely to potato chip stacks.  Rather than deep frying them, we tossed them in a little oil and salt and arranged them prettily on a baking sheet.  They were very crispy and potato chip-like without all the extra oil.

Dan toasted some seeds that can be used as a little crunch for just about anything.  We put them on top of the burritos we made.  He had some fabulous peppers, too.  Those got used later.

When you get cilantro here, it comes in a huge bunch.  Well, what do you do with what's left over?  You make a sort of sofrito.  The one Dan made was very simple.  It was just cilantro, onion, and garlic, all chopped up little, heavily salted, and covered in oil.  This can be kept for a long time in the fridge or even frozen in ice cube trays and then add a spoonful or cube to what you're cooking to give it that burst of color and flavor you get from such things.

Dan also does this with mushrooms.  He cooks them down very, very slowly until they're down to the essence of mushroom, then again freezes it in ice cube trays and he has little cubes of mushroom excellence at his fingertips.  This is how restaurants manage to fix things so quickly (well, not all of them but some use these clever advance cooking techniques).

One of the vegetables we don't use very much here is zambo or sambo.  Dan said this is the very smallest one he has ever seen.  They're generally the size of a medium or large watermelons and actually look like them.  In reality, they're similar to a summer squash and taste fairly bland but have a lovely gentle flavor, not totally unlike zucchini.  We cubed and steamed it but you can also put it in soup--OK, pretty much everything here goes in soup, but it's all good.

I talked about Oca in my last post about cooking lessons but here it is again.  Again, we had it steamed and just as a vegetable.  In fact, I bought some when I went to the Sunday market and left it in the sun as was recommended to make it less bitter and to take the oxalic acid out of it.  They tasted lovely.

Dan made a lovely pickled pepper (I didn't try it since I don't do anything spicy but the others told me how lovely it was).  They just look so pretty, don't they?

Dan got a nice, heavy pan very hot and popped the peppers in there for just a minute--then we quickly headed outdoors.  Toss in a little salt and sugar and then pour in the vinegar.  Now, stand back!  The vinegar, when it hits the heat, lets off a steam that will put strong men on the ground (strong women, too).  Put the cover on and leave it outside for a bit, just to let the vinegar settle down.

Bring it in and put it in a jar and refrigerate for as long as the pickles last--I've heard it's not long.  The pickled peppers are sitting next to the steamed oca.

We also learned how to make simple corn tortillas.  The most important things seems to be that the water be boiling when you mix it in with the masa.  Dan has been searching for masa since he got here.  He finally found a man that makes something he doesn't call masa but after he and Dan talked about how he makes it, that's what it is. Dan said that if we want to know who it is, he'll show us the next time we do a market tour.  He's the little guy in the grain section who wears a brown hat.  Since there are fewer than half a dozen grain vendors here, I'm sure he's easy to find.

Unfortunately I got so busy at the last minute that I didn't get a single picture of the meat Dan made or the mushrooms he cooked to put on top of it.  You'll just have to trust me when I tell you it was every bit as good as everything else he ever makes or shows us how to make.

If you live here in Cotacachi or the environs, Dan sends out info on the list to those who are signed up for it and he's available for cooking classes as well as the translation services he provides.

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