When the girls are older, and we’re done paying for school and daycare, we will travel the world and have culinary adventures. It’s going to be a few years before anything like this happens, but I’ve been working on my list since long before they were born.
It might surprise you to learn that it’s not Europe at the top, but North America. And the top line belongs to Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s in the southwest of the country, and because of its mountains and differing climates, the food there is varied and amazing. Chocolate is grown there, and its best known for its seven moles. I would probably skip the edible insects, though.
I know, there isn’t a ton of Mexican food on my blog, but my dream is to make Chiles en Nogada, minus the pork, in a Mexican village. This summer, I started making my own chilaquiles with the tomatillos Lilli and I would pick at the farm. They were perfect and surprisingly simple to make and I’m sorry I didn’t find the time to blog about them. Next summer, I promise.
The second destination on my list is Los Angeles. Silver Lake, yes, but also the places that Jonathan Gold writes near-poetry about. I’ve always been about places tucked away. I had a gastronomy professor who used to say to look to a city’s suburbs, where rent is more affordable, especially for newer immigrants trying to run a restaurant.
So when I was contacted and offered the book L. A. Mexicano: Recipes, People & Places by James Beard winner Bill Esparza, I jumped at the opportunity. A book, about Mexican food culture in Los Angeles? Yes, please!
And it’s a wonderful book! Yes, there are recipes, 65 of them. But the book also profiles L.A. Mexicano community activists and politicians. It’s also a guide to L.A.’s best markets, vendors, taquerias, bakeries, and more. It’s essential reading for someone planning a trip to Los Angeles to eat. It’s also a primer on Mexico’s culinary regions, and there’s also a dictionary of Mexican culinary terms. The writing is wonderful and the photos are crisp and vibrant.
Sure, there’s a ton of stuff, like wild boar chilaquiles, that I’m skipping, but I settled on a papaya cream soup to test first. It’s actually not a Oaxacan specialty, but is based on the food served by Mexico City’s grand masters of Mexican haute cuisine, made by modernist chefs using Mexican techniques and ingredients.
To be honest, I’m not the biggest papaya fan, so I made it with the idea of giving it to my mom, who loves it. It was a lovely soup, light and sweet. And I’d never made a sofrito (onion, celery and green pepper) before. With its additional herbs and spice, it’s a little different than the Holy Trinity of Southern cooking I had to make for the summer vegan jambalaya.
I am not a drinker, so I can’t give you definitive directions on what white wine to use for the sofrito. I think the one I bought was from Portugal and cost $8. I bought my papaya from Trader Joe’s for $3.50. There’s a Mexican store in Hadley I’ve been dying to check out but haven’t had a chance to. Someday soon, I hope.
I’d meant to have this post up before Day of the Dead, so you could have a nice Mexican recipe to celebrate, but a migraine has been hounding me all week. Next year, hopefully.
Papaya Cream Soup from L.A. Mexicano by Bill Esparza
1 papaya, about 3 to 4 pounds, peeled and cut into chunks
½ carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
½ cup Sofrito (recipe follows)
½ cup sugar
5 cups stock (I used Better than Bouillon)
1 cup half and half
Sea salt and white pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 450F. Wrap papaya and carrot in aluminum foil with a tight seal and roast in the oven until both ingredients are cooked through, about 30 minutes.
In a medium saucepan, combine papaya, carrot, Sofrito, sugar and stock. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour soup into a blender, blend for a minute, and then pour through a strainer back into the saucepan. Whisk in half and half and return the soup to a gentle boil for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Sofrito This flavor base is useful for many soups, stews and sauces. Consider doubling the recipe to keep more on hand.
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ onion, diced
½ stick celery, diced
½ green pepper, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
Pinch of thyme
Pinch of oregano
1 bay leaf
½ cup white wine
Set a medium saucepan over medium heat and add oil, onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, oregano and bay leaf. Cook, stirring until onion turns translucent, about 5 minutes. Add wine, increase the heat to simmer briskly, and cook until the sauce reduces, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf. This will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for a week or more.