Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Lamb in Black Mole, Chilli Pasillo and other Traditional Mexican Dishes at this Culinary Festival

Traditional Mexican Dishes
Lamb in Black Mole
Bottom: Chilli Pasillo stuffed with cheese.

Of the many international cuisines, Mexican is amongst my favourite. From sizzling fajitas to crisp tacos, cheesy enchiladas to hearty burritos there’s a lot of delicious variety that this cuisine offers. I personally like the mix of fresh ingredients with spiced proteins, flavourful sauces with a balance of heat and sweet and the sprinkling of cheese and sour cream. The accompanying wraps are comforting with their familiarity with our rotis, yet make for a refreshing change. And of course, there’s the entire charm of ‘community eating’ and ‘table camaraderie’ with many dishes that are either completed at your table like freshly made guacamole or assembling your own fajita wraps exactly as you please!

But real Mexican food has much more to offer than the dishes that I mentioned above - which come under the category of Tex-Mex, or Mexican food that initially became popular in North America and spread to other parts of the world. In fact, the cuisine is so rich in terms of ingredients and diversity that it has earned the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Chef Alondra Maldonado and Chef Marco Valdivia.

To commemorate the 208th anniversary celebrations of Mexico’s Independence, the Embassy of Mexico in India has organized a Mexican Culinary Festival at the Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi. Celebrated Mexican Chef Alondra Maldonado and Chef Marco Valdivia are showcasing diverse Mexican dishes, some from their home state Nayarit, as well as from other regions of Mexico, in association with Executive Chef Arun Sundaraj’s team.

Chile, Chilli or Peppers
While Mexican Ambassador to India, H.E. Melba Pria, regaled us with stories of everyday life in Mexico the chefs served multiple courses for us to sample some real flavours of this rich cuisine. “India and Mexico are two countries that know the difference between ‘spicy’ and ‘hot’,” said the Ambassador. With a mind-boggling variety of indigenous chillies or peppers, Mexicans have also figured out various ways of using them in their food. Chef Alondra and her team have carried more than 50 kg of assorted chillies for this culinary festival. Chile pasilla is a pepper grown in Oxaca and turns out to be the hot favourite for its sweet and smoky flavour. It is served stuffed with goat cheese, in a refreshing sauce of tomato, onion and garlic. Scallop aguachile turns out to be much hotter in contrast. ‘Aguachile’ means water and chilli and is a traditional Nayaritan sauce. Located on the Pacific coast, Nayarit has an abundance of seafood in its regional cuisine. This dish is a great example how the sweet scallop is contrasted with a hot sauce made with Serrano chilli, cilantro and lime juice.

Bean Soup served on (top) a mix of goat cheese, avocado and tortilla.

Soup and Mole
The bean soup from Tarasca is described as “mouthwatering and soul comforting” in the menu. I totally agree because the aroma of the soup as it is poured over a mix of goat cheese, avocado and thinly shredded tortilla is actually mouthwatering. The marigold flower that is used as an edible garnish is as auspicious in Mexican culture as it is in Indian culture.
For those who understand Mexican cuisine beyond the Tex-Mex, would have definitely heard of the ‘mole’ sauce. “Mole is to Mexico what curry is to India,” explains the Ambassador. While the most popular mole is associated with a chocolate-based sauce, mole simply is any curry made with chillies and spices. Almost every household thus has its own distinct moles. The chocolate-based mole is the specialty of only one region of Mexico - Oxaca. I am certainly glad that Chef Alondra chose to serve the Lamb in Black Mole since I have tried it at various restaurants but was never sure of the authencity of its flavour. While the lamb itself was spot on, the sauce was far more complex than any that I had tasted before. “I would dare to say that black mole is the most complex mole due to the variety of dry peppers it takes and the mastery in burning them,” says Chef Alondra. With more than 30 ingredients, this sauce can take upto three days to make. It is made with the seeds of dried chilles like red, black and yellow chilhuacle peppers, pasilla pepper seeds, burnt tortilla, spices like oregano, cumin and cinnamon that are ground traditionally on stone. Chocolate is used in the form of roasted cacao seeds that are peeled and ground with sugar. Finally the stock is added. The result is a smoky sauce with a very complex flavour. If there’s one reason that I’d urge you to go for this on-going festival, it is this sauce! And of course the highly satiating pork belly tacos that include the beautiful crackling and extremely fresh guacamole and salsa.

Top: Pork Belly Taco
Bottom: Bean and Avocado Sope

Sweet Endings
I have to confess that I hadn’t really tried any traditional Mexican desserts so far {chocolate with chilli doesn’t really count!}. Of the three that I got to taste today, I’d recommend the Capirotada that is traditionally made during Easter. It is utterly comforting with layers of bread, almonds, prunes, pecans, raisins and aged cheese bathed and soaked in a special syrup. I usually don’t like to give away surprises, but I have to tell you that this is the first dessert that I have had, and loved, that includes onions and tomatoes! If you do get to taste it I’d love to hear your feedback.

Capirotada and Ante
Bottom: Mestizo Timbal.

The festival is not only about food, it also includes drinks. Besides the frozen margaritas, you also have beer-based micheladas. Michelada is a cocktail made with beer, lime juice, assorted spices and sauces and served in a glass rimmed with salt and peppers. Other juices may also be added to it. Amongst the mocktails there’s lemonade with chia and a refreshing drink made with rice milk and cinnamon.

L-R: Michelada; Rice Milk mocktail.

This festival has been a culinary exploration like none other and is on from the 13th-22nd September 2018 at Machan.
Lunch Buffet begins at Rs 2,100.
Chef's Special Dinner menu at Rs 2,400.


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