A Passion for Culinary Arts
It all began with my father. At about four years old, I would stand on a stool and assist my father with a few tasks around the kitchen... measuring out the herbs and spices, or stirring the pot with a wooden spoon. I have a vivid memory of him putting a cluster of sea salt in his palm and telling me to put about two or three pinches into the stew. I can say that my love for herbs and spices firmly took root at that early age.
At about ten years of age, I recall waking up one morning and making my parents a simple breakfast of French toast, omelets, fresh fruit and perhaps a smoothie... Okay, maybe not THAT simple! I went on to start making more and more complex meals, mostly in the Mediterranean tradition of my family. But every Friday, a meal with an International theme took place in our home: I made everything from Lebanese, Indian, French and Mexican, and my family sure seemed to enjoy it!
I later had the opportunity to meet with renowned chef Eric Dreyer who studied under Dean Fearing at the Ritz Carlton in Dallas. It was quite an amazing opportunity! Many other chefs - from famous to amateur-and of all types of origins along the way have greatly inspired me, but the greatest inspiration of all is Mother Nature.
The Year of Mexico. Mole.
Mole is a traditional Mexican sauce dating back to the times of the indigenous inhabitants. There are many different recipes for this delicious sauce, such as Mole Oaxaqueña, Mole Verde, Rojo, Negro... I could talk about Mole all day long! From Oaxaca to Michoacán, the recipe is a family heirloom passed down form generation to generation.
This sauce is chocolate based, usually made with a bitter chocolate any where between 70% to 100% cacao! Peanuts, Almonds, Walnuts are toasted with the aroma of dark dried chilies and spices like cinnamon, guajillo, star anise, pasilla and even this little abuelita trick to add a tortilla and bolillo (dinner roll) to the sauce! It is typically served with chicken and topped with sesame seeds which, depending on the recipe, can also be found toasted into the sauce. In Mexico, the seed we call sesame is referred to as "ajonjoli." On average, the sauce can take up to 2 days to prepare!
Mole Verde translates to "green sauce" in Spanish and Nahuatl (the language of the Aztec people) and contains fresh ingredients such as Serrano chilies, spinach, cilantro, tomatillos and plenty of garlic and wonderful seasonings. This is served with boiled pork or lamb. It has a fresher taste than Mole Negro or Oaxaqueña, and usually takes much less than 7 hours to two days, and also has a tendency to be quite spicy since the chilies are fresh and in abundance.
Mole Rojo this time means red sauce. It takes a little longer than the Mole Verde, and contains about the same ingredients, except it is red. For example, the fresh chilies are not green but red, and the tomatillos are replace with tomatoes, which are not of the same family as tomatillos (that belong to the gooseberry family) .Tomatoes were called by the Spanish "La Jitomate" during Colonial Times. It is surprisingly delicious with fish, which is quite un-traditional, as well as lamb, chicken and even grilled veggies!
Sikil Pak is nor Aztec nor Zapotecan but Mayan, from southern Yucatan and Guatemala. It has a yellow or orange hue but does not traditionally contain chocolate, but can be added to resemble Mole Negro. It is pumpkin seed based and contains all sorts of nuts and veggies, but very few chilies. For us vegetarians, Sikil Pak is heavenly considered that it goes excellent with any type of vegetable!
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