Latina Eats: Exploring Moles and Central American Cuisine

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This is the eighth entry of a multi-part series by our student blogger Giselle.  Check back each week for the next installment of her experience during her semester away in San Antonio.

Hello everyone, thanks for checking back in to see what the Latin concentration has been up to this week. So, what’s new in the Latin kitchen, you may ask? We have continued making more moles, began studying the beautiful food of Central America, and also had a delicious dinner at the school’s restaurant, Nao.

Lets see what else has been cooking!

 

This Week in The Latin Kitchen…

Just when I thought we had concluded exploring the world of mole, I quickly realized we hadn’t even scratched the surface on studying Mexico’s “mother sauce.” This was a pleasant surprise, and a reminder of Mexico’s rich and extensive gastronomy. This week consisted of even more moles—of any shade you can think of, and textures that range from thick to almost soupy. My favorite was mole negro, or black mole. It’s a mole that is pitch black…I don’t know about you, but as a culinary student, thats pretty intriguing to me. How does this mole get its black color? What could it possibly taste like? These were the thoughts running through my head as I was preparing one of Oaxaca’s most praised dishes. And the result was nothing short of greatness.
The process was unique to any recipe I’ve ever cooked in that almost every ingredient had to be burnt. No joke. How could it possibly taste so delicious? I don’t know, but Oaxaca has been doing it right for a pretty long time. After the ingredients were burnt, a separate mixture of nuts, seeds, raisins, bread, and so much more were blended until smooth and added to the burnt chile paste. When it was added, the mole was grey and I was unsure whether it would turn black by the time it was cooked. After an hour of simmering in a beautiful clay pot, the sauce was thick, smooth, and indeed a dark black color. It was so interesting to see how the color of the burnt chiles dominated and did their job in giving the mole a rich dark color. Each ingredient in the mole was very pronounced, yet they all worked in harmony together. It was out of this world. If you ever get the chance to try Oaxacan mole negro, you do not want to pass it up. Trust me.

 

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Mole negro

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Mole verde (green mole)

 

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Pipián rojo (a type of red mole)

After cooking moles earlier in the week, it was time to leave Mexico and enter the Central American part of the curriculum. One thing I found interesting about our introduction to Central America is the similarities it has with Mexican cuisine in the amount of corn that’s integrated into their diet. It was incredible to see the differences, though. We made a lot of things that were foreign to me like a quesadilla Salvadoreña, which doesn’t resemble a Mexican quesadilla by any means. In fact, it’s a dessert. Then there was vigorón, a street food from Nicaragua that layers yucca, cabbage slaw, and crunchy chicharron on top of a banana leaf. You can’t go wrong with that, my friends.

The foods had some similar ingredients to Mexico’s, but in terms of the finished products, they could not be any more different. To think that these counties so close to one another contain vastly different flavor profiles and preparations is precisely why the Latin concentration has been such an eye-opening journey for me. I can’t wait to dive into what is going to be a completely different world in terms of flavor and culture. Check out some of the delicious Central American food we cooked up this week in the Latin kitchen!

 

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Crema de guicoy con maíz (squash soup)

 

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Baleados; they are native to Honduras and consist of a thick “tortilla” filled with refried beans and slaw

 

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Quesadilla Salvadoreña

 

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Vigorón

 

Dining at CIA San Antonio’s Restaurant: Nao Latin Gastro Bar

In addition to working at Nao (pronounced now), the college’s on-campus restaurant, I also had the chance to dine there with my classmates and Chef Remolina this week. The concept takes Latin America and plays with the endless flavors and textures that these countries have to offer in a relaxed, contemporary atmosphere. From squid chicharrones to duck carnitas, Nao has no boundaries when it comes to producing flavorful and interesting eats that continue to teach me about the possibilities this type of cuisine brings to the table. Needless to say, we were pretty stuffed (and happy) by the end of our meal.

Here are some of the dishes that executive chef Zachary Garza has created:

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Duck carnitas

 

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Beef tongue pot roast

 

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Grilled meat skewers, ají panca-cashew butter, parsley

 

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Grilled ribeye

 

Another Week Down, 2 Pop-Up Dinners to Go

I can’t believe this week is already over. The closer we get to the end of our semester here, the faster the days seem to fly by. Regardless of time, one thing remains true about the Latin concentration: we have gained an insane amount of knowledge on a daily basis, and we have built great relationships at this small but close-knit campus. Next week we will be hosting our third pop-up dinner which will be featuring the flavors of the Caribbean…and thanks to Chef Remolina, we will be having another very special guest chef joining us. You’ll have to check in next week to find out who that will be!

Until next time,

Giselle

 

Giselle Sigala

Giselle Sigala


Hello everyone, my name is Giselle Sigala and I am currently a seventh-semester bachelor’s student at The Culinary Institute of America. I’m honored and excited to be the student blogger for the Latin Cuisine Concentration at the San Antonio, TX campus!

A little bit about myself:

I was born in Long Beach, CA and was raised in Fort Worth, TX since the age of 3. (So I’m a Texan at heart…Go TCU!) My parents are both immigrants from Zacatecas, Mexico, so my siblings and I are the first generation in our family to study in the United States.

Since I can remember, I have always had a fascination with cooking and anything food related. As a child, instead of playing with dolls I was begging my mother for an Easy-Bake oven. (Which I found is a common memory with a lot of CIA students. Right? No? Ok fine, I guess it was just me! Haha.) My fondest memories as a child are set in the kitchen, from helping my mom flip tortillas—I remember always burning the tips of my fingers—to the simple smell of charcoal burning on a Sunday afternoon, because this meant a carne asada was in the works…which also meant we were going to eat some great food! Yum!

A major factor that played into my decision to come to The Culinary Institute of America was the large success of my parents’ carnicerias (a Mexican meat market that sells a variety of produce and delicious baked goods). By spending most of my childhood in the carniceria’s kitchen and bakery, I quickly realized that I had a passion for Latin American cuisine. With time, I knew that there was nothing I’d rather do than to make people happy by cooking for them. Knowing this about myself helped me make my decision about coming to the CIA. And honestly, this place has given me countless amazing opportunities and experiences. The CIA has helped me pursue my dream of working in some of the best kitchens around the world, cooking Latin food, and potentially opening up my own business in the future.I couldn't imagine going anywhere else to pursue these aspirations. It is truly an amazing program that is always evolving and striving to be the best it can be.

As a CIA alum, I couldn't be happier to have chosen to pursue my career goals here. Since my graduation from the associate program in June 2015, I have come to admire and appreciate different cuisines and cultures from all over the globe. From the Cuisines of the Americas class I took to the Cuisines of Asia course, this school has taught me that I can learn so much from a culture by simply learning about their food.With that, I am excited to start my semester studying the vibrant food of Latin America at the beautiful CIA San Antonio in Texas. The campus looks amazing, and I can’t wait to write about my experiences! I invite you to check out my blog as I cook some delicious food, explore an exciting city, and learn from some of the best-trained chefs in the industry!

Giselle
Giselle Sigala