Diana Kennedy on "Unknown Gastronomy of Mexico"
Last night, I went to see Diana Kennedy, self described "ethnogastronome" and author of many seminal volumes on Mexican cooking, speak at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas in Austin. Part of a series on Mexican Foodways celebrating the Mexican Bicentennial, the talk was titled "Unknown Gastronomy of Mexico" and was based on her research for her new cookbook titled Oaxaca al Gusto (buy it), out in September.
I know I shouldn't beat myself up about this too much as the talk was on "unknown" dishes, but having lived in Texas for four years, I humored myself I knew a little bit about Mexican food. I can make salsas that doesn't use tomatoes! I have a kick-ass carnitas recipe! I made tamales, once! Turns out, I know absolutely nothing; jokes about things like atoles and epazote were met with dull ears (mine) and appreciative laughter (everyone else). My education in the real Mexican cuisine begins, in addition to some choice quotes from Ms. Kennedy, below.
Some Rural Mexican Dishes that will Blow Your Mind Burger
- Atoles, or a porridge made out of ground corn, lard and berries blended together. Kennedy bemoaned the fact that people nowadays cheat and used premade masa, in which the corn has been treated with lime.
- In Kennedy's town in Michoacán, quesadillas are not a cheesy happy hour snack, but instead a sweet dough filled with queso añejo, kind of like a cheese danish.
- Posole de Trigo, a soup many are familiar with, but this time made with wheat kernels instead of the traditional hominy.
- Tamales made with black corn and toasted corn silks. Kennedy also noted that corn silk teas were good for kidney problems — she is very interested in nutritional value and herbal healing.
- Salsa made from wild plums.
- Tamales de Espija — tamales made from ground, toasted corn pollen sacks and a fermented white flour mixture. Kennedy says the toasted pollen tastes like honey. This is when my stomach started growling.
- Highland mushrooms ground and fried with onion, garlic and epazote as taco filling.
- Begonia stalks cooked into a stew with a sour flavor.
Words of Wisdom from Diana Kennedy
- "To hell with lard, you know, it's great...you have all these good ingredients and then you eat less, that's my theory."
- "Some of these new chefs are putting [jamaica, aka the calyces of hibiscus,] in tortillas for tacos and I think that's perfectly horrible...you have to have a reason, or it has to be delicious."
- "Never let me hear you say a cookbook is expensive...a novel you read once, a cookbook is on your shelf for 30 years."
- She also said that she does not think she will be working on another cookbook after Oaxaca al Gusto; she is currently working with a foundation to record a database of the foraged foods of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.