Cactus and Chocolate – aka Mexican Cooking Class
As much as I enjoy teaching myself new things, sometimes, the best way to learn how to make something new, particularly a new type of cuisine, is to take a cooking class. It is unsurprisingly difficult to find vegetarian cooking classes (although many are willing to accommodate vegetarians) but I did manage to find an awesome one – a vegetarian Mexican cooking class. We ending up in groups of 4, and each group of us made 5 dishes total. I’m not going to go through all five recipes (sorry) but I will go through two of them – the cactus salad and the chocolate flan cake.
Nopales (aka cactus) Salad
2 thin cactus paddles
1⁄4 small red onion
1-2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
Juice of half a lime
Prepare the cactus paddles by cutting off the bottom bit, the edges, and scraping off the thorns (basically a similar action to peeling a carrot with a knife instead of a peeler). Once the cactus has been cleaned, slit the cactus pad a few times and then grill it for 10 minutes, five on each side. If you can’t grill it than baking would probably work, but I make no promises since I haven’t tried it. Chop the onion, tomato, cilantro, and cactus (once its done cooking) and toss with some salt, pepper, and lime juice. And done.
The Impossible Cake: The instructor called this dish the impossible cake because it is completely illogical and there is no way it should work properly – except somehow it does. It’s basically a steamed chocolate cake with a flan crust
First, you make the flan. Take 4 eggs, 1 egg yolk, 2 1/2 cups of milk, and 1 tsp of vanilla and blend it all together in a blender.
Then you make the cake batter. Cream together 6 ounces of butter and 1 cup of sugar, then beat in two eggs and 1 tablespoon of vanilla. To the wet ingredients, add 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/3 cup cocoa, a pinch salt, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1/2 cup sour cream. Blend all the ingredients together until smooth.
Heat some sugar in a saucepan until it has lightly caramelized – do not overcook it. Add the caramelized sugar to the bottom of a circular cake pan. Pour the flan mixture on top of the sugar. Then pour the cake batter over the flan (yes it sounds insane, I know), distributing it as evenly as possible. Tightly cover the cake pan with aluminum foil and bake in a bain-marie by putting it into a larger oven-proof pan filled half way with boiling water (it should cover the cake pan half way too.) Carefully place in the oven and bake for about an hour. Then, let the cake cool for another hour, before inverting it on a serving dish (so the flan is on top) and serve.
The Nopales salad was yummy, and struck me as a perfect Mexican dish, as its the colors of Mexico’s flag. The only down side is that is doesn’t keep very well – after a while the cactus starts oozing goo – so eat it fresh. The cake was freaking amazing though. Good warm, good cold the next day, just addictively good. And the basic template probably has endless variations, if you want something similar but different. All in all, the meal was delicious, and the class was a ton of fun – definitely a good way to spend an evening. The song of the week is the Sam Tsui version of Pompeii – I’m not quite sure what it is about this song that makes me like it so much, but there you go.