Monday, November 1, 2010

Go Ahead Honey, Oaxacan Cuisine is Gluten Free

This month I am proud to be hosting the theme of Oaxacan Cuisine for Go Ahead Honey, It's Gluten Free, a food fest thrown by Naomi Devlin of Straight Into Bed Cakefree and Dried.

When I first started eating gluten free to quell the constant pains in my stomach, I realized that I also needed to keep my taste buds satisfied, so I started exploring foreign cuisines. There are many different cultures that eat mostly dairy and gluten free, but Oaxaca has elements I yearned to explore further. Mexican food is full of complex flavors, but the notorious Land of Seven Moles has a wide variety of offerings for those of us with dietary restrictions.

Oaxacan Cuisine is different from the cuisines in other regions of Mexico because its dishes reveal a thorough blending of Spanish and Indian cooking. Before the Spanish arrived, the Zapotecs, Aztecs, and other indigenous peoples ate a mostly fatless and entirely dairy and gluten free diet. They ate mostly masa (lime treated corn), which was mixed with beans, tomatoes, squash, dried and fresh chiles, different wild greens and herbs, and a variety of fruit. Some game was hunted, but turkeys were the only domesticated animal, and a large collection of sauces existed that were each considered a meal unto themselves. When the Spanish came, they brought cinnamon, cloves, pepper, nutmeg, coriander & cilantro, thyme, globe onions, and garlic. They also brought pigs and shared how to derive their fat into lard, which is a current staple in cooking across Mexico. They taught the indigenous people how to use sugar, eggs, wheat, and dairy, which led to making different breads, which are now as vital to the cuisine as their corn-based cousins.

Oaxaca actually has three culinary centers that are very different from one another. In the Zapotec towns of the central valleys, the austerity of the people is revealed in their food, and to this day they cook more like their ancestors did, without much fat and meat, which is eaten occasionally. The Zapotecs in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, however, fully embraced Spanish techniques and enjoy bold flavors  that combine both sweet and sharp, eat large amounts of meat, and cook most things in large quantities of lard. The food from Oaxaca City is in between these two extremes, and the term Oaxacan Cuisine typically refers to the food created here, at Oaxaca's capital. There is a large tradition of street food, but all dishes from this region equally honor the Spanish and Indian techniques that created them.

For this little blog fiesta, I encourage you to make whatever piques your interest, whether it be traditional or Americanized. Since Oaxaca is known as The Land of Seven Moles, I took a classic concept and put my own twist on it and made Cranberry Mole for my contribution. I love mole, and I wanted to create a new side dish for turkey at Thanksgiving, and I'm looking forward to having it this year.

If you have any questions about recipes, want some help with ideas, or even want a recipe, feel free to email me and ask. Oaxacan dishes vary in their difficulty, but some can be very easy to make. I simply encourage trying anything, since cooking something for the first time can be an adventure. Some dishes, such as mole, can seem like a complex endeavor, but can be quite enjoyable and yields surprisingly delicious results.

Email me your recipes, adventures, pictures, and links by November 27th and I will share them all at the end of the month. I look forward to seeing what you all try and experience. Enjoy the adventure!


Valerie @ City|Life|Eats said...

So excited to be participating this month! I have a couple of ideas :)

Zoe said...

I just found out about this one - are there any particular sources, such as cookbooks or websites, that you'd recommend for Oaxacan cuisine? Thanks!

Kajora Lovely said...

Yes! Most recent is Diana Kennedy's cookbook Oaxaca al Gusto, but it's a behemoth. Another good option is The Food and Life of Oaxaca by Zarela Martinez. Rick Bayless' cookbook Authentic Mexican has a few Oaxacan recipes, as does Diana Kennedy's The Essential Cuisines of Mexico. It might help to see what your local library has on hand and check out your options there.