I am a foodie and have to share last month´s culinary experiences.
Volunteer José Sánchez desired the simple comfort foods of his native Mexico, and he knew how to cook them. By the end of his month long visit we both marveled at how Bolivians and Mexicans cook with identical fresh ingredients, but the techniques and resulting flavors differ.
The Mexican tortilla is made from masa, which is corn kernels simmered in lime (mineral not fruit) until they soften and lose their peels. The kernels and peels are then run through a grain mill, formed into tortillas, and cooked on a sheet of tin (comal). In Bolivia,
meals of hot corn kernels (mote) are common fare. At times, wood ash is added to the pot to peel the kernels, making for easier eating and less mess.
José stripped the dried kernels off the corn cobs and dried them an additional 2 weeks on the roof. We
asked around the neighborhood for a tablespoon of lime and were met with expressions of consternation. Lime is no longer used locally for construction and was unheard of for peeling corn kernels. I knew that somebody had to have a bagful in storage, and met with success when the father of 2 of the CdA chicas gifted us a cupful. José
was surprised that instead of just bringing the kernels to a simmer as he has done in Mexico the large Bolivian kernels had to simmerfor over an hour. The fragrance of the steaming pot transported us both to Mexico.
We borrowed a grain mill from Doña Máxima to grind the kernels. José had carted a tortilla press from Mexico and quickly flattened small balls of the corn dough and cooked them briefly on a cookie sheet spanning two burners of the gas stove. The tortillas piled up in a cloth lined basket and we ate them warm with black beans and a simple guacamole made from Independencia´s famous creamy avocadoes, tomatoes, chilies, salt, and lime juice.
After learning José´s recipes I concluded that the difference between authentic Mexican cooking and Tex-Mex cooking is in the simplicity. A combination of tomatoes, chilies, a small slice of onion and garlic, and salt are blendered together and serve as the base for Mexican rice, tomato soup with noodles, and chiliquiles. He sometimes added a dash of cumin or a small piece of a veggie bouillon cube.
José taught Doña Máxima how to make Mexican rice. In Independencia boiled white rice with boiled noodles and potatoes is a standard lunch. Occasionally a plate is topped with a fried egg or a piece of meat. Salads lend color to a plate but are only prepared for festive occasions. The standard Bolivian condiment is llajua, which is a combination of 1 or 2 tomatoes and 4 to 5 chilies usuallyground together between stones because few own blenders. Every time José and I sat down to the fresh foods simply prepared in the Mexican tradition we commented on the variety of colors and the beauty of our plates.
One afternoon José taughtDoña Máxima how to make horchatawhich was served to theCdA women. The beverage is made out of sweetened condensed milk, milk, rice, cinnamon and vanilla blendered together uncooked, sieved and served cold.José made it again and served it with a splash of tequila he had carted from home. It was a sublime Sunday afternoon treat. During the chill evenings of Independencia´s harvest fair and the Fiesta del Virgen de Carmen vendors set up portable burners to sell “leche de tigre”. They boil milk with shredded coconut, sugar, and cinnamon then serve it in a cup with a capful of Singani, a distilled 40 proof Bolivian alcohol made from grapes.
Before we could share the first batch of tortillas, we´d devoured them wishing for more…. However, thanks to José there is a tortilla press andthe know how that may make it out into a community that eats a lot of corn. Dorinda Dutcher, August 10, 2015