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Afro-Mexican Cooking Class with Raquel Torres Cerdan- 4 recipes



Jan Cutting MalangA All photos by Carlos Baizabal  – Raquel objected to this photo because the bracelets are not hygienic.  So don’t wear them when you slice malanga, and especially when you fry it. Those studs will get  really hot.  This is not really a recipe.  Fry the malanga slices in hot oil heated to 375°F until golden.

Fried malanga

On our recent gastronomic tour of the state of Veracruz, Mexico, Jan asked me to arrange a cooking class for him. Having taken classes with her before, i suggested Raquel Torres Cerdan.  Besides being a great cook, Raquel specializes in indigenous cuisine and Afro-Mexican cooking.  Ingredients for the first are nearly impossible to find in the US because it relies on wild greens, mushrooms and such  that do not grow here but the root vegetables (malanga, yuca), plantains and squashes, coconuts and peanuts that form the basis of Afro-Mexican cooking are readily available here so I asked her to develop a menu. We were not able to get through it but here are some photographs and simple recipes of the ones we were able to complete:

pumpkin soup

One 4  pound butternut or  kabocha squash
2 tablespoons corn or safflower oil or home-rendered lard
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove minced
2 large sprigs cilantro
2 large sprigs mint
Homemade chicken stock (preferably) or water
Crisply fried corn tortilla strips
Cut the squash. skin on,  into large pieces. Add chicken stock or water to barely cover; cook until tender about 30 minutes, Let rest until cool enough to handle and remove from skin. Set aside, reserving the liquid.
Heat the oil or lard in a  soup until almost smoking; add the onion and garlic and cook , stirring for 3 or 4 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add teh chopped tomatoes, stir well to incorporate and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the squash, cilantro and mint  and salt and freshly ground black pepper;  cook for 5 more minutes.  Serve as is or puree with the remaining cooking liquid and serve with crisply-fried corn tortilla strips

Caldo de calabaza de castilla

* 1 calabaza de castilla
2 cdas. de aceite vegetal
* 1/4 de cebolla picada
* 1 diente de ajo picado
* * 4 jitomates cortados en cubos
* 1 rama de cilantro
* 1 rama de yerbabuena
* Tiritas de tortilla frita
* Caldo de pollo o res (opcional).
* Sal
Poner la calabaza en una cacerola y cubrir con agua. Poner a hervir hasta que este suave. Moler con ayuda de un poco de agua.
Calentar en aceite en una cacerola, acitronar cebolla y ajo. Añadir el jitomate y cocinar por 10 minutos a fuego medio. Agregar la calabaza. Cocinar por otros 5 minutos. Rectificar el sazón, añadir las hierbas, tapar y apagar el fuego.
Servir con las tiritas de tortillas.
Plantain pattystuffing plantainssealing plantain
Platanos rellenos
Stuffed Plantains.
Raquel made a beef filling for the plantain appetizer on this occasion but I simply use plain cooked pureed black beans (not fried) and a bit of mole paste.  It’s much easier and the flavor of the mole pops in your mouth.
These little filled fritters of mashed plantain are one of the classic Veracruzan appetizers, made with all kinds of fillings from picadillo (the ubiquitous Mexican chopped meat mixture) to grated cheese.  My favorite is the following version from Raquel Torres, featuring pureed black beans perfumed with avocado leaf.  Be sure to use only plain, fatless boiled beans, made by the recipe on page 000 and just slightly undercooked.  For some reason refried beans cause the filled fritters to burst when they hit the hot oil.Plantains vary a lot in cooking time according to the degree of ripeness, which can be hard to gauge when you buy them.  For this recipe you want them fairly ripe, or mottled yellow and black.  To tell when they are done, start testing with a knife tip after about 25 minutes of cooking and continue to cook until you feel no resistance.  Stubborn ones can take as long as an hour.


Makes 20 – 24 fritters (about 8 servings as appetizer)


2  large,ripe plantains (yellow liberally spotted with black), unpeeled

1 cup cooked black beans (see page 000), preferably a little underdone, drained

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

2 teaspoons powdered dried avocado leaf

1 cup mole paste (can be a commercial brand)

Vegetable oil for shaping and frying the plantain cakes


Cut the plantains in half crosswise.  You may be able to gauge their ripeness from looking at them; riper ones will have almost no visible core, while greener ones will display a central core nearly 1/4 inch thick.  Place the halved plantains in a medium-sized saucepan and add water to cover by about 1 inch.  Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to maintain a low rolling boil and cook until they are soft enough to mash, testing with a knife tip as described above after about 25 minutes.  Drain and let cool.

While the plantains cook, place the beans in a small mixing bowl and mash to a fine puree with the powdered avocado leaf, using a potato masher or heavy pestle.  Set aside.

Peel the cooked plantains, place in a large mixing bowl, and mash very thoroughly with a (clean) potato masher or pestle.  (Alternatively, you can puree them in a food processor, but take care to stop before they become over processed and gluey, which makes them hard to work with.)

Rub a light film of oil over your palms and shape the mashed plantains into 20 – 24 balls about the size of golf balls.  Remoistening your hands with oil as necessary, place them one at a time on a lightly oiled plate or work surface and flatten with your fingertips into rounds about 2 1/2 – 3 inches across.  Place about 2 teaspoons of the mashed bean mixture in the center of each round and top with a dollop of mole paste; fold up the sides and press together to make a stubby cigar shape with well-sealed edges.  Place the filled “cigars” on a lightly oiled cookie sheet as they are shaped and cover with a moist tea towel.  They can be made up to 2 hours in advance of cooking, though I recommend refrigerating if they have to sit longer than 15 – 20 minutes.

When you are ready to cook and serve the fritters, place a deep, heavy medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat and add oil to a depth of at least 1 1/2 – 2 inches.  Heat to 375ºF.  Fry the filled rolls 3 or 4 at a time, turning to cook evenly on all sides, for about 3 minutes or until golden.  As they are done, lift out with a skimmer or slotted spatula and let drain briefly on paper towels.  Serve hot, either plain, with any preferred hot sauce, or with Mexican crema.




Plátanos rellenos

* 2 Plátanos machos
* 50 g de harina
* 200 g de pierna de cerdo
* 2 cdas. de aceite vegetal
* 2 jitomates
* 1/2 cebolla
* 2 diente de ajo
* 1 chile verde desvenado
* Aceite vegetal para freír
* 200 g de queso fresco
* 200 ml de crema
* Sal
Se poner a hervir la pierna con la mitad de ajo, cebolla y sal. Se pica finamente y se reserva.
Hervir los plátanos con muy poca agua. Pelar y machacar y añadir la harina y sal. Integrar la mezcla.
Acitronar la cebolla y ajo con 2 cucharadas de aceite. Añadir el jitomate y chile, cocinar por espacio de 10 minutos a fuego bajo. Agregar la carne de cerdo picado y sazonar.
Con ayuda de las manos formamos tortillitas con la masa de plátano y rellenamos con el picadillo. Cerramos y moldeamos pequeños bultitos. Freímos hasta dorar.
Servir con crema y queso.
Peanut Sauce
1 cup peanuts
4 garlic cloves
5 chiltepin chiles
1.4 cup vegetable or light olive oil
Heat the oil until rippling and fry the peanuts and  garlic, over medium-low heat,  stirring constantly until golden.  Add the  chiles and remove from the heat immediately.  Be careful not to burn the chiles or they will make the whole dish bitter. Pulse in the food processor until almost pureed but still a little chunky.
* 1 taza de cacahuates
* 4 dientes de ajo
* 5 chiles chiltepín
* 1/4 taza de aceite vegetal
* Sal
Freír los cacahuates con los ajos a fuego medio, evitando que se quemen. Cuando están dorados se añaden los chiles y se quitan del fuego. Licuar con ayuda de un poco de agua.
Calentar el aceite donde se frieron los cacahuates y verter la salsa. Cocinar a fuego medio-bajo por 15 minutos, moviendo ocasionalmente. Sazonar con sal.
Raquel, Me and Chef Jan Birnbaum
The Crew
Anthropologist Raquel Torres Cerdan, Chef Jan Birnbaum, Me, MAbel (pronounced Mah-Belle), Chef Lesterloon Sanchez

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