Tag Archives: Oaxaca

Kie Gol Lanee’s Taste of Oaxaca

One of the best things in Chicago is getting to enjoy the regional Mexican cuisine around every corner! Our favorite regional Mexican food is Oaxacan, so we are always on the lookout for new places featuring this region’s cuisine. Fortunately, in 2016, a new Oaxacan place opened quietly in Uptown, Kie-Gol-Lanee (5004 N Sheridan Rd, Chicago, IL 60640). Located near the Argyle red line stop, which is usually known for its Vietnamese pho options, Kie-Gol-Lanee has risen quickly to stand out as one of the premiere Oaxacan restaurants in Chicago. According to a Fooditor interview with the proprietors, the name of the restaurant is a phonetic spelling of Oaxacan village where they were born, Santa Maria Quiegolani, which is in turn a Spanish version of the Zapotec language words for “old stones” or “place by the river.”

We visited Oaxaca a few years ago, and our favorite thing there were the ubiquitous mole sauces, which come in 7 main varieties but have countless variations within each. Kie-Gol-Lanee heavily features its moles and other Oaxacan specialties on the menu. Though there are tacos and guacamole, more unique Oaxacan dishes make up much of the offerings. The appetizers start out strong: they even have the polarizing chapulines (fried grasshoppers – $8) as an appetizer. Personally, we love chapulines, and thought their rendition was great – they are a perfect salty, crunchy meal starter. Other unique appetizer included mushrooms in plantain leaves ($9). Salads with nopal (cactus) and beet sounded tempting ($9) as did the Oaxaca-style tamales (steamed in a plantain leaf instead of the more common corn husks – $5).

We were the most intrigued by the main courses, which included a variety of meats and seafood, many featuring moles. Highlights included gallinitas al horno ($20) Cornish game hen with black mole sauce and sesame seeds, and the camarones a la diabla ($20), shrimp with guajillo and chipotle pepper sauce.  We ordered the arrachera a la parilla ($21) – grilled skirt streak with grilled onions and jalapenos, topped with a huitlacoche mole, and the chicken enchiladas topped with red mole ($16).  The steak was cooked perfectly, and we were pleasantly surprised by the huitlacoche mole, which we had never tried before. Not a typical mole, this variety contained one of our favorite esoteric foods, huilacoche, a mushroom that grows on corn, which has a deep, earthy flavor and makes a delectable black sauce. The red mole on the enchiladas was incredibly rich and complex, elevating an otherwise simple dish. The moles here were the real deal, and you can tell that each was made from scratch from a huge variety of spices, vegetables and peppers.

We also sampled some of the agua fresca drinks- the jamaica (hibiscus) and horchata ($3), though in retrospect we should have tried the more unique offering, chilacayote (made with squash). However, we did get our squash fix with dessert – candied chilacayote squash with cinnamon ($8). For those scrunching up their nose at the thought of candied squash for dessert, this tasted like a cross between sweet potato and melon and was really pleasant! We highly enjoyed Kie-Gol-Lanee and it transported us right back to Oaxaca. Though priced slightly higher than a typical Mexican restaurant in Chicago, Kie-Gol-Lanee is worth every penny. The service is friendly, and the authentic Oaxacan food is something that you cannot find at many other places in the city.

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Moles for Days at Guelaguetza in LA

When we told our friends we were going to Los Angeles and asked around for recommendations, one restaurant that kept coming up was Guelaguetza (3014 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006). Located on the edge of Koreatown in central LA, Guelaguetza is a long-running restaurant, founded by the Lopez family in 1994. Guelaguetza was named after the Oaxacan festival of the same name, and the cuisine of Oaxaca is on display. The moles at Guelaguetza, in particular, have gained a following over the years (you may even notice that their website is ilovemole.com), and in 2015 they even won a James Beard award. The restaurant’s unmissable orange exterior is decorated with murals on the outside and though its boxy exterior masks it – the inside of the restaurant is gigantic, with several large rooms, and it even houses a stage (with live music on most nights).

The menu at Guelaguetza is extensive, though the Oaxacan specialties seemed the most intriguing: as a mark of a real Oaxacan restaurant, you can get evem an order of chapulines (fried grasshoppers – $14.50) one of M’s favorites. Guelaguetza is also known for their tlayudas ($14.50) – large tortillas covered in re-fried beans and a variety of other toppings like mole, mushrooms, cactus, cheese and/or chorizo. Other Oaxacan dishes included goat barbacoa tacos ($14.50), Oaxacan-style tamales wrapped in banana leaves ($12.50) and a variety of preparations of tasajo (thin grilled sliced beef) and pork cecina (smoked and dried). While perusing the menu we decided to sample some drinks we had never seen before: horchata with prickly pear and agua de chilacayote. We had certainly have had horchata before (Mexican rice water with cinnamon) but the bright pink prickly pear added another element. The other drink tasted almost like a pumpkin spice late – chilacayote is actually squash – but this surprising drink was both refreshing and very sweet, thanks to the addition of the piloncillo sugar.

One thing we absolutely had to order was the mole – however we were a little overwhelmed at the options. We counted no less than 6 moles! When we sat down to the table, the first thing we were offered was a plate of chips with coloradito mole, giving us an idea of what was in store. The rusty red coloradito mole was rich, complex, salty, savory and sweet all at once (the secret ingredient to coloradito is plantain). We saw the The “Festival of Moles” sampler which served two ($29), and we figured that was our best way to sample the mole universe. The sampler included portions of four moles: Mole Negro, Mole Rojo, Mole Coloradito, Mole Estofado. Each little pot of mole was topped off with shredded chicken, was served with rice and (extra-large) handmade tortilla was there to sop up the sauce. The mole negro (aka mole Oaxaqueño), is the most complex mole, the darkest in color, and spiced with a hint of chocolate. This one was L’s favorite. The mole rojo, a slightly spicier, peppery sauce was M’s favorite, and far surpassed any version he had ever had in the states. The mole coloradito that we had sampled as an appetizer was just as delicious in entree portion. The most unusual mole was the briny estofado, which is made from olives. The salty, puckery taste was one we had never tried before – not even in Mexico.

We used every last bit of rice and the giant homemade tortilla to sop up the mole sauce – this was definitely some of the best mole we have ever had – both inside of Oaxaca and out. For dessert there was of course flan, but we were happy to also see nicuatole ($8.50) – a flan-esque pudding made with corn. We last tried nicuatole at our cooking class in Oaxaca – and it is great!  There is also a little shop in the front of the restaurant that sells Mexican jewelry, bags, molinillos, and most importantly, jars of official Guelaguetza mole and chocolate to take home. Sadly, we couldn’t bring the jars of mole home in our carry-ons, but we certainly will be ordering some soon. We were really impressed by the food at Guelaguetza, especially the mole, which will be really hard to beat!

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Ixcateco Grill: Our Favorite Mole in Chicago

Mexico FlagWhen we went to Oaxaca in 2014, we were obsessed with all of the signature moles (7 distinct genres of mole are found in Oaxaca) available. Now, there are plenty of places to find dishes with Mexican moles in Chicago – and we have sampled quite a few – but none really wowed us. However, we heard a lot of buzz around the moles at Ixcateco Grill (3402 W. Montrose Ave., Chicago, IL 60625), helmed by Anselmo Ramirez, a chef that had previously worked in Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill kitchen and is called a “Rembrandt of Mole.” After hearing that, we knew we had to try this place! Ixcateco is located on an unassuming corner in Albany Park, and is BYOB. The restaurant is relatively small, brightly colored, and with a casual and welcoming vibe.Ixcateco

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A Photo Tour of Mercado 20 de Noviembre in Oaxaca

Mexico FlagOne of our favorite things to do when we are new to a city is to visit the local market. When we were in Oaxaca we were extremely excited to visit the Mercado 20 de Noviembre (20th of November Market), which came highly recommended. What is special about this market is that it specifically dedicated to food. When you enter you are greeted right away with full-service food stalls that will make you mole, caldos, quesadillas and other dishes right to order. Navigating the swirl of tantalizing smells, we settled on a booth that had a crowd, where we sampled a delicious chicken in mole rojo and turkey in mole negro (one of the signature dishes of Oaxaca). Some of the stalls have printed menus, and others have handwritten menus tacked above the stalls. You can be assured that pretty much any restaurant with a small crowd is good, since the competition is so fierce. As you wander around the stalls you can also buy freshly-baked bread and cookies and fried plantains to snack on. In addition to the freshly-prepared foods, you can pick up mole paste, chocolate, dried peppers and other ingredients to try your hand at the same recipes at home. Around the perimeter of the market were artisans selling crafts like tin ornaments, mirrors and woven baskets. We had a great time visiting the different stalls and eating our way around the market, and it was a perfect way to dip a toe into Oaxaca’s culinary waters.

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Day of the Dead / Dia De Los Muertos Recipes from Oaxaca

Mexico FlagDay of the Dead / Dia de Los Muertos always calls to mind the Mexican State of Oaxaca, where the traditions around the holiday are the strongest and most vibrant. The zocolo, or town square, in Oaxaca City is a festive celebration for weeks in advance, and the city’s main cemetery, Xoxocotlan, overflows with locals and visitors from October 31st to November 2nd. Oaxaca is known particularly for its cuisine, which we got of taste of first hand on our visit this summer. Epicurious has a nice menu of Oaxacan favorites including tamales and preserved pumpkin from Zarela Martínez that are perfect for Dia de Los Muertos. And if you really want to go all out, here is recipe for Mole Rojo made by Josefina Ruiz Vazquez in the Oaxacan town of Teotitlan del Valle. Complicated (and delicious) moles such as this are normally saved for special occasions like Dia de Los Muertos.

Food on a Dia de Los Muertos Altar in Oaxaca

Food on a Dia de Los Muertos Altar in Oaxaca by Jen Wilton

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Zapotec Cooking in Oaxaca with Reyna Mendoza

Zac xtili! Reyna Mendoza had carefully explained to us how to say “Good morning” in the Oaxaca valley dialect of Zapotec only ten minutes before, but we were still having problems. Luckily Reyna, a native speaker of both Zapotec and Spanish, did all of the talking. On this day, our last in Oaxaca, we were lucky enough to be the only two participants in a cooking class with Reyna. A widely-known authority on the cuisine of this region, and a spectacular chef in her own right, Reyna has spent the past nine years hosting cooking classes that showcase what she terms El Sabor Zapoteco – “Zapotec Flavor.” A lifelong resident of Teotitlán del Valle, a small town outside Oaxaca City primarily known for its families of tepate weavers, Reyna takes her students through the sites and sounds of the local market – where valley Zapotec is spoken almost exclusively – as well as the careful preparation of some classic Oaxacan ingredients using traditional methods. In this context, “Zapotec” flavors does not necessarily connote pre-Hispanic dishes – the majesty of Oaxacan cuisine in general comes from its careful negotiation across Spanish and indigenous ingredients and techniques – but rather largely pre-Hispanic preparations. The jaw-dropping numbers of different molcajetes, earthenware comales, and stone metates in Reyna’s kitchen alone emphasize her insistence on using ancient preparation techniques to impart flavors one cannot get with other preparations. One then leaves her class with a quite different relationship to the food.

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Class starts at the local market, which showcases meat and produce from the immediate valleys, as well as more exotic imports like apples (shipped in from Washington state). As is true throughout most of Mexico, it is considered very rude to take photos of locals, so we stuck to shots of food while using the three Zapotec words we learned.

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No Oaxacan meal is complete without quesillo, a soft white cheese that can be crumbled on top of, or stuffed inside of, seemingly anything you want. Its mild flavor pairs well with many stronger ingredients. Packed hand-made fiber wheels and wrapped in string, this cheese has evolved over the centuries from when the Spanish first brought cheesemaking to the Americas. On this day, we would use a small wheel of it in preparing flores de calabaza rellenas de queso – squash blossoms stuffed with cheese.

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Having picked up our ingredients at the market, Reyna brought us back to her absolutely spectacular kitchen. Half outdoors, bright and colorful, boasting a set of kitchenware to make anyone jealous, and to this day the only kitchen we’ve seen that incorporates two hammocks (for when you pass out after a big meal), it is our dream space. Swoon.

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No cooking before chocolate! Oaxacans do love coffee, but historically, and to a large extent still, they begin their days with a cup of chocolate prepared in a green-glazed cup, and then frothed with a molonillo, a type of wood whisk that can be easily purchased in any Oaxacan market for between one and two dollars. Making the chocolate usually involves breaking pre-made bars into hot water or milk, and then frothing it with the molonillo. The chocolate bars used for our drink were made, by hand, by Reyna’s mother.

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Some of the slew of ingredients for our day of cooking. Dried ground corn; coarse sugar and cinnamon sticks; dried red pasilla chiles; purple tomatillos; tuna fruits, the product of the nopal cactus; garlic; cilantro; small Oaxacan avocados (there are many different cultivars, each with their own flavors – the photo actually shows two different types); and a side view of a concha, a classic Mexican pastry always paired with morning chocolate.

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Even more of our prep table: sea salt; the quesillo we purchased from the market; ground bread crumbs; a bundle of fresh squash blossms (widely used in Oaxacan cooking), and at the far right you can see a peak of epazote, a very distinctive green herb, and some guajillo chiles.

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This area makes us jealous as well. Reyna’s kitchen features two large clay comales, a type of shallow cooking surface used in this region for centuries. Reyna’s are heated manually using a local type of bamboo. You can use the comales for any variety of uses: heating up tortillas, roasting dried chiles, or toasting dried corn. At right, a stone metate will eventually be used for grinding toasted dried corn.

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Reyna showing off her very impressive metate skills. Reyna’s kitchen had at least ten different metates, each one with a different use. While the one she is using in this photo is for corn, the smaller (and exuberantly decorated) one at left is used for preparing chiles that have been dried, smoked, and then soaked in water. Note how the corn one has a very rough surface, while the chile one is both smaller and smoother.

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So, we made the executive decision not to show you, or describe to you, much more of the cooking preparation. On one hand, arriving at around 10am, we cooked for a few solid hours to make a four-course meal that left us completely stuffed. It would just be too much to show! But at the same time, we don’t want to share the recipes. While Reyna does give out small recipe booklets to everyone who takes her classes, you really should go to Oaxaca and experience it for yourself; indeed, some of the dishes simply cannot be made without the methods and materials Reyna uses. If nothing else, go for the table preparation: somehow while we were cooking, Reyna and her sister magically set up this lunch table for us. Already on the table are a roasted pasilla and guajillo salsa, and a very refreshing cold drink of tuna juice, the aforementioned cactus fruit that is a popular flavoring throughout the Oaxaca valley. We were also served some very fine, very smooth, and very strong mezcal, paired with orange slices and spicy salt.

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Appetizer one: Flores de calabaza rellenas de queso – fresh squash blossoms stuffed with quesillo and fried. These are simple to make, but by no means easy.

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Appetizer two: Ensalada de noplaes – a salad of tomatoes, jicama, nopales, and onions in a dressing made with avocados, limes, and cilantro, all topped with quesillo and served in a dried corn husk. Our favorite dish of the day. Simple to prepare, fabulous presentation, and bold, balanced flavors.

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Main dish: Zegueza. Boiled chicken served in a sauce of specially-prepared corn (trust us, no way to make this at home), guajillo chiles, tomatoes, and onions, served with some leaves of hierba santa.

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Dessert: Reyna’s favorite dish, nicuatole. In its simplest preparation (the white part in this photo), this dish only contains corn, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Yet making it is quite complex, involving a series of different processes and waiting that adds up to between four and twelve hours of prep time. One eventually arrives – very surprisingly – at a consistency like jello or pudding. Some then top the mixture with a sauce made from tuna fruits. Here, Reyna made a special sauce from sugar and cochineal, a small insect that lives in nopal cacti, and whose red dye is frequently used as a coloring ingredient. An astoundingly unique dish, and one that will be very difficult to re-create in Chicago.

Overall, this cooking class was an awesome experience. Even with all the time we spent cooking, Reyna had been preparing many of the ingredients for the dishes the day before. Indeed, our greatest experience from this class was the amount of concentrated effort and love labors put into this food: how the effort at grinding salsas by hand in a molcajete imparts a different (and better!) flavor than just putting them in a blender; how grinding corn in a metate that has been used for years creates a unique texture necessary for a any good zegueza. We highly encourage you to check out Reyna’s class the next time you are in Oaxaca; or, failing that, to check out her family’s restaurant: Tlamanalli. You won’t be disappointed!

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Eating Oaxaca

Totally jealous of Mexico Cooks’ recent food journey to Oaxaca. It is definitely high on our to-go list (even though lucky M has already been there).

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