CASA OLINKA: AN OSIS IN PUEBLA CITY

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Casa Olinka features plants in every possible combination of repurposed materials that you could imagine.

 

This is one of those projects that is just plain old inspiring and fun!  Located close to the local autonomous university of Puebla, Casa Olinka is a house converted to oasis, and is carving out a space for learning and community building.  Casa Olinka is filled with teeming gardens and projects in process, and is born from creativity and a commitment to living low to the ground, even in a big city.  By cultivating a space that prioritizes the use of repurposed materials (for example the vertical gardens are built from repurposed wooden skids), utilizes water catchment systems, and has a focus on cultivating culinary plants, they hope to lead by example and create a space for their community to meet, learn together, and implement changes that work towards protecting the environment.  The space offers workshops that share the skills being learned and put to use in this project; it features a Vegetarian kitchen that of course incorporates the gifts of their gardens as well as local and seasonal produce (and when in Mexico this happens to be varied yet always bountiful); and a gallery that hosts photographs from one of the proprietors as well as art from visiting artists – and has hopes to further build events and opportunities. And who is behind this project?  None other than the powerful mom and son duo of Alfredo (Alfo) and Señora Luz María Juarez.

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Vertical herb gardens made from a repurposed skid.
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With a focus on edible plants there are some real gems in this garden.

I was very fortunate to be invited to visit the project and to attend a great variety of workshops ans events during my stay in Puebla.  Visiting a project like this is the inspirational juice that makes life….well… hopeful, fun, and rich.

For more information or to connect with them yourself visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/casa.olinka?fref=ts

One of my visits included a spectacular and simple meal, featuring stuffed portabello mushrooms, rice, and a salad that was dressed in a perfect melody of  tangy and fresh, bringing balance and light to the whole experience.  The real secret to what brought the meal to the next level though was the amazing people I shared it with and the hot sauce.  I’ve decided that these two ingredients are the secret to why everything tastes better in Mexico.

STUFFED PORTABELLO MUSHROOMS

First, start with making Salsa Mexican.

  • 6   roma tomatoes toasted/charred
  • 4  garlic cloves toasted/charred
  • 1  onion toasted/charred
  • 1/2 bunches cilantro
  • 25 ml lime juice

Process

  1. Charr the tomatoes, garlic, onion
  2. Use a blender to liquify all the ingredients.  Your goal is to leave texture and not turn it into soup. Add a little honey if it needs a little sweet.

Next, assemble the stuffed mushrooms….

  1. Clean and remove the stem from the mushrooms.  Grill them slightly.
  2. Fill them with the salsa.  Cook for 15 minutes in an oven at 350 F until the mushrooms are fully cooked
  3. Top with Oaxacan cheese or mozzarella if you can’t locate the good stuff (or really any cheese of your liking) and return to oven until it is melted. Turn on your broiler if you want to melt it quick and perhaps even brown it a little.

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THE HOTTEST MOST AMAZING SALSA DE CHILE ARBOL 

Chile arbol is really hot and has the possibility of really deep flavour.

  • 1 cup of peanuts no salt and untoasted.
  • 1 cup of chile arbol with the stems removed.
  • 3/4 cup olive oil (or more if you like)
  • salt to taste

Process

  1. Put peanuts in a dry frying pan and toast. 
  2. Wrap chiles in tinfoil and toast on a flat top, bbq, or in a cast iron fry pan (make sure heat is low to control the rate of toasting.  Turn once to toast both sides.  They are done when they are browning NOT black, and when you open the tinfoil and the fumes make you chock with their fiery heat. 
  3. Grind together in a molcajete or in a food processor if you don’t have/can’t work the molcajete….but with salsa’s it is traditionally known, and true that a salsa from the molcajete tastes better, always.
  4. Once ground in a chunky textured paste, stir in the olive oil and salt to taste (about a teaspoon)

 

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The meal!
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Spiral herb gardens are just one of the wonders that you can expect to greet you at Casa Olinka.

 

MAKING FRIENDS AT THE MARKET

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In making my plan to spend time n Mexico learning technique, flavour, tradition, and the intersection of community, learning, and justice in the kitchen, I hoped that I would spend time meeting Señoras in the marketplace with the intention to learn from them.  In all reality I just spent a lot of time in markets, and did my best to make friends.  My time with these women who were experts in all areas of my interest, were the moments that brought some of my richest learning and hilarity.

At the outer edges of a small local market in Puebla, I met Señora Edith.  A beautiful woman that rounded in at about 4 feet tall, wore a toothless grin that always managed to come off as mischievous, and with whom I often sat down beside and waited while she enjoyed one of her many daily naps. She indulged me in entire afternoons sharing her life history and secrets of the kitchen. Señora Edith, at her small market stand filled with overripe fruit and vegetables, offered me a lifetimes worth of advice – some of which pertained to the kitchen.  She also sold the most amazing sweet and fiery hot accompaniment for – well anything that calls for such a dressing, but my favourite occasion is plain roasted meat, or using my altered version, spreading it on a cracker topped with cheese. The mild fresh cheeses of Mexico made the most beautiful and smooth combination for my palate. It is no joke that on Saturday afternoons Poblano folks traveled from near and far to this tiny market for her magic chile love.

SEÑORA EDITH’S SWEET FIERY LOVE

  • 15 dried chipotle or modita chiles.  They should have a smokey smell and be of the dark variety.
  • 2.5 – 3 cups olive oil (the oil should land a good inch above all the ingredients once inside the pot)
  • 2 heads of garlic, cloves peeled and rough ends chopped off.
  • 1 cup of brown sugar or more to taste.  Remember sweet and fiery is the point.

Process

  1. Remove the stems from the chiles (you can take the seeds out as well if you want to tone it down a notch).
  2. Put the olive oil in a smallish pot and add the chilies and the skin and ends removed garlic cloves.
  3. Turn on low and let warm for an hour (chiles and garlic should be good and soft.
  4. Add sugar until disolves
  5. Salt to taste
  6. Señor Edith sold it as is, but I like to blend and strain it through a fine sieve so that it has the consistency of jam.

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