In the Mexican resort town of Cabo San Lucas, it can be hard to find authentic Mexican cuisine. Why? Because Cabo San Lucas is a relatively new holiday destination developed primarily for tourists. Before it became an oasis of luxury resorts, golf courses and margarita bars, Cabo San Lucas was a little fishing village on the edge of the desert. An extensive, authentic Mexican cuisine didn’t really exist there, but it has recently arrived – brought by Mexican nationals from other parts of the country who have come to Cabo San Lucas to share in the advantages of the tourist economy.
I learned about the culinary landscape of Cabo San Lucas from Donna Somerlott, an American expat who has been living, traveling and cooking in Mexico for over 35 years. She teaches cooking classes at her home, “Casa de Colores,” in Cabo San Lucas.
I contacted Donna through her website about a cooking class on a particular day. She was available and, since I was the first person to inquire about that date, she let me choose the menu. On the day of the class, five other cooks and I joined Donna at her stunning, desert garden home for a half-day lesson on chiles rellenos.
Donna welcomed us to her open and airy upstairs kitchen with hibiscus tea and a brief introduction to authentic Mexican cooking.
She began our lesson with one of the most basic building blocks of Mexican cooking: salsas. First, we charred red Roma tomatoes on a hot, dry comal with onion, garlic and serrano chiles. Instead of grinding the charred vegetables in a stone molcajete, however, we pulsed them in a blender – carefully adding the serrano chiles at the end to make sure that the heat of the “salsa de molcajete” was just right. (Donna reminded us that “pain is not a flavor” and recommended increasing the heat little by little.) The result was a light, fresh and flavorful salsa.
We set a portion of the salsa de molcajete aside to enjoy, then Donna taught us how to take it to the next level. She heated a splash of oil in a deep soup pot, poured the remaining salsa de molcajete into it and simmered the mixture for about ten minutes. Donna called the technique “frying” a salsa. The result was a thickened and more concentrated salsa similar to a marinara.
Next, Donna taught us to toast dried guajillo chiles on a comal, plump them in hot water, puree and sieve them. We added the loose guajillo paste to the thickened salsa for an even deeper, richer flavor.
We added cream to the thick, rich salsa and used it to finish the first of three chiles rellenos dishes. Using the dry heat of the comal, we toasted ancho chiles (which are dried poblano chiles), reconstituted them in hot water, seeded and stuffed them with shredded asadero melting cheese. Then, Donna showed us how to submerge the stuffed chiles in the sauce, allowing the heat of the salsa to melt the cheese and finish the dish.
After the stuffed chiles simmered, covered, for just a few minutes, they were ready to serve with just a sprinkle of fresh cilantro. Homemade chiles rellenos in a cilantro cream sauce. . . voila!
Using the same technique of toasting, reconstituting and seeding dried chiles, we next prepared a batch of chipotle peppers for stuffing. Because the chipotles (which are dried and smoked jalapenos) tend to be spicy, they pair well with sweet flavors. We sautéed sliced plantains in butter, added fresh squeezed orange juice and mashed them with raisins and crumbly queso fresco cheese. Then we stuffed the chipotles with the plantain mixture, breaded and crumb-fried them. Served with a bit of sour cream, they were perfect finger food to enjoy alongside a sampling of Mexican tequila.
For our last dish, we prepared fresh poblano peppers by roasting them over an open flame and removing the charred skin and seeds.
After stuffing the poblanos with shredded queso asadero, we dipped them in a light, fluffy egg batter and fried them quickly until golden brown.
Before going our separate ways, several of us eagerly purchased comal grills just like Donna’s, in hopes that we could recreate some of the dishes from Casa de Colores back at home. Buen provecho!
If You Go
To schedule a class at “Casa de Colores” in Cabo San Lucas, send Donna a message using the comment feature on the website. The cost for a half day class is $50 per person for a minimum of four participants. (The price increases slightly for less than four people per class.) You can pay in cash on the day of the class using either pesos or US dollars. Prior to the class, Donna will send you directions to the meeting point, which will differ depending on whether you are driving or taking a taxi.
A version of this post was previously published on May 24, 2016 in The Culinary Travel Guide as “Cooking in Cancun and Cabo San Lucas: Two Foodie Finds in Mexican Resort Towns.”