Oaxacan-Inspired Recipes, from Easy to Complex to Daring

Authentic Oaxacan Food
Authentic Oaxacan Food

Following her stunning work as Cleo in Alfonso Cuarón’s award-winning film Roma, Oaxacan-born Yalitza Aparicio is in the limelight and representing a side of Mexico that is refreshingly way less Univision than we’re used to seeing in the media.

In honor of Aparicio’s Oaxacan homeland, an area rich with culinary traditions that date back through the ages, here are a handful of recipes that cover some of the classic flavors and ingredients you’d find in the state:

Nieve de Coco

Vendors on the streets of Oaxaca will sell you refreshing nieves, milk- or water-based ice creams, to get you through a sunny day of strolling through the local markets.

This vegan recipe for nieve de coco (coconut ice) from Rick Bayless is a simple, creamy and icy treat that you can serve up any time you want to imagine you’re surrounded by the Sierra Madre mountains that run through the state. You can follow his directions and bring this dish together by hand. Or, pour the mixture into an ice cream maker until it’s frozen to your liking.

Oaxacan Old Fashioned

While a “Oaxacan Old Fashioned” is definitely not a traditional Oaxacan drink, this modern cocktail is twist on an American classic, Don Draper’s drink of choice, the Old Fashioned.

Instead of using American whiskey as the base of the drink, this recipe that originated at a storied cocktail lounge in New York City uses aged tequila and mezcal to bring you a nice buzz. Both tequila and mezcal are produced from agave, but mezcal comes from a slow-growing species of agave that gives it its unique flavor, ranging from grassy and bright to an almost scotch-like smokiness. The cocktail is simple: three parts reposado tequila, one part mezcal, a dash of Angostura bitters, sweetened a bit to taste and garnished with a twist of orange.

Mole Negro: Rich, Dark, and Savory

There are seven different types of mole endemic to Oaxaca, but the one that usually comes to mind if you’re not super familiar with Mexican cuisine is mole negro, the one that’s made with chocolate.

This recipe from Saveur for mole negro — a rich, nearly-black sauce with sweet, earthy, and smoky flavors — requires you to have nearly 20 different ingredients on hand, including three different kinds of dried Mexican chiles, five spices, and other items like bittersweet chocolate and prunes that might not be pantry staples in your household.

If you’re up for the culinary challenge, visit your local Hispanic market to pick up each of the required components and get ready to make a big batch of this typical, Oaxacan sauce. Use immediately and serve with cooked chicken — or if you want to be really traditional, use turkey. Turkey has been raised as livestock in Oaxaca since around 500 AD. Mole negro freezes well, so divvy up any excess into freezer-safe containers for future use.

Chapulines

If you happen to know of a good grasshopper vendor, you can make this genuinely satisfying snack of chapulines, seasoned with chili-lime salt. Chapulines have been harvested in Oaxaca since before the arrival of conquistadors and are still a staple of Oaxacan cuisine, as snacks, a component of a main dish, and ground up as a condiment. (Try rimming your glass of Oaxacan Old Fashioned with some ground up chapulines.)

There’s nothing squishy or bug-like about this snack; chapulines become crispy and light when cooked. This particular recipe is inspired by the one that the Seattle Mariners began serving a couple of years ago at their home games. “I like them. They’re crunchy and spicy,” said one fan in an interview with ESPN. “It’s kind of like nuts, but not totally.” Seriously, give it a try.