Los Dos Cooking School

August 6, 2008 at 8:41 pm 1 comment

On April 17, which also happens to be my birthday, we were on our honeymoon, in Mérida, Yucatan, and spending the day with Chef David Sterling at Los Dos Cooking School. The full week’s adventures are chronicled on our travel blog, but I felt that the experience at Los Dos deserved a post on this blog, as well.

Los Dos was 95 percent of the reason we included Mérida in our trip. The cooking school has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, and Gourmet, but we first heard about it on a television episode of Rick Bayless‘ Mexico: One Plate at a Time.

Chef David Sterling might be a gringo from Oklahoma, but he knows his stuff when it comes to Yucatecan cuisine and history. Our favorite way to “get” the culture of any place we visit is through its food, and Los Dos is the place to go to learn about Yucatecan food.

Our morning started with breakfast at the school. We met a couple from the Netherlands (she was Portuguese, he was German) and two New Yorkers, one who owned a bed and breakfast in Mérida. After introductions, the history lesson began.

The most important thing to know, said Chef Sterling, is that there is a difference between Mexican and Yucatecan food. Yucatecans will say, “Let’s go have some Mexican food.” Yucatecan cuisine is a fusion of native Mayan food with European influences. In traditional Yucatecan cuisine, there are no enchiladas, jalapeños, or many of the other foods with which we’re familiar. You can bet it’s still spicy, though. Yucatecans use the habanero, an extremely hot pepper believed to originally have been taken to the peninsula from Cuba. I tried the habanero salsa (I’m Texan, dammit. I had to represent!), but I don’t feel the need to do so again any time soon.

That morning we learned about everything from Mayan farming to the origins of chocolate to the history of local spices and how Christopher Columbus misnamed spices, such as calling allspice “big pepper.” Chef Sterling recommended three books: Spice, The True History of Chocolate, and America’s First Cuisines.

Next we gathered our things and headed out to the mercado to buy the groceries for the recipes we were to cook. Guidebooks describe this market as “Mexico with no holds barred; not some sanitized gringo version of a Mexican artisan’s market, so be prepared.” Chef Sterling gave us fair warning that if we got lost, he would never see us again. Keep up with the group. Check.

Mérida’s municipal market is a vast, noisy affair. You’ll find clothes, shoes, art, hardware, stoves, hammocks, rope, jewelry, vegetables and produce, meat, chicken and even live birds. There’s a section I tried to ignore that Chef Sterling said, “blurs the line between food and pet.” The produce sections were full of unusual varieties of squash, fruits, and spices. My favorite new find was chaya, which is similar to kale or spinach, but with two to three times more nutritional content.

Back to Los Dos
After making it out of the market alive, we had two taxis waiting to take us back to Los Dos. We spent the afternoon making tortillas, Pollo Pibil, Arroz Verde, and my favorite Los Dos recipe, Crema de Cilantro. Crema de Cilantro is essentially a leek and potato soup, a recipe that’s thousands of years old, but a relatively new addition to Yucatecan cuisine. Chef Sterling’s recipe has been “Mexicanized” by adding squash for texture and taste, serrano chiles for heat, and cilantro for fresh, aromatic flavor. We ate it hot, but it is supposed to be just as delicious when served chilled.

While everything finished cooking, Chef Sterling invited us to have a cerveza and put our feet in the pool. Half an hour later we came inside for a big, satisfying Yucatecan meal.

Crema de Cilantro

  • 1 lb. calabaza (pattypan squash or zucchini), stems removed and cubed
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cubed
  • 8 cups chicken stock (I use vegetable stock.)
  • 2 large leeks, chopped, including about 1 inch of green (Substitute: 3-4 large spring onions, or a mix of onions and leeks)
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 chiles serranos, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 cups cilantro, rinsed, finely chopped and firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup Mexican crema (Substitute: créme fraîche, plain yogurt, or sour cream)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • One recipe Totopos
  • 10 squash blossoms (optional), cleaned
  • 4 Tbs. cilantro, rinsed and finely chopped

STEP 1: IN A LARGE SAUCEPAN CONTAINING THE STOCK, cook the cubes of squash and potatoes for approximately 20 minutes, or until vegetables are very tender.

STEP 2: MEANWHILE, IN A LARGE SKILLET, sauté the leeks, garlic and chiles in the butter until the leeks are translucent. Add to the potato/squash mixture; stir and continue cooking, returning to a simmer, approximately five minutes. Using a handheld immersible blender, purée the ingredients until fine. Add the cilantro and purée again as above to incorporate all ingredients. Add crema and purée one last time until thoroughly blended. Check for seasonings.

STEP 3: TO SERVE, ladle hot soup into warmed bowls. In the center of each serving, float a few of the totopos on top of the soup. Then float one squash blossom per bowl on top of the strips. Sprinkle finely chopped cilantro over the entire bowl including the rim.

More Photos at Los Dos


Entry filed under: Travel + places. Tags: , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Kim  |  August 7, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Now that sounds like a tasty leek soup. Not that we don’t have our own version in France, but those chilies are calling to me.


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