This book was suggested to me by a friend who had attended several of Susana Trilling's cooking courses in Oaxaca, Mexico. The friend then demonstrated what she had learned by making me and my husband a breakfast of mole negro Oaxaqueño - a super-complex, myriad-ingredient festival dish that contains chocolate, five types of dried chillies, almonds, peanuts, raisins, plantain and tomatillos, among many other things. My friend's copy of the book was dog-eared and had Post-it notes marking the recipes she had tried. She couldn't praise it enough.
Trilling is an American chef who left New York and moved to Oaxaca - the state many Mexican friends most recommend for its food.
Trilling's description of the place makes it sound so picturesque it's almost a cliché: "Oaxaca invites a deep appreciation of Mexican culture. Here time has stood still in the small village … I was enchanted with every burro laden with corn going to the mill, every house-drawn cart filled with alfalfa for the cows and horses … I loved the women who could balance huge trays with watermelon slices, as well as countless other products, on their heads, carry babies on their backs in rebozos (shawls) and take time to arrange beautiful altars for their patron saints in their homes or market stalls.
"When I came to live here full time, I was introduced to the other end of the food chain. I had always been a chef, but had never grown a thing in my life … What a revelation to grow, harvest and clean our own produce … We planted a variety of crops and learned the hard way that people here are very traditional and are not interested in trying new foods. The cooking techniques are ancient … Oaxacans are proud of their food, and rightly so, for its flavour can be subtle or very intense, but always pure Oaxaqueño."
Trilling divides the book into the seven regions, each with its own gastronomic culture, that make up Oaxaca. Most of the recipes are not that hard (apart from the moles - and she gives five versions) but it's going to be extremely difficult finding some of the ingredients (she occasionally suggests substitutes).
Dishes we can find the ingredients for in Hong Kong include fresh cheese in tomato sauce (use fresh mozzarella in place of the queso prensado or queso fresco, and skip the epazote leaves unless you can find the dried stuff); almond and chicken soup; pork ribs in spicy tomato sauce; smoked fish; grilled flounder with chipotle mayonnaise; sesame and pumpkin seed brittle; coconut or pineapple turnovers; and three-milk cake.