Mexican Makeover

By Jessie Price, January/February 2009

How one spa gives a fresh, light twist to south-of-the-border favorites.

Rancho La Puerta opened its cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta (The Kitchen That Sings), in 2007, right next to a six-acre organic garden that supplies much of the fresh produce for the Ranch and the school. School director Antonia Allegra said the plan from the start was “to teach guests the connection between the garden, cooking and eating.”

Back in the kitchen we got down to the cooking and eating part of class. Chef Jesús talked us through the nine dishes we were going to cook, which blended Mediterranean influences with the traditions of his native Mexican cuisine. When we got to our cooking stations the ingredients were laid out, including bundles of fresh herbs everywhere. Part of the key to the Ranch’s high-flavor, healthy food, as in EatingWell recipes, is to use plenty of fresh herbs so you can cut back on salt and fat without sacrificing flavor. I made a tamale pie (basically tamales, casserole-style) and loaded up the dough with fresh oregano from the garden. Two other women prepared a magically quick mole to top the tamale pie. “Everything we make here should be delicious and healthy and easy to make too,” Chef Jesús told us. And it was. About an hour after we started, we sat down to enjoy our feast.

Packing up at the end of the week, I was determined to bring home some of my Ranch bliss. OK, maybe I couldn’t recreate all of it. My boss wouldn’t appreciate me spending every afternoon on a massage table. And I wouldn’t have Haley to spur on any wind sprints. But Chef Jesús’ simple, healthy recipes are easy to recreate anywhere. Following are some of my favorites, from that tamale pie I made to a creamy-silky vanilla flan topped with candied walnuts. Here’s to a taste of the Ranch in your kitchen and mine.

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