Dining in the Clouds/Sunday’s Special in the Sierra Juarez

Sunday is the day that Doña Leecha makes criollo potato and corn tortillas. Her restaurant Casa Piedra located at Rancho Benito Juarez in Oaxaca is located at a breathtaking 10,000 feet.

The best way to get there is by rented mini-van or by the old diesel bus that makes its daily trip up from the city of Oaxaca. The road leads up from the Zapotec weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle at 5,000 feet.
The hairpin curves are exhilarating not only for the fear factor but the views that become more spectacular after every successful turn.
The vegetation is lush: from pine trees to arbutus, the white flowers of the casahuate tree, to the furry red blooms of the tzompantle. The road side is lined with tall flowering sage and wild lupins and bromeliads jut out of every tree. Orchids of every shape, size and colour have already found their way to the local markets for the Christmas creche. (It’s Christmas season)
After 30 minutes of this nature study we emerge onto a plateau to the pueblo of Rancho Benito Juarez.
Giant agaves line the road and there are flowers everywhere. Every home has sloping fields of giant white and purple agapanthus and lilies of every description. We can’t help but stop at a home for bundles of Cala lilies before lunch.
Doña Leecha’s garden is what greets us at the entrance to Casa Piedra showing the first signs of a garbanzo bean crop and rows of Sweet Williams.
Since black beans can’t grow at this altitude and garbanzo beans are impossible 5,000 feet below in Teotitlan, a unique bean trade goes on between the two villages.
We gather in Doña Leecha’s tidy, efficient kitchen where she demonstrates her technique of making her signature tortillas.
The wild potatoes gathered from her garden are boiled and mashed and worked in with the yellow corn masa – also grown in her garden and hand ground on the metate. Once mixed, they are formed, pressed with a metal tortilla press and laid on the hot comal.

Look at the yellow corn, juicy with corn oil.
To further enjoy this weekly treat, Doña makes us warming cups of Atole Colorado, a fiesta beverage made from cacao, corn and red achiote. Here she demonstrates her skill at producing a perfect foam atop each bowl.

Our meal begins with a salad of wild watercress, tomato, cucumber and carrot, followed by a wonderful soup of carrot and green bean. Note the yin yang design. Nice one, Doña!
The tortillas keep coming, hot off the comal, and a bowl of stewed black beans are served for the table along with a fiery salsa of ground raw jalapenos, tomatillos and cilantro.
Our plato fuerte is tasajo seasoned with cumin and garlic. Sorry I don’t have photos, but I was too busy eating and enjoying this fantastic meal.
Dessert was ate (accent on the e), a common sweet in Oaxaca. This one was made from the seasonal tecojote (a fruit-bearing Mexican hawthorn). It is super concentrated in flavour, a result from boiling the fruit for a couple of hours, straining out the pits, and boiling again with a bit of sugar. The fruit has a lot of natural pectin making it set up nicely and had the flavour of a strong tea.
This amazing meal cost the equivalent of $5.00 U.S.

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