While Ireland is believed to be touched by magic, and the home of hidden treasures, most people would never think to look for an authentic Mexican cooking class in Dublin. But at Picado, a small specialty market an easy walk from Dublin’s central tourist district, Lily Ramirez-Foran and her husband Alan Foran sell authentic Mexican groceries, kitchen goods and decorations imported from Spain and Mexico, and regularly host tastings, food clubs, and very hands on cooking classes. I was fortunate enough to enroll in their enchilada class, and had some very American notions of enchiladas replaced with new skills, fond memories, a satisfied palate, and an empty plate (or three).
When the time comes for cooking class, Lily and Alan move things around, just so, and transform their modest storefront into a cleverly designed dining area and teaching kitchen.
Because space is limited, and she wants to keep things casual, conversational, and inclusive, Lily tells me they generally limit class sizes to around 6-8 people, but can accommodate more under special circumstances (so please inquire if your group is larger). Thus, our class of six came together on a wet Dublin Friday night, determined to learn the secrets of authentic Mexican enchiladas.
Growing up in the United States, I only knew enchiladas as those giant, cheesy sauce-drenched flour tortilla creations that are baked and served three to a plate. The first thing I learned in Lily and Alan’s class was that those are not what the good people of Mexico know as enchiladas. Around the Mexican table enchiladas are smaller, and are made with corn tortillas and an emphasis on a variety of sauces and uncomplicated fillings.
First, Lily taught us to make three sauces: a rich, smoky, mole-based sauce; then a tomato-based sauce; and, last, a tomatillo-based green (verde) sauce. Finally, a simple collection of fillings was prepared, including shredded chicken, lettuce/greens, cheese, and potatoes. The fillings, while done well, are not intended to be the stars of the show. They are meant to pair well with the sauces, bringing out the best in each. Individual enchiladas are kept small, so each person can try 5-8 and experiment with a range of flavors and combinations, or simply overindulge in their favorite.
Though I knew they had a better taste than flour tortillas and were better for me, I’ve always struggled to heat corn tortillas in a way that keeps them from becoming dry and brittle during the meal. As the class progressed, Lily demonstrated how to heat corn tortillas in a way that uses a utensil found in nearly every kitchen, and turns out soft pliable tortillas that are easy to fill and roll.
Casually tossing out secrets she’s picked up over decades of cooking, Lily has an informal teaching style that feels less like instruction and more like advice from a friend. At one point, while roasting peppers she disabused us of the notion that all of the heat is in the seeds of the pepper (hint: some is but the really hot stuff is not in the seeds).
NOTE: These and Lily’s other practical kitchen tips (like how to sniff a pepper for freshness and heat) have proven to be invaluable in the days since I took her class.
But Lily’s best advice is teaching students the tricks to properly filling and rolling the enchiladas, pairing the sauces with ingredients, and creating their own special mix. You see, there are no rules here, except “NO GIANT ENCHILADAS”.
With all of the ingredients prepared, we each assembled a few enchiladas, and compared them to Lily’s professional grade samples, had a few laughs at our own expense, and got down to the serious business of eating, and questioning her about buying Mexican ingredients in Ireland and how she and Alan came to run Ireland’s premiere Mexican shop.
After a leisurely and filling dinner, we all departed with a pre-printed booklet of enchilada instructions, tips, and history, and plans to return the next day (when the store was open again) to buy the ingredients to make enchiladas at home. And, I must admit, I bought a few things that I didn’t strictly “need” but had been eyeing on the shelves all throughout class.
Overall, the enchilada class at Picado is a blend of practical and useful information, history, good food, and as the crowd is self-selecting, usually spirited and friendly conversation among foodies. While it’s particularly useful for locals, who will benefit from information about the local food scene, for out of town visitors it’s a great way to get to know more about Dublin, visit a lively local neighborhood, and take home a seriously off-the-beaten-path (non-pub) memory of their time in Dublin.
NOTE: Because Lily and Alan do their own importing they still suffer a bit with consistency of supply. But, as small traders, they give much better service than larger suppliers, and have a better sense of what they are getting in and when you can expect it to arrive.
Text and photos by Glenn D. Kaufmann
44A South Richmond Street (in Portobello, a bit less than a block north of the canal)
Website – http://www.picadomexican.com/
The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research, which led us to the following sources of information:
1. Personal Interviews and experiences