Art Cooking: Frida Kahlo | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios


[MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: Throughout
history, food has served as subject matter,
inspiration, and, of course, sustenance for artists. Food has also been the art
on a number of occasions. Today, we’re going to explore
the recipes of an artist who closely identified herself with
her birth country of Mexico– its history, its vivid colors,
and most certainly, its food. You may have heard of her. We’re working from the cookbook,
“Frida’s Fiestas,” compiled by Marie-Pierre Colle and
Guadalupe Rivera, Diego Rivera’s daughter, who lived
with her father and Frida for a number of years. Oh, and I have a helper today,
the unrivaled Rosianna Halse Rojas. Now, Frida liked to
throw elaborate fiestas with multiple courses,
but we’re just going to make a few dishes– two from the menu from Frida
and Diego’s wedding feast– chiles stuffed with cheese
and tomato broth, a.k.a. chiles rellenos, and
white rice with plantains. And then, we’re going
to make a nopales salad from a different menu,
which was enjoyed by Frida and Lupe and
friends during a boat ride in the canals at Xochimilco. And then we’re going to cap it
all off with a shot of tequila, because that’s what
Frida would have wanted. And if we’ve learned
anything from our cooking, it’s to never cook hungry. So when you go to your
local Mexican grocery to buy our ingredients, stop
by the bakery and grab some pan dulce to tide you over. We’re going to start by doing
some prep for the tomato broth– slicing our tomatoes in half,
putting them on a cookie sheet and into a 425-degree oven
to roast for about 30 minutes or until they look good
and smell really tomato-y Then, we thinly sliced
an onion, showing off our middling but
sufficient knife skills. And we give the same
treatment to two carrots, knife work moderately
improved but still not great. Then, we move over
to the stove top and get going on roasting our
poblano peppers for our chiles rellenos, which we’re going
to do directly over the gas flame using tongs to awkwardly
turn them this way and that, until all sides are
blackened and blistered. When I roasted chiles
for our O’Keefe video, I pained many of you by subbing
poblanos for New Mexico chiles, which I now know is sacrilege. But I couldn’t help, because
I couldn’t find them. Anyway, last time I
roasted them in the oven, but it made the
kind of fall apart. And this way, they stay
together a little better. And once they’re blackened
all over, put them into a bowl and cover them to steam
so that the skin loosens. This is going to
take a million years, even using two
burners at a time. So let’s throw out a story time. Frida Kahlo did depict food
in her paintings at times– still lifes of brightly
colored fruits cut open and displayed in such
ways that they were often interpreted as erotic. But she’s mostly known for
her outstanding portraiture, through which she explored
a wide range of subjects and ideas, and very often,
her own image in life. Through her self
portraits and in the way she presented herself
to the camera, Kahlo demonstrated her clear
and intentional expression of Mexican identity. Her father was a German
immigrant and her mother of Mexican descent. And although she was
strongly influenced by the European avant
garde, she celebrated all things indigenous to Mexico,
including folk art styles and practices, the traditional
clothing of Zapotec women, from Tehuantapec, Oaxaca,
and most certainly, cooking. This was not just personal
preference but also a political position. She joined the Communist
Party pre-Diego and throughout her life
was politically engaged, attending rallies and
meetings, and even feeding and harboring none
other than Leon Trotsky. Yes Frida suffered terrible
pain throughout her life because of a street car
accident when she was 18. And yes, she married
a scoundrel muralist who was recklessly adulterous
but whom she loved anyway. And yes, she also
carried on many affairs throughout her life
with men and with women. And if you want more of
that, go watch the movie. Today, we’re exploring
Kahlo’s celebratory approach to meals and to life. And at long last, we
have the chiles all scorched and steaming
in a covered bowl. And we’re going to get
the tomato sauce going. We’ll heat up a skillet and add
two tablespoons of olive oil and then saute the
sliced onions and carrots until the onion is translucent. Now, we’ll pull our
tomatoes from the oven. There are lots of
different ways to do this, and the recipe isn’t specific. But we’re going to hack at
them a bit to remove the seeds, the little stem connector
area thingy, and also peel off the skin. I watched a lot of
chiles rellenos experts make other videos on YouTube,
and you should really watch those for tips. But this is clearly not
the most expedient method. You’ll then throw
them into the skillet with the onions and carrots,
along with the called for, but excessive, three
tablespoons of sugar and a quarter cup
of vinegar, which I made the executive decision to
reduce from the requested half cup. Salt and pepper to taste. And here, you add two
teaspoons of dried oregano, while I’m going to
forget to do so. Let that cook down, and then
put on a big pot of water to boil for the nopales. It’s now time to prep for
the white rice, which you’ll do by grating half
of a small onion or a quarter of the monster
onions we have here in the US, bred by experts at Monsanto. This one’s a real
tearjerker, by the way. We’re weeping as much or
more than these coconuts she painted in 1951. Then, we grate a garlic clove
into the mix and set it aside. While we’re at the cutting
board, let’s prep the nopales. We’re asked to
remove the needles, and I’m going to do
that by using a trick I learned from You Suck At
Cooking– by whacking them firmly with a pan. See? All clean. Then, we’re going to use
the magic pan once more to slice the pads into
thin strips like this. It’s really the best way. Don’t let anyone
tell you otherwise. Then, we clear the decks and
chop an onion for the salad, or a part of an onion
that I’m guessing is equivalent to a 1929 onion. Throw that into a bowl, and
then, cut up the chiles. She asked for three
serranos or jalapenos, and because we’re wussies, we’re
going with just two serranos. And we’re going to
seed one of them. Throw those in with the onion,
and then chop up some cilantro and add that to the
bowl too, adding two tablespoons of
vinegar and half a cup or maybe a little
less olive oil. No judgment, Frida. This is the point where
you’ll add a few medium chopped tomatoes,
which I would do if I hadn’t roasted all of mine
and added them to the sauce. But give this a stir, and
set it and your regret aside. It’s now plantain prep time. And you’re supposed
to pick ones that are really black on
the outside, but these were the ripest I could find
that weren’t total mush. So slice these on the
diagonal and set aside. I regret to inform you that it’s
now poblano peeling time, which takes forever. Or at least, it
takes us forever. So let’s return to
our story for a bit. Kahlo married Rivera
when she was just 22, and learned to cook from both
her mother’s copy of “The New Mexican Cook,” and in
soul-crushing news, from Rivera’s previous wife,
Guadalupe Marin, the mother of our cookbook author. Alas, this is how
Kahlo learned to make Rivera’s favorite dishes,
which she would sometimes bring to him for lunch wherever
he was off painting murals in a lovingly arranged
basket, at least in their heady, early days. But Kahlo and Rivera were
known for their epic dinner parties, which she called
“Dias de los manteles largos,” or “The days of the
long table cloths,” entertaining artists, friends,
and visiting dignitaries often in their house outside of
Mexico City, La Casa Azul. She constructed a vibrant world
around herself, so much so that a friend once
commented, “Every day, Frida made the table into a
still life for Diego.” I think it’s fair to say he
was pleased with her cooking. And after we’re
all peeled, you’re going to make an incision
in the side of each chile and scoop out the
seeds and veins to the best of your ability. This also takes forever,
so let’s speed it up. When those are done,
clean up the copious mess it makes, and move back over to
the cooktop, where your tomato sauce has cooked
down quite nicely. Throw the nopales slices into
the boiling water, which we’re instructed to do to remove
the slippery coating, and cook until tender. For the white rice, heat a
pan and add three tablespoons corn oil, then, a cup of rice. This is jasmine, but
it doesn’t specify. Saute the race for
a minute or so, and then add the grated
onion and garlic. When it sounds like
sand as it’s stirred, they say, add a celery
stalk, two cups of broth. I’m using vegetable, but
she asked for chicken, and the juice of half a line. You’ll notice that our
menu today is vegetarian, and that’s because
we’re still making amends for our horrendous
futurist meat sculpture. But Frida ate a ton of meat,
and the dishes we’re making would have been accompanied
by various forms of protein, like a turkey or duck mole, or
a braised pork stew, or both. Bring the rice to a boil. Cover to reveal
your camera setup, and lower the heat, simmering
until the rice is tender– about 20 minutes. Hi, camera. You’re doing a great job. At this point, I realize our
tomato broth isn’t at all broth-like, so I follow the
instruction of the chile rellenos YouTube experts. Dump everything into a blender
and puree, returning it to the pan like
nothing ever happened. There! Much more broth-like. Our nopales are now
good and tender meat. So we pull them out,
rinse them in cold water, and wrap them in a dish
towel that has also been soaked in cold water. Squeeze that, and then
allow it to drain. This is all to make
them less slippery. It’s now serious chiles
rellenos production time. And while Rosianna stuffs
each of the chiles with queso fresco, I’m making the
batter we’ll dip them in. Separate the yolks from
the whites of five eggs, and then beat the
whites at a high speed. While that’s happening,
whisk the yolks with a pinch of salt. When
the whites hold stiff peaks– yeah, that’ll work–
then turn around to check the recipe
to see what it says. And then, carefully
fold in the yolks. This is your very eggy– in fact, entirely eggy, batter. Then, we set up for some frying. In a cast iron pan, we’ve heated
about an inch of corn oil. And in a smaller skillet, we
have a slightly more moderate amount. While Rosianna fries
up the plantain slices, I lightly dust each chile with
flour, dip it into the batter, and then place it into the oil. In some cases, I stitched
close the opening in the chile with toothpicks, but it didn’t
seem to really help that much. You don’t want to crowd
these things in the oil. And when one side is golden,
flip it over and cook it until all sides are nice
and lightly browned. Then, remove and let it drain on
a wire rack or on brown paper. If you want to keep
these warm as you go, stick them into a
250-degree oven. Go through this
process repeatedly, and while you’re doing
so, think about all of the aspects of Frida’s
work that we have not discussed here. And go back and look
at images of her work, because there’s
really so much there. Her paintings are rich and
compelling and disturbing, and have immeasurable
depths to plumb. The texture and history
and vibrancy of her work was echoed in the life she
built up around herself. You’ll have plenty
of time to do this while you fry all of your
chiles, or at least all of the ones that have
the structural integrity to make the trip. Here, you try but fail
to resist the urge to mention that Frida
herself didn’t really have the structural integrity
to make the trip of life, but she did so anyway,
and with aplomb. We pulled the plantains when
they were nice and golden too. It’s time to assemble
the nopales salad. And we’ll add our not too
slippery strips to our onion mixture and toss together. Because of our tomato
error, we decided to add some avocado instead. Is there anything that’s
not better with avocado? Finally, we’re ready to plate. After discarding the celery from
the rice, we put it in a bowl, placed the plantains on
top, and served it up. Then, onto the plate
goes some tomato sauce. I just can’t call this a broth. A chile and a little more
sauce on top of that. On goes the nopales salad,
a little plate cleanup, and we’re good to go. Wait, after all
of this hard work, we definitely deserve a
little tequila, right? Did you know that one
of Frida’s parrots was trained to squawk,
“No me pasa la cruda,” or “I can’t get over
this hangover,”? It’s really terrible. Awful. Never make this. Just kidding! It’s super good. You should make this and have
a day of the long table cloths and share it with your friends
and family as Frida would have. And to close, I shall invoke
one of the last paintings Frida ever made, “Viva la Vida.” This episode is
supported, in part, by viewers like you
through Patreon, a subscription-based
platform that allows you to support the
creators you like in the form of a monthly donation. Special thanks to
our grand master of the arts, Indianapolis
Homes Realty. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Dereck Turner

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