A Taste of Place: 6 Traditional Oaxacan Recipes

The Oaxaca region is rich in culture, diverse topography, and fertile agricultural land. Teotitlán del Valle is a small weaving village outside of Oaxaca City, world famous for its artisanal rugs and natural wool products. Its weavers are internationally recognized masters. Their carpets, or tapetes, are hand-loomed from naturally dyed wool using local materials and methods that have been developed over hundreds of years or longer.

The town also boasts numerous artisans who specialize in elaborate candle-making. Their sculptural, museum-quality candles and wax flowers are found throughout the churches of the valleys.

The Teotitlán region is also renowned for its unique, flavorful cuisine. Many of the traditional dishes of the region require fresh ingredients that have been used throughout Oaxaca since pre-Hispanic times.

A group of Zapotec women who belong to a Women’s Weaving Cooperative, Vida Nueva in Teotitlan, generously shared with students of the UVM Semester in Oaxaca* the following six recipes, from mouth-watering Tamale Frijoles to the delectable Salsa Verde.

6 Oaxacan Recipes you can Try at Home

Tamale Chepil
25 servings


  • 8 corn husks
  • 3 c. water
  • 2 lbs. Masa or 2 lbs. dried maize (masa mix)
  • ½ lb. Asiento (lard)
  • ¼ c. fresh or dried chepil (herb)
  • 1 ½ t. salt or to taste


  1. Cover corn husks in water and soak for 15-30 minutes.
  2. Separate husks into individual leaves and rinse using fresh water. Put corn husks aside.
  3. Then stir asiento into the masa. Slowly add water into mixture until the consistency looks like cottage cheese (it is possible that not all water will be used.)
  4. Add chepil and using your hands scrape the wall of the bowl with a scooping motion and press down in the center. Spread mixture into bottom half of corn husk.
  5. Fold right side of the husk in over the mixture and then the left side in on top of the right. Then fold the top down.
  6. Place finished tamales fold side down on a steamer for 40 minutes.

Mole Rojo


  • 1.5 cups prepared black mole paste
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 t lard
  • 3 roasted tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 t cumin
  • 4 avocado leaves
  • 8 mulato chiles
  • 8 pasilla mexicano chiles
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 t sesame seeds


  1. Clean the dried chilies with a damp cloth. Open the chilies by making a lengthwise slit down one side of each. Take out the seeds, veins and stems.
  2. Heat 3 t of the lard in a saucepan, and then lightly fry the chilies in it.
  3. In another pan, heat the remaining lard and sauté the raisins in it until they puff up and brown a bit. Add sesame seeds and lightly brown.
  4. Roast until browned the tomatoes, onion and garlic on a cast iron frying pan without fat.
  5. Place the spices, tomato mixture, chicken broth, mole paste, chiles, and avocado leaves into the blender. Blend until smooth. Heat entire mixture in large saucepan over low/medium heat until thickened.
  6. Place in bowl. Season with salt to taste. Serve on cooked rice.

Tamale Frijoles
25 servings


  • 50 avocado leaves
  • 3 c. pureed black beans
  • 8 corn husks
  • 2 t. salt or to taste
  • 2 lbs. masa (masa mix)
  • 3 c. water
  • Plastic bag


Soak corn husks in water for 15-30 minutes.

  1. Separate husks into individual leaves and rinse using fresh water. Then slowly add water into masa until it forms a moist dough.
  2. Form golf ball size balls of masa dough.
  3. Prepare the tortilla press by cutting the plastic bag at the zipper seam.
  4. Place the seam side of the plastic toward the hinge of the tortilla press.
  5. Place one ball of dough in between the plastic.
  6. Press down and then flip plastic with the tortilla and press again. Slowly peel off plastic.
  7. With tortilla resting in hand, place about 1 ½ tablespoons of bean puree and an avocado leaf inside the tortilla. Fold in sides to cover the puree.
  8. Flip the now formed tortilla. Using the bean puree as a side, put another avocado leaf on the backside. Place filled tortilla into corn husks.
  9. Proceed to fold sides over filling and the top down.
  10. Place fold side down on a steamer for 40 minutes.

Produces around 3 Cups


  • 2 ½ cups black beans
  • 1 cup reserved bean liquid
  • ½ small yellow onion diced
  • 4 arbol chilies
  • 3 avocado leaves
  • 1 garlic clove crushed


  1. Dice yellow onion and garlic clove.
  2. Blend all ingredients together in blender.
  3. Add bean liquid as necessary to achieve cake batter consistency.
  4. Serve as a side dish or use for the inside of tamales.

Salsa Verde (for the Sopa de Elote)


  • 9 fresh green chiles de arbol (can substitute for serranos)
  • 5-6 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons water


Dry roast the chilies until aromatic; avoid scorching the skin. Pour boiling water over chilies and allow them to soak for 5 minutes. Remove any scorched parts of the skin, stems, and seeds (optional: keep seeds for extra heat). Put chilies, garlic, and salt in a blender, adding water to facilitate blending. Serve in a small dish.

Quesadillas con Flor de Calabaza y Epazote
Makes approximately 16 quesadillas


  • 16 squash blossom petals, torn into thirds
  • ¾ cup of epazote leaves, torn in halves
  • ¼ pound of Oaxacan string cheese (quesillo) thinly shredded


  • Instant- Follow instructions for 1 pound of dough OR
  • Homemade- Go to your local tortilla factory and buy 1 pound of dough *(see below for further instructions) OR
  • Premade- Purchase 16 5″ tortillas

Heat griddle on med-high. Place uncooked tortilla on griddle and add a few petals of the squash blossom, a pinch of epazote and a handful of quesillo. Fold tortilla into a half-moon shape and let sit on griddle to let cook and melt cheese. Flip quesadilla. Cook approximately 5 minutes on each side, or until slightly brown.

This post was adapted from field journal collections by students of the Food Systems track of the UVM Oaxaca Semester Program.

*The University of Vermont offers a semester study abroad program in Oaxaca, a city located in the state of the same name about 300 miles south of Mexico City. The program offers three academic tracks: Arts & Sciences, Food Systems, and Global Health.