Cristian Reyes | The Poly Post

CPP students cook a classic Mexican dish with a Native American twist

By Cristian Reyes, Nov. 22, 2022

On Nov. 16, the Cal Poly Pomona Native American Student Center and Estudiante de Dietética program collaborated to host a cooking workshop to teach students how to make quesadillas with a twist of ingredients.  

Students gathered in building 7 to learn how to make homemade flour tortillas while also learning about the history of certain foods and Native American culture.  

This cooking workshop was the first collaboration event between NASC and the Estudiante de Dietética program. NASC is an organization on campus that provides support to Native American students by providing resources and creating innovative learning opportunities.  

The Estudiante de Dietética program is a Spanish nutrition program helping students to understand Hispanic culture and nutrition information that can impact food purchases to improve diets.  

Stephanie Serpas Jacobo, program administrator for Estudiante de Dietetica, explained her reasoning for the collaboration with NASC.  

“We noticed that a lot of Native American community members also spoke Spanish,” said Jacobo. “So, I thought it would be a really wonderful opportunity for our Spanish nutrition program to somehow collaborate with our Native American Student Center.”  

Jacobo mentioned the program helps with the annual pumpkin festival in October and puts out nutrition booths near building 2. The partnership with NASC allows students to find more ways to get involved on campus.  

The host of this workshop was Abe Sanchez, a founding member of the Chia Café Collective an organization working with Native American communities to improve their diets. 

Cristian Reyes | The Poly Post

Sanchez has been teaching students about Indigenous foods for 20 years. This was their first time at CPP, but they have previously visited other schools such as California State University, San Marcos, University of California, Los Angeles and Cal State Fullerton teaching students about Indigenous foods. Sanchez brought with him unique ingredients such as mesquite flour and grasshoppers to make cook a classic Mexican dish, a quesadilla. 

Sanchez’s workshop emphasized the mesquite bean, a sustainable bean that is high in protein and other nutrients but is becoming more and more unutilized.  

“We have to really work on not being victims or consumers of processed foods, a very hard thing to do because they’re cheap,” said Sanchez. “We have to really start thinking of foods that are available to us and foods that are going to be sustainable and good for us as well.” 

Students first entered the kitchen by washing their hands and putting on aprons. While Sanchez engaged with them as they each introduced themselves. After talking about current diets and the history of the mesquite beans, Sanchez organized students into two stations: the tortilla making station and the salsa making station.  

The tortilla station used ingredients such as mesquite flour, butter, water and more to make the tortilla flour. The salsa making station used ingredients such as tomatoes, serrano peppers, cilantro, onions, garlic and grasshoppers.  

Students had to chop, roast and grind ingredients. Some students used a molcajete, a stone bowl and baton, to grind them together meanwhile, the tortilla station needed to mix ingredients together and put the dough to rest for a couple of minutes. 

 “I had a lot of fun, it exceeded my expectations,” said Aiden Armienta, a third-year business marketing major. “I came in here wanting to learn how to make tortillas, but I walked away with more education about the mesquite.” 

Once the tortilla dough was done resting, students then had to roll and knead it. At the other station, once the salsa was done all the students then went over to the tortilla station as they made little balls of dough from the big dough.  

After that, Sanchez demonstrated how to roll out the dough as thin as possible and would help students flip tortillas on the stove and get them ready in a small towel. Once all the tortillas were cooked, students cleaned their stations and were ready to eat.  

Students lined up to get tortillas and insert cheese and topped it off with salsa. Some students decided to melt the cheese inside the tortilla on the stove making it a traditional quesadilla.  

The cooking workshop allowed students to come together and not only learn about the Native American culture, but also learn how to improve their diet while making an appetizing Mexican dish. 

NASC and the Estudiante de Dietetica program expressed their hopes to collaborate on more events in the future and plan on producing an event for Earth Day next March.   

 Feature image courtesy of Cristian Reyes

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