A few days ago I got back from a dream week in Baja California at the health spa Rancho La Puerta. It sounds like a deluxe vacation, but I was there to teach cooking classes at the spa’s cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta.
La Cocina Que Canta means “the kitchen that sings” in Spanish, and it’s fitting for the airy hacienda-style building that overlooks the spa’s six-acre organic farm, Tres Estrellas, from which the produce for the classes (and for many of the meals at the spa dining hall) is sourced.
The main campus of the spa is absolutely stunning, landscaped with both wildflowers and manicured gardens, and overlooked by mountains. Rancho didn’t get voted World’s Best Destination Spa by Travel & Leisure‘s readers in 2010 and 2011 for nothing!
But for me, the cooking school is my favorite spot at Rancho La Puerta. It truly looks enchanted, with a purple-flowered vine and a fountain adorning the entrance.
To get to the kitchen from the rest of the spa, you can either go on an early morning two-mile breakfast hike through the woods (offered a few times a week), or take a ten-minute ride over in a van for one of the lunch or dinner cooking classes.
Once there, you take a stroll through the farm with head gardener Salvador Tinajero, the man proudly holding the carrots, who encourages you to get up close and personal with the farm’s chickens, and take a bite of whatever he has growing in the ground.
If you’ve opted for a cooking class, you head into the kitchen with a basket of fresh herbs and produce still warm from the sun and help to cook up a meal along with your fellow spa-mates.
There, the kitchen’s wonderful staff, which includes kitchen assistant Juan and sous chef Gaby, pictured, team up with the visiting chef to assist the participants in making a meal.
My students had a blast. Within the three different cooking classes I held, there were husbands and wives, a pair of sisters, many friends who had traveled there together, and two charming sets of grandmother-daughter-granddaughters who were vacationing together!
The thing that everyone loved about the classes, aside from the food, was the experience of being thrown in with a group of strangers, following a brand new recipe, and miraculously producing a gorgeous feast together.
In all of my classes, we prepared a fish course, which La Cocina is very strict about sourcing from nearby, sustainable fisheries. One dish we made was Grilled Fish with Herb and Avocado Salsa, that was fragrant with oregano, mint, and scallions from the farm, and tangy with the juice of small Mexican limes. Make this dish with a firm fleshed fish, like one of the ones called for in the recipe. If what you have on hand is a flaky fish like cod or flounder, simply cook this dish in the oven. Either way, it’s full of summer flavors.
Grilled Fish with Herb and Avocado Salsa
4 green onions, minced
1 cup fresh spearmint, minced
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lime juice
1 pound sablefish, mahi mahi, halibut, or wild striped bass filets
1 ripe avocado, diced small
Salt and pepper
In a large bowl, toss together a salsa of the onions, mint, oregano, garlic, olive oil, and lime juice. Set aside half of the mixture in a small bowl and store, covered, in the refrigerator.
Wash the fish under cold water and pat it dry with towels. Lay the fish in a rimmed glass baking sheet or on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and season both sides with salt and pepper. Spoon the remaining salsa over the fish. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Heat a grill over high heat and swab it with oil. When hot, grill the fish until it’s just opaque in the middle, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Mix the avocado into the reserved salsa and season to taste. Serve the fish warm with the salsa spooned on top.
For more info about Rancho La Puerta spa, check out their website.