“RECIPES ARE AMAZING THINGS, SOMEWHERE BETWEEN MAGIC POTIONS AND PASSPORTS TO A DIFFERENT WAY OF LIVING.” /BEE WILSON, THE GUARDIAN 18 JUNE 2017
mexican foodways: Tamales & candelmas
February 2nd is also Groundhog Day, which owes its origin to Candlemas. There is an old European supposition that a sunny Candlemas day would lead the winter to last for ‘another six weeks’
With their penchant for making a party out of every occasion, Mexicans will finally wrap up the long Christmas holiday period (which began December 16 with Las Posadas and continued through January 6th with Dia de Los Reyes or Day of the Wise Men) this coming week with Dia de la Candelaria (Candlemas), celebrated on February 2nd.
Candlemas, so called because this was the day that all the Church’s candles for the year were blessed, stems from Paganism; in pre-Christian times, it was the festival of light. This ancient festival marked the midpoint of winter, halfway between the winter solstice (shortest day) and the spring equinox.
“La Dia de La Candelaria commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of her son Jesus in accordance with Jewish law. Ritual purification stems back to a Jewish tradition that women were considered unclean after the birth of a child. For 40 days for a boy, and 60 days for a girl, women weren’t allowed to worship in the temple. At the end of this time, women were brought to the Temple or Synagogue to be purified” (Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, p. 119). This day also marks the ritual presentation of the baby Jesus to God in the Temple at Jerusalem. While it is unclear why these two holidays fall on the same day, the Gospel of Luke says that Jesus Simeon held the baby Jesus and called him a Light to the World.
(On a side note, February 2nd is also Groundhog Day, which owes its origin to Candlemas. There is an old European supposition that a sunny Candlemas day would lead the winter to last for ‘another six weeks’ from 123Holiday.net).
Dia de La Candelaria in Mexico
It all begins with the tradition of the Rosca de Reyes a ring-shaped cake shared on Dia de Los Reyes, which provides a clever way to extend the Christmas holiday celebrations for another few weeks. As with all Mexican holidays, it’s a family affair: On January 6th neighbors and family usually share the light evening meal, each having a chance to find the figure of Baby Jesus in their slice of the Rosca. The lucky guest who finds Him is designated to provide tamales and Mexican Hot Chocolate (recipe) Dia de La Candelaria, February 2nd.
Tamales: Communal cooking in Mexico
The name” tamale” or more correctly tamal — comes from the Nahuatl word tamalli — and is masa steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper, which is discarded before eating. Tamales are made very much the same way today as they were by Aztec and Mayan women as far back as 8000 to 5000 BCE, with some minor modifications; and are an essential part of many Mexican festivals. Initially disdained by the invading Spaniards in the 16th century Mexico as food of the lower class, described here by Jeffrey M. Pitcher in his book Que vivan los tamales!: Food and the making of Mexican culture; this portable culinary wonder eventually won over the Europeans;
“part of the ongoing effort . . . to Europeanize Mexico was an attempt to replace corn with wheat [which was introduced to Mexico by the Europeans of the Spanish Conquest]. But [corn], native foods and flavors persisted and became an essential part of . . . what it means to be authentically Mexican”
Tamale-making is a ritual that has been part of Mexican life since pre-Hispanic times, when special fillings and forms were designated for each specific festival or life event. Today, tamales are typically filled with meats, cheese or vegetables, especially chilis. Preparation is complex, time-consuming and an excellent example of Mexican communal cooking, where this task usually falls to the women. Rather than being seen as demeaning, this opportunity for Mexican women to gather and work together gives them respect and power in their communities. Here, an abuelita(meaning “grandmother” but also a term used to refer to the oldest generation of women in the village) describes how the women gather to carry on a tradition that has been passed through the generations, making tamales de elote corn tamales):
“Three pair of hands, work together, seamlessly . . . in a process [that] includes husking the corn, cutting it off the cob, grinding the kernels in the molino [mill] with pieces of cinnamon, breaking fifteen eggs and separating out the yolks, opening cans of sweetened condensed milk . . . [and beating] all the ingredients together in the masa for a long time…. Next, we fill the husks with the masa [dough and]…sprinkle raisins on top. Finally we fold the husks to enclose the dough.” (Maria Elisa Christie in Kitchenspace: Women, Fiestas, and Everyday Life in Central Mexico)
RECIPES FROM THE MISSION
rosca de reyes: bake a "3 Kings' Cake" for January 6th
(Note: the following is excerpted from my book, Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes and the recipe below is by co-author Adriana Almazan Lahl)
The charming Mexican tradition of the Rosca de Reyes extends the Christmas celebrations for another few weeks; the lucky guest who finds the Baby Jesus figure hidden in the cake is designated to host a tamalda, a party at which tamales and Mexican hot chocolate are served, on February 2, Día del Candelaria.
January 6th is the day Mexican children wait for all year long, as they anticipate the arrival of Los Reyes Magos (rather than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve). It is the Three Wise Men who will bring them toys, just as they came to ancient Bethlehem bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. (In Mexico, for Christmas, it is more traditional for children to receive clothing). In many areas of Mexico, children leave out their empty shoes on the night of January 5, hoping that they will find them filled with treasures in the morning.
The holiday is also celebrated with the charming tradition of the Rosca de Reyes. This is “the Kings’ Cake,” a flour-based cake rich with butter and egg yolks, originally in the shape of a ring to echo a crown, but which has grown into an oval as it has “stretched” to accommodate larger crowds. As wheat flour was not introduced to Mexico until the invasion of the Spanish in the 16th century, the Rosca likely became part of Mexico’s holiday traditions sometime after that (originally, it was the Moors, invading Spain in the eighth century, who brought with them cakes rich in almonds, dried fruits, spices, and refined sugar—all key ingredients in the rosca).
Hidden inside the rosca is a figure of baby Jesus, either plastic or porcelain, to symbolize how Mary and Joseph had to hide Him from King Herod, who had been apprised of the signs that a new and rightful king of Jerusalem would be born and ordered all male infants in Bethlehem be put to death. The deadly search is symbolized by the knife cutting the ring cake. As with many Mexican holidays, on January 6 neighbors and family share the light evening meal, each having a chance to find the figure of baby Jesus in their slice of the rosca.
Three King’s Bread Ring / Rosca de Reyes Tradicional
(serves 8-10 )
3½ oz sugar
¼ cup orange blossom water
1 envelope (1 tsp) yeast
¼ cup warm water
2 cups flour
½ tsp salt
1 oz powdered milk
Rind of half a lemon
Rind of half an orange
3½ oz butter
½ tspn. anise seed
4 tsp vanilla extract
Small baby figurine or toy, porcelain or ceramic (or several)
Concha Bread Mix (for decoration, see below)
¼ cup candied figs cut in strips
¼ cup candied oranges rind cut in strips
¼ cup candied pineapple strips
¼ cup candied cherries cut in half
1 egg, beaten, to varnish Rosca
COMBINE water, 1 tbsp of sugar, and orange blossom water and warm to 105°. Dissolve yeast in warm water and let it sit for 5 minutes or until it starts foam- ing. Place the flour and form a mountain with a valley in the middle or “volcano.” Place half the sugar, salt, powdered milk, and cracked eggs inside the “valley.” Using this area as your work bowl, premix the ingredients carefully with your hands. Once ingredients are well mixed in the center, add water with yeast and start incorporating the flour dry ingredients and eggs from the area around until all ingredients are well mixed and become a pliable, elastic, and smooth dough. Add the lemon and orange rind, the remaining sugar, dry milk, and salt and the butter and work the dough until all ingredients are well incorporated again. Place in an 18 x 14 pre-greased pan and cover with pre-greased plastic wrap (spray the wrap with spray shortening to grease it before placing it over dough). Wait two hours until the dough doubles in size, and punch once to deflate it. Cover again and wait an additional 25 minutes, punch again, and shape into a 10- to 14-inch oval wreath. Lift wreath carefully and place on a pre-greased baking sheet. Insert small figurine(s) into the wreath. Cover and let it rise again to double the original size. Place concha dough strips across the wreath, and sprinkle concha dough only with sugar, alternating concha dough with can- died fruit strips (cherries, orange, figs, and pineapple). Varnish whole wreath with beaten egg and place in a preheated oven at 350° for 30 minutes until bread turns golden brown.
Warning: Be aware of small figurines in wreath. Supervise children while cutting and eating this bread.
Concha Bread Mix
3½ oz powdered sugar
3½ oz margarine
3½ oz flour
CREAM margarine with powdered sugar. Once well mixed, add flour slowly, until incorporated completely.
Because without immigrants, there’d be no restaurants.
MADDIE OATMAN SEP. 29, 2017 7:30 PM MOTHER JONES
Traci Des Jardins, a Top Chef Masters finalist and owner of six San Francisco restaurants including the much-lauded Jardiniere, hopes her award-winning French-rooted cuisine inspires pleasure and satisfaction above all—but knows that it’s sometimes impossible to avoid the spice of politics. The question of how far to wade into political territory—without distracting from the food she concocts—is often on her mind. “I’ve always tried not to be preachy in my restaurants,” she said on a recent episode of Bite podcast. But some causes tip the scales. On Jardiniere’s receipts, she now includes a tiny message at the bottom that reads, “Immigrants make America great! They also cooked and served you dinner this evening.”
“Immigrants are the backbone of the restaurant world,” Des Jardins says. “I think it’s incredibly important in the political climate that we’re in to really acknowledge that.” But even in liberal San Francisco, not all diners agree, she says: “We’ve had people write on the bottom of the checks: ‘I’ll never come back here again,’” after seeing the message. “There’s a lot of vitriol.”
And Des Jardins was once again drawn into a political cause. It started with Chef Andrea Lawson Gray, author of Celebraciones Mexicanas and a private chef in San Francisco who runs a group of top-rated local private chefs.When she learned that the DACA program was ending, Lawson Gray thought first of her daughter-in-law, a former Dreamer who had finally qualified for her permanent residency just weeks before.... Lawson Gray spent the next three weeks organizing a benefit dinner to raise funds for Mission Asset’s scholarship. One of the chefs who agreed to help was Rogelio Garcia, executive chef of Des Jardins’ The Commissary restaurant. He approached Des Jardins about the benefit, and she offered up a dining room at her restaurant Jardiniere. “I think Rogelio got the impression that this would happen,” Lawson Gray says of Des Jardins’ offer. “I think this is very personal for her.”.... MORE
RECIPES FROM THE MISSION
Mexican HOLIDAY Punch “Ponche Navideño”: RECIPE & a story of contraband fruit
According to historians, the recipe for ponche found it’s way to Mexico via Spain. The vast Moorish empire was a conduit for many culinary staples that are now seen as Spanish and/or Mexican cuisine. Among these are rice, olives and almonds, as well as sugar cane and dried apricots. It is thought that “ponche” has it’s origins in far-away Persia, where they used to consume a very similar drink they called “panch,” made with water, lemon, herbs, sugar and rum. As the Moors were Muslim, and did not drink alcohol, the Spanish adaptation, which acquired the name “punch”, seems to have been modified, with the rum omitted. In Mexico, it is common to add a splash of rum, cane spirit (aguardiente), or brandy.
Tejocotes: Contraband Fruit
Some ingredients used to make ponche are more seasonal and even exotic. Depending upon where you live, you may be able to locate fresh tejocotes, known to the Aztecs as Texocotli (stone fruit). The fruit of the hawthorn tree, these resemble crab apples, have a sweet-sour flavor and an orange to golden yellow color. Although abundant in the Mexican highlands, tejocote could not be imported to this country because of its potential to harbor exotic insects. Mexicans are all about authentic ingredients for their special family recipes, so devotees had to resort to illegal enterprise to obtain the tejocotes. In 2009, the LA Times reported that “Nationwide, tejocote was the fruit most seized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Smuggling, Interdiction and Trade Compliance program from 2002 to 2006.”
Demand and seizures gave birth to a lucrative new industry, the report continued, [after] “a market vendor named Doña Maria [ a USDA smuggling control officer] how to obtain legal supplies, and he suggested that farmers grow tejocotes domestically”. And so, a successful exotic fruit farmer in Pauma Valley, San Diego County’s Valley Center added tejocotes to his crop. In 1999, Jaime Serrato, who was familiar with tejocotes from his childhood in Michoacán, started grafting trees from bud wood in his orchard and today has 35 acres of trees. Today, tejocotes can be widely found jarred or canned, and fresh during the holidays in regional Latino markets.
Mexican Christmas Fruit Punch/Ponche de Navidad
1 gallon boiling water
15 tejocotes, cut in half
2 small pears, cut bite-sized
1 cup raisins
1 cup prunes
3½ oz. dry hibiscus
6 pieces sugar cane, cut in quarters lengthwise (available in Latino markets including Casa Lucas)
one cone piloncillo or dark brown sugar (optional, for a sweeter ponche)
4 small yellow apples, chopped bite-sized
6 guavas, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
6 cinnamon sticks
2 whole cloves
1 star anise
2 oranges, sliced and cut in half
Wash all fruits and cut as required. In a large pot, boil water and add tamarind, hibiscus, star anise, cloves, piloncilli (if using) and cinnamon sticks. Boil on high for 10-15 minutes (if using piloncillo, boil until it is almost completely dissoolved), strain mixture to remove any remain of flowers, spices or tamarind. Once strained, add all cut fruits, cook 5 minutes and add dry fruits, and sugar cane. Cook for additional 20 minutes. Serve in a mug or a clay cup, garnished with a sugar cane stick intended to be used as a spoon, and for eating the fruits.
Serve warm. Decorate with a half a slice of orange. Optional: add a splash of rum, cane spirit (aguardiente), brandy or event tequila!
The consistency can be controlled by the amount of water you use and cooking time. Less water+longer cooking time= somewhat thicker ponche. If you prefer a thinner beverage, add more water. When reheating ponche, you may want to thin with a little water. Keep refrigerated in an air-tight container, will last for at least a week. I like to boil down my leftover ponche until it forms a syrup and serve (with fruit and all) cold spooned over Greek yogurt!
Atole: History and a Chocolate Atole (Champurrado) Recipe
Corn is one of the "Three Sisters" of Mexico, three ingredients that have mainstays of the Mexican diet since pre-Columbian times (the other two 'sisters" are squash and beans). In Mexico, they even say, "Sin maiz, no hay pais" or "Without corn, there is no country". Corn tortillas are on the table at every meal, and the average Mexican consumes half a kilo, or just over a pound per day and up to a kilo per day in rural areas. So it is no surprise that a corn-based beverage is one of the most popular, typically served with a Torta de Tamale (a tamale on a Mexican bread roll) for desayuno. Atole is also traditional on Dia de Los Muertos, Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (December 12th) and comes in many flavors: with fruit, nuts, and the most popular is with chocolate, called champurrado. This thick, creamy and comforting beverage has event attracted the attention of the likes of David Lebowitz, who describes it as having "a consistency similar to crème anglaise"
As early as 1651, the process by which atole was made was noted by botanist Francisco Hernandez in a report on the use of plants in Nueva España. :
Atolli was eight parts water and six parts maize, plus lime, cooked until soft. The maize was then ground and cooked again until it thickened
The following description of Mexican atoles by Englishwoman Fanny Chambers Gooch, written in 1887, gives us some interesting insight into the varieties of the time:
‘I found plain atole much the same in appearance as gruel of Indian meal, but much better in taste, having the slight flavor of the lime in which the corn is soaked, and the advantage of being ground on the metate, which preserves a substance lost in grinding in a mill. . . . Atole de leche, (milk), by adding chocolate takes the name of champurrado if the bark of cacao is added, it becomes atole de cascara; if red chile—- chile atole. If, instead, any of these agua miel, sweet water of the maguey, is added, it is called atole de agua miel; if piloncillo, the native brown sugar, again the name is modified to atole de pinolei’
There is evidence of mixing atole with chocolate as far back as the Mayan era. In the Yucatan today, where the strongest Mayan influences remain, they serve a thick, chocolate-flavored atolecalled tanchcua, to which allspice, honey ad black pepper is added. Although the following recipe uses milk, it is common in Mexico to skip the milk and make champurrado with water. Experiment… there are so many ways to make this!
(makes 6 small cups)
1 cup prepared tortilla masa (Maseca brand or equivalent) or fresh tortilla
masa (not tamale masa)
1 cup milk
5 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1 Mexican chocolate (available in Latino markets, brand names Ibarro or Abuelita,
Rancho Gordo stocks a wonderful hand-crafted stoneground Mexican Chocolate)
1 ½ piloncillo, grated (see photo, right, or 6 oz. sugar)
1 cup milk
Blend masa with a cup of water by hand or with a blender;, be sure there are no lumps. Add a second cup of water gradually, continue blending. Heat the remaining water in another saucepan. Once your water is boiling, lower to medium heat and add cinnamon, chocolate, and sugar or piloncillo, cooking until the chocolate is dissolved and starts to just begins boil. Now, add masa mixture and stir constantly to avoid lumps and to keep from sticking to the bottom of pan. Lower heat to medium and continue stirring until masa is cooked (30 minutes), Then add milk and stir for 5 more minutes.
5 Mexican beverages to KEEP YOU WARM that you can make right now!
Those of you who follow me know that I am usually a stickler for authenticity, especially when it comes to the subject of Mexican cuisine and customs. But, baby, it’s cold outside and that means everyone needs a quick fix of something hot and Mexican (unless you already have this in your life, in which case you don’t have to worry so much about the cold. But for the rest of you….), so we are going to cut some corners.
If you have:
A clay pot* (optional)
4½ oz piloncillo, roughly chopped or brown sugar
(or omit for those who take their coffee without sweetner)
Zest of half orange, finely chopped
2 whole cloves
3-inch piece of cinnamon stick
¾ cup freshly ground dark-roasted Mexican coffee
… then you can make
1. Mexican Coffee or Cafe de Olla CON CANELA
(Makes 2 cups)
*The clay pot used for this recipe adds a subtle put perceptible flavor to the coffee. Do not use the same clay pot you use to prepare beans—you need a separate pot.
In a clay pot (olla) or a kettle bring 9 cups of water to boil, combine the ingredients, stirring until the piloncillo or brown sugar is dissolved. Let steep at least 10 minutes. Pour through a strainer before serving. For special occasions, it is traditional to add a splash of rum or brandy to the individual coffee cups.
If you have...
*an envelope of “Horchata”
1 cup of white rice
1 cup milk
2 sticks of cinnamon
8 cups water
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup sugar or to taste
Ground cinnamon to taste
… then you can make
2. Horchata Latte
*(Makes 8 -10 cups of horchata)
Note, if you leave near a Mexican market, like Casa Lucas on 24th St. in the Mission district in San Francisco, you can buy envelopes of “Instant Horchata Drink Mix” (not my favorite by a long shot because it typically is way too sweet and contains at least come artificial ingredients) to which you just add water. It’s not the real deal, but it is certainly much quicker. If not, recipe for making Horchata follows
Wash rice and then soak it in 1 cup of milk with cinnamon sticks in a covered container; refrigerate overnight. In a blender, add rice, milk, and cinnamon sticks with some of the water; mix until completely blended. Strain though a coffee filter or a fine cheese cloth.In a large pitcher, add the strained mixture, vanilla, sugar to taste, and the rest of the cold water. Stir well and reserve.
Prepare coffee for lattes as usual. Substitute Horchata (rice milk) for regular milk. No need to add sugar, your Horchata Latte is already sweet. Serve with a dash of ground cinnamon
2-3 teaspoons sugar, preferably brown, to taste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional), we recommend MySpaceSage Pure Vanilla Extract
3 oz or 6 tablespoons chocolate (in any form)
2 1/2 cups milk or, water and 1/4 cup cream or half & half
... then you can make
3. Quick Mexican Hot Chocolate
(Makes enough for 2 large mugs)
Bring 2 1/2 cups of milk or water (yes, in Mexico, they sometimes make hot chocolate with water) with a teaspoon of vanilla (optional) to boil and reduce heat, adding 1 stick of cinnamon only if you do not have Mexican Chocolate disks (like Abuelita or Ibarra). Allow to simmer (on low) for ten minutes. If using milk, you’ll want to stir occasionally as you are warming the milk mixture, being careful not to allow the pot to boil (or boil over!) Next, add your chocolate. This part is important: if you are adding any kind of sweetened chocolate, including Mexican Chocolate disks, do not add sugar (see next step). If using unsweetened baker’s chocolate square, add 2-3 teaspoons, to taste, of brown sugar (or cane sugar if you don’t have brown sugar) to the hot milk or water and continue cooking until chocolate is completely melted. If using any kind of sweetened bar chocolate, or even sweetened chocolate chips, follow this same step but do not add sugar. If using unsweetened cocoa powder, heat 2 tablespoons of water, sugar and the cocoa powder and microwave briefly and stir to form a paste, which you will add to the hot milk or water. If using sweetened cocoa powder, follow this same step but do not add sugar. Remove warmed milk-chocolate mixture from the stove. Whisk until the hot chocolate turns frothy. Pour into individual clay mugs. Garnish with a stick of cinnamon.
If you have...
1/2 cup prepared tortilla masa (Maseca brand or equivalent) or fresh tortilla
masa (not tamale masa)
scant pinch of salt
4 cups water and a cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate (see above)
5 cups water and any kind of chocolate
1/2- 1 cup milk
...then you can make
4. Quick Champurrado (Chocolate Atole)
(Makes enough for 4 large mugs)
Blend masa with a cup of water by hand or with a hand mixer; be sure there are no lumps left after mixing. Add a second cup of water gradually, continue blending. In a large pot, heat 2 cups water, salt and 1 cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate, bring to a gentle boil; or, add whatever chocolate you are using (see italicized section above in the instructions for Mexican Hot Chocolate) to 3 cups water to which salt has been added and bring to a boil. Add masa mixture. Lower heat to medium and continue stirring until masa is cooked (5 minutes), then add more water if needed (in case mixture is too thick, you want to achieve a consistency similar to a thinnish gravy, although some prefer a thicker atole) and stir for 5 more minutes. Finish by adding 1 cup of milk.Taste for sweetness, add more sugar if needed. (You may want to use an electric whisk to finish off your atole, it adds a lovely foam and will get out any lumps of masa that might remain.)
If you have...
2 cups apple cider
an apple, cut bite-sized
a pear, cut bite-sized
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup other dried fruit such as prunes, cherries
1/4-1/3 cup dried cranberries (important for tartness)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves (optional)
1 star anise (optional)
2 oranges, sliced and cut in half
Sugar cane (optional)
... then you can make
5. Quick "PONCHE"- Mexican Holiday Punch
(Makes enough for 2 large mugs)
Wash all fruits and cut as required. In a large pot, boil apple cider to which add star anise, cloves, brown sugar and cinnamon sticks have been added. Boil on high for 10-15 minutes, strain mixture to remove any remaining spices. Once strained, add all cut fruits, cook 5 minutes and add dry fruits, and sugar cane. Cook for additional 20 minutes. Serve in a mug or a clay cup. Garnish with sugar cane (optional). Add brandy for extra warmth!
Traditional recipes for Mexican Hot Chocolate, Champurrado, Ponche and Cafe de Olla can be found in my book, Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes.
Roasted Veggies with Salsa Macha
About Salsa Macha
I don’t know about you, but I find that I almost always have small quantities of different kinds of nuts in my pantry, most leftover from topping salads, or even from snacking. And, like any good Mexican chef, I have a huge jar of assorted dried chiles. These, and garlic and good olive oil are all you need to make Salsa Macha, which has the power to turn any vegetable into a stellar plate. The trick is to use an array of nuts and an array of chiles. Each brings it’s own, unique flavor to the salsa. Make note of the quantities and combinations of nuts and chiles you use. When you make your favorite batch, you’ll be ready to repeat it the next time.
Salsa Macha works especially well with vegetables that have layers, like fennel or Brussels sprouts, that you can cut in half and place on a roasting pan with the layered side facing upwards; this way, when you drizzle or brush your veggies with the salsa it penetrates the layers for really great flavor. For an unexpected side with steak, half a Spanish white onion and brush with a thick layer of Salsa Macha, roast in a slow oven (300°) for 30-40 minutes, then drizzle with more Salsa Macha before serving. This salsa also pairs beautifully with chicken: simply brush skin before roasting, and if roasting whole bird, rub inside cavity with it as well.
Salsa Macha is originally from the state of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, a port city where spices and ingredients not indigenous to Mexico entered with the ships that docked there. Much of the cuisine coming out of Veracruz is atypical to that of the rest of the country, in that there is a strong Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean component to the ingredients and flavors. This, combined with indigenous Mexican and, of course, Spanish cooking comes together to inform Veracruzano cuisine.
(makes 2 about cups)
4-6 dried chiles (any combination of chiles will work: Anchos, Guajillos, Puyas, Chipotle Moritos or Mecos are especially good due to their smoky flavor; if using smaller and much hotter Chiles de Arbol, you will want to adjust the total # of chiles accordingly
4 cloves garlic
1/3-1/2 cups assorted nuts (peanuts, pecans, almonds are all good. If using walnuts, blanch first to remove bitter skin. If using hazelnuts, roll them in a dish towel to remove skins)
2 tablespoons raw white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
½ Star anise (optional)
1 tablespoon oregano (preferably Mexican, available through Rancho Gordo)
2 tablespoons piloncillo (or substitute brown sugar)
Salt to taste (adjust salt if any of the nuts you are using are salted)
Dry roast garlic on the comal, until it begins to blacken, turning so as to expose all sides of the garlic to the heat. Dry roast chiles until they puff up and/or begin to change color and just start to blacken. You will need to watch your chiles carefully so as not to burn them; every chile cooks differently—some, like Chiles de Arbol, cook very quickly; others, like the wrinkly Ancho chile, need a little encouragement. Weigh Ancho chiles down by placing a small pot of water on top of them (or, even better if you have a bacon press, use that) so that the surface of the chiles are touching the comal. Dry roast sesame seeds until they begin to “dance”; after this happens you will need to immediately remove them from the comal as they burn very easily. Remove stems and break or tear larger chiles into small pieces. You may include the seeds for a hotter salsa, or remove them, to your taste (the seeds and veins are the hottest parts of a chile). Now, put all the dry-roasted ingredients including the star anise (if using) into a strong blender with the remaining ingredients and mix until well blended but not pulverized. You are not going for a purée, but rather a sauce that has the texture of a pesto but with more olive oil than pesto. Let the mixture sit at least overnight before using, so as to infuse the olive oil with the flavors of the rest of the ingredients.Store in airtight jar in the refrigerator.
Note:I prefer dry roasting because it adds a smoky flavor to the salsa, but some chefs prefer to sautée the garlic and dry ingredients in the olive oil before blending. If you choose this method, be sure to allow the olive oil mixture to cool well before blending.
Esquites Shooters and Warm Corn Soup two ways
A Word About Fresh Corn
According to the National Gardening Association, “you can pull back a bit of the husk and check to see if the ear looks well filled and the kernels are creamy yellow or white. Many gardening guides tell you to pierce a kernel with your thumbnail to test for ripeness. If the liquid inside is watery, that ear isn’t quite ready. If the liquid is white or ‘milky,’ you’re in business.”
It’s especially important to buy corn from a farmer’s market or a retailer you know gets fresh produce deliveries direct from the farm early every morning, Why? Corn tastes different and is different after 24 hours,“the natural conversion of sugar into starch is sped up when you harvest [the corn]. The moment you pick an ear of sweet corn, its sugars start to change into starches because the natural goal is to nourish seed for reproduction. In 24 hours, most varieties convert more than half their sugar content to starch”.
(make 6-8 servings of soup or 36 shooters)
10 very fresh ears of corn
1 1/2 tbsp salt
8-12 cups water
2 epazote sprig or 1 tsp dry epazote (optional)
2-4 cups Corn Stock (see recipe, below)
12 tablespoons crumbled Cotija cheese
Piquin or Ancho chile powder, or Rancho Gordo's Stardust Dipping Powder
Dollop of mayonnaise per serving (optional)
Using a very sharp a knife, remove corn kernels from cob by sitting the base of the corn on a wooden cutting board (plastic boards are too slippery) and slicing close to the cob with a downwards motion, using a serrated knife. Put corn kernels, corn cobs and epazote into rapidly boiling, salted water in a large pot for 3 minutes. Do not overcook corn. Shock corn by placing briefly in a large bowl of ice water so as to stop it from cooking further. Remove corn cobs and strain liquid and save both to make stock.
Traditional Esquites or Warm Corn Soup
Add corn kernels to simmering Corn Stock (see recipe below) and cook for just for 1-2 minutes, just to reheat them. Your ratio should be 2/3rd stock and 1/3 kernels, or, for a more stew-like dish, you can reverse the ratio so there is more corn than stock, which is how traditional Esquites are served in Mexico. There, they sprinkle the Esquites with piquín chile or ancho chile powder, the juice of half a lime, and 1 tablespoon of crumbled Cotija cheese, and some even add a dollop of mayonnaise.
Creamy Corn Soup
ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS FOR CREAMY CORN SOUP
2 cups milk or cream or coconut milk (you can use low-fat milk, whole milk, half-and-half or heavy cream or any combination thereof to achieve the richness and creaminess you want)
cilantro for garnish
red or green chili oil for garnish
Purée 3/4 of the corn kernels with 3 cups of the Corn Broth and the milk, half-and-half or heavy cream, until you have a smooth soup. You may need to work this soup in batches and blend longer than usual, as corn is fibrous. Add more corn stock or milk to thin the soup as needed. Taste and add salt as needed. To serve, reheat soup and remaining corn kernels, separately. Ladle soup into bowls, add a heaping tablespoon of the remaining corn kernels in the middle and garnish with chopped cilantro and red chile oil.
RIFFS: Add 6-8 oz. cooked crabmeat (quality canned, fresh, previously frozen crabmeat is fine, you’ll want to reserve some for garnish) to mixture, and all of the corn kernels you prepared, to the blender and purée for a Creamy Corn and Crab Soup. Add a dollop of crabmeat to middle of soup (see below) a little chopped cilantro and chile oil for garnish.
ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS FOR ESQUITE SHOOTERS
1 serrano chile or jalapeño (according to your taste), deveined, seeded, and minced
1 sweet red pepper, small dice
6 tablespoons melted butter
Salt and pepper (optional) to taste
Add butter, chiles and sweet peppers to cooked kernels and mix well. Add salt, and pepper (if using), to taste. Chill for at least an hour. Serve cold in double shot glasses, topped with Cotija cheese.
RIFFS: If you want to make Creamy Esquite Shooters, follow instruction for Creamy Corn Soup, above, ladling the soup into double shot glasses and topping with kernels. Creamy Esquite Shooters can be served hot or cold. If serving cold, top with Cotija cheese crumbles; if serving hot, garnish with red chile oil and chopped cilantro.
For Corn and Scallop Shooters, add well-seasoned broiled, sautéed or marinated (as in ceviche) bay scallops (if available, these are sweeter and you can leave them whole as they are smaller) or, sea scallops chopped to about the same size as your corn kernels. Ratio should be 2/3 corn to 1/3 scallops. Do not top with Cotija cheese, just a little chopped cilantro will do, for color. Serve hot if using sautéed or broiled scallops. Serve cold if you have prepared your scallops as ceviche, in an acidic (lemon or lime) marinade.
2 tablespoon salted butter
1 poblano, dry-roasted to remove skin
1 Spanish white onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
10 corn cobs (the ones you left over from making the Esquites, which will still have plenty of flavor left in them as you only boiled them for 3 minutes)
4 cups water (if you have liquid left from boiling your corn, use it now)
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste
Sautée poblanos and onion in butter. Put corn cobs and garlic in a large pot adding water, or a combination of water and liquid from boiling your corn kerns, to cover and salt well. (You may need to cut your cobs in half so as to fit them in the pot). Bring to boil and lower to a simmer. Add onions and poblanos. Simmer for at least half an hour; the longer you simmer, the more corn flavor your stock will have. Check for salt and add as needed. Keep pot covered if you choose to continue cooking past 30 minutes, so your stock does not evaporate. Remove cobs and strain stock before using. Keep in the refrigerator for up to a week, freeze for up to 3 months.