Feliz Día de Los Reyes

Feliz Día de Los Reyes and Happy Three Kings Day; today is the holiday known as Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas and the day that the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the baby Jesus.

In Mexico, one of the most common ways to celebrate this holiday is with a rosca de reyes, a sweet yeast-bread adorned with dried or candied fruits that have been soaked in rum or brandy and topped with a buttery and sugary paste akin to the topping on a concha roll.

Baked inside the cake is a tiny baby Jesus figurine, and whoever cuts the piece of cake with the baby Jesus inside is responsible for bringing tamales to the family’s Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas) celebration on February 2. The figurine symbolizes the hiding of the baby Jesus from King Herod’s men. Traditionally, the whole family gathers around the table to cut the cake while sipping on chocolate caliente, each person taking their turn until everyone gets a piece and until the baby Jesus figurine is found.

My favorite Rosca de Reyes (pictured here) comes from a bakery chain called El Globo, which I first got to know in Mexico City. Their traditional rosca is also made in an individual size and this year on my last day in Mexico, my suegra bought me one, wrapped it up and stuck it in my carry-on bag so I’d have a rosca to cut on Día de Los Reyes…. 

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Wordless Wednesday: Atole y Coyotas

Last night I ate dinner at Merendera Las Lupitas, one of our favorite spots to eat in Mexico City. My favorite part was what came at the end of the meal: an atole and coyotas, which are a traditional dessert that originated in Sonora. They’re usually made with masa harina de trigo and stuffed with piloncillo. The coyotas at Las Lupitas are the best I’ve ever had. I’ll see if I can’t get my hands on a recipe to share with you soon. For more on atoles, check out my recipe for champurrado, an atole made with chocolate. And if you’re visiting Mexico City, you can find Las Lupitas right off of the Plaza Santa Catarina in the Coyoacán neighborhood.

  • What’s your favorite kind of atole? Have you ever had coyotas?

PEPITORIAS

pepitorias

In the days of the Aztecs, Día de Los Muertos was a festival celebrated the entire ninth month of the Aztec calendar, but when the Spaniards arrived in the New World and attempted to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism, the holiday was moved to a single day to coincide with the Catholic All Souls’ Day on November 2.

The Spaniards disliked the indigenous traditions and may have labeled them as barbaric and pagan, but Día de Los Muertos is not as scary – or sad ­– of a holiday as some think. This holiday actually has very sentimental roots. It’s all about celebrating life and honoring the dead.

In some places in Mexico there are parades, people decorate the gravesites of their deceased loved ones and construct altars in their homes with offerings, called ofrendas, for the souls of the dearly departed. Altars often include items like photographs of the deceased, items they may have owned, foods and beverages they may have liked, flowers and even sometimes a pillow and blankets for the souls to rest after their long journey.

Día de Los Muertos is one of the most beautiful and unique holidays in Mexican culture because everyone, young and old, shows their love and respect for the family members and friends that have passed away over the years. Celebrating their lives is also a reminder to the living to cherish their time on earth.

One of my favorite things to do in Mexico City is go to the tianguis, or open-air market. Part of the reason I love them so much is because they’re a vibrant reminder of what it means to truly be alive. I love everything about it: the arts and crafts for sale; the tinkling strains of melodies being played by street musicians; the food stalls with everything from jamoncillo (milk fudge) and dulce de calabaza cristalizada (dried candied pumpkin) to tacos de canasta (tacos in a basket).

pepitorias

On my first visit to the Bazar Sábado in Mexico City’s San Angel neighborhood several years ago I was delighted by all the makeshift stalls selling artisan crafts and every kind of sugary homemade treat I could imagine. Many of the stall owners off the Plaza Jacinto were offering generous samples to entice potential customers to buy a medio-kilo of this or a medio-kilo of that. One of the things that caught my eye at several of the stalls, though, was a hanging treat bag with brightly colored half-moon wafers that had pepitas sticking out of them and some kind of sticky miel holding them together. I was entranced…. 

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MERMELADA DE HIGO CON CHILE

mermelada de higo con chile en yogur

A few summers ago when I was visiting Mexico City, my suegra and I went to the Mercado Coyoacán to pick up some handmade tortillas and oranges for making fresh-squeezed juice. As always, we strolled through the market at a leisurely pace, taking in all the sights and smells of all of our favorite stalls.

One of her favorite stalls, run by a wrinkled old lady, had an abundance of just-picked figs. The viejita stood in the middle of the aisle with her hands cupped, filled with figs as she cried, “Higos! Higos!”

We stopped to say hello to the woman and she cut open a fig to show me the inside. It was perfectly pink. She must’ve seen the look of excitement on my face because she stuffed two figs in my hand and said they were a gift to enjoy. She gave my suegra a few as well and after thanking her profusely and buying a few oranges, we were on our way.

higos

I don’t recall seeing fresh figs in the grocery store while I was growing up – and I’m not sure if that’s the reason why they fascinate me so much now, as if I have a lot of catching up to do or if, like many things, I’ve just gained a new appreciation for them while in Mexico. Figs have been growing in Mexico for centuries; the Spaniards are credited for bringing them to the New World in the 1500s.

If you pay attention to the produce in the grocery store or at your local farmer’s market, you may have noticed figs are in season right now. Recently, my friend Gina who lives in Los Angeles mentioned that she had an over-producing fig tree. Jokingly, I told her if she wanted to get rid of some of her extra figs, she could send them to me and I’d put them to good use. After a few emails, the figs were on their way to Chicago. They arrived perfectly bubble wrapped in a box and as Gina had picked the figs before they were ripe so they’d survive being shipped cross-country, they were just starting to ripen. … 

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CARLOTA DE LIMÓN

Mexican dessert: carlota de limón o postre de limón, known as an ice box cake or a Charlotte in English. Get the recipe on theothersideofthetortilla.com

This past weekend, I was trying to decide what I should bring for dessert to my family’s Easter fiesta. I was considering taking either flan or capirotada, but couldn’t decide so I asked my Twitter amigos what to do. I got just about equal votes for each, including one really funny comment after I referred to our gathering as “Mexi-Rican Easter” since we’ve got some Puerto Rican cousins in my extended family.

Eventually, my friend Nelda suggested I bring a carlota. We debated a bit about the method and the kind of cookie to be used (ladyfingers versus galletas María), but ultimately we decided the best version would include cream cheese. I can’t remember the last time I had a carlota, but I’ll tell you what: It’s making a comeback in my kitchen this spring and summer.

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CHAMPURRADO

champurrado

There’s this place in Mexico City where my suegro loves to eat. It’s a little family-owned restaurant called Merendera Las Lupitas, and he’s friends with the owner.

Las Lupitas is situated on a corner in Coyoacán facing the Plaza Santa Caterina, in a two-story white building with these beautiful, dramatic thick cobalt blue accents around the windows. They have a heavy, rustic wooden door, and inside there’s colorful papel picado strung across the ceiling. Lots of local art adorns the walls.

What I love about this place is that it’s so traditional. The menu is pretty basic and the atmosphere emits a feeling like you’re eating in a relative’s home. Even the placemats, dishes and furniture are very modest. But don’t be fooled by all the simplicity–each dish on the menu packs as much satisfaction as that of a fancy restaurant, minus the attitude and the cost.

Among the number of delicious, traditional items on the menu there, my suegro almost always orders a mug of atole at the end of his meal.

masa

Atole is a hot drink, made with a nixtamal (corn) base from dissolving masa in water, sometimes with piloncillo, and heating until it becomes thick. It’s a stick-to-your-ribs type drink that’s guaranteed to keep you warm. It can come in many flavors; vanilla, chocolate and strawberry are most typical.

You can usually find quickie versions in a powdered packet in the grocery store, and they taste OK if you’re in a bind and can’t make the real deal. But the packets typically use powdered cornstarch as a thickening agent, so they lack the depth and flavor produced by using real masa as the drink’s base. The chocolate version is called atole de chocolate or champurrado…. 

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