Mar 4, 2003, 8:09 PM
Post #1 of 12
Tonight, Tuesday March 4, is the last night of Carnaval, and all the stops have been pulled out for a big whoopdedoo in many towns throughout Mexico, notably in Mazatlán and Vera Cruz. Parades, dances, and general debauchery rule...for tonight. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the penitential season of Lent for the Roman Catholics of Mexico and for the rest of the Christian world.
Lent (La Cuaresma, in Spanish)~the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday~ is a time for reflection, spiritual growth, and fasting. In the Roman Catholic tradition (and hence in the post-conquest Mexican tradition), no meat is eaten on Ash Wednesday or on the Fridays during Cuaresma. The purpose of fasting is to open oneself to become more spiritual through self-denial; by 'giving up' something, such as giving up eating between meals or eating sweets, giving up smoking or drinking alcohol.
How interesting, then, that a whole sub-section of cooking specialties should have grown up around a tradition of self-denial! Naturally there are numerous foods that are served year-round which enjoy special popularity during Lent: seafood, of course~and be sure to look at the MexConnect Magazine at Karen Hursh Graber's fantastic recipe for Shrimp with Coconut~but also eggs, cheeses, and all vegetables. There are other Mexican foods that sneak into a menu during other times of the year, but which enjoy special status during Lent~nopalitos, sopa de habas, romeritos, tortitas de camarón, etc. Nopalitos may be scrambled with eggs and appear as a main course during Cuaresma. Tortitas de camarón, made with dried shrimp, serve as a main course as well.
In addition, there are some specialties that traditionally are served only during Cuaresma. The one that springs immediately to mind is capirotada, a delicious Mexican bread pudding. This pudding, prepared without eggs or milk, is made differently from household to household, but I've never eaten a capirotada which has not been delicious. It's hard to fathom that something so comforting and so rich should appear at table during a season of abstinence. Here's one recipe; give it a try during the next 40 days.
2/3 cup almonds or pecans, coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cups apples, chopped
1/2 cup golden seedless raisins
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup water
2 Tbsp sherry (optional)
2 sticks cinnamon
1 whole clove
1 tsp anise seeds
1/2 cup whipping cream
5 stale sweet Mexican pan dulce or bolillo or a mixture of the two, enough for about 5 cups bread cubes
1 stick butter
4 ounces queso fresco, chilled and crumbled
Combine nuts, apples, and raisins. Set aside.
In a medium-size saucepan, combine sugar, water, sherry, if desired, cinnamon sticks, clove, and anise seeds and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Let boil 2 minutes. Strain and set aside. When cool, mix in cream.
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter a 1-1/2-quart casserole (at least 3 inches deep) or soufflé dish. Trim thin portion of top and bottom crusts from the Mexican pastry, if using. Cut it into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Melt about 5 Tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pan dulce and/or bread slices in batches and sauté on both sides until golden, about 2 minutes, adding more butter if necessary. Remove from skillet. Melt the remaining butter.
Arrange 1/3 of the bread in the prepared dish. Cover with 1/2 of the nut filling. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the cheese, then drizzle with 1/2 of the syrup. Repeat layering twice, alternating slices to cover empty spaces. Pour remaining melted butter over top. Press down gently on slices to soak well. Bake at 350°F (175°C) for 30 to 35 minutes. Serve warm with Mexican sweet cream or whipped cream.
Who else has a great recipe for la cocina mexicana cuaresmal?