Still bearing down on Christmas Holidays (or is it PC to say Winter Holidays or what?) but this time we're in a different area of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula that is filed with warm memories of our time lived there. Although we went all over this extensive area of land, for the most part flat and vast, Merida the capital, was home base and what a wonderful city to live in! Due to it's close association in the past with the French and other Europeans like the Spanish, they all left their contributions here and so you have a lovely city with wide avenues and majestic buildings speaking of their regal past, but the Mayan Empire is still very much evident and not just in the museum either and you've got hundreds of archeological sites within an hour or less to show you exactly what this means. The Mayan language is an everyday thing as well with radio stations giving bilingual accounts of their programming (Spanish and Maya Kiche) and billboards are also in both languages.
We had an assortment of neighbors in our part of town, old Santiago, and while some were Yucatecan, others were definitely Mayan leavning us the lone representation of what they used to call "huachos"....or something definitely neither Yucatecan nor Mayan. They seemed to be intrigued by these tall, white people not "gabachos".... speaking a different Spanish too, wonder what we were? They finally got around to asking and got a kick finding out we were Mexicans or "brothers from another mother"..... I say tall (and I'm not), because Mayan are a very small race and we tower over them, kind of like at the ending of Close Encounters of the Third Kind when Richard Dreyfuss is taken by the small aliens into the ship with them. Once, we were at the local Walmart (inside a Mayan looking pyramid building no less) which is rare for me, but Rene was with me and he'd walked away looking at something else. He stands 6ft tall and I could see him across the store easily, talking to some locals who came to the middle of his chest only, it was a sight to see. You should see their babies, like little dolls, but very friendly and courteous.
Anyway, back to the food. Yucatan has a very special culinary heritage due to the influence of the Mayan, European, New Orleans and Cuban people who came to this hard to access land way back then, causing a marriage of styles that remain to this day. Nothing is like Yucatecan cooking and it's not Mexican (and they don't like to be called it either, why, they would still like to secede from the country and keep their own flag and refer to the area as the "Yucatecan Nation", kind of like the south, huh?. They've got their own style for sure and while some things might sound weird, we enjoyed it all! So let me give you a sampling of what you could find at a Yucatecan celebratory event.
This is the land of the "deer and pheasant" as it's been called since ancient times and their food reflects this fact with exotic fruits, special varieties of chiles and spices, vegetables not available in other parts of Mexico and a prevalence for pork and turkey. They love their hot salsas and I mean hot, as Habanero Chile is a traditional side dish and served with your food but not as a salsa like everywhere else, these are pure chiles with just a touch of bitter orange juice and some finely shredded onion- full blast and potent! Once again, use the search bar at the top of the blog to search for recipes and more information on this most enigmatic and mysterious land.....
Pavo en Relleno Negro (Turkey in Black Stew)- Before I give you the recipe for this elaborate Mayan dish, you need to know the significance of this preparation and it makes an interesting read:
TURKEY – A new world native, has been an important part of the diet throughout Mesoamerica for at least 3000 years. Meleagris gallopavo– the species we still use – was domesticated in Mexico’s central plateau as early as 200 B.C. and is indigenous to Yucatán and is the wild turkey still preferred by the Maya. It is the first turkey tasted by Europeans, and soon became the rage of royal banquet halls in the Old World. This turkey cannot be domesticated, but archaeological evidence shows that the Maya captured chicks in the wild and caged them to fatten them up for feasting. Turkeys played and still play a vital role in Mayan ritual, and were important components for worshiping the rain god, for curing and for planting ceremonies. Pavo en Relleno Negro originated as such a dish. Traditionally, the dish was prepared by forming a ball of chopped, seasoned meats (known in Mayan as "but" around the yellow of a boiled egg, stuffing the turkey cavity with the balls, then simmering in a broth of charred chiles(Recado Negro) overnight as grandma kept vigil from her hammock slung in the cookhouse. The post-conquest introduction of "alcaparrado", a Moorish/Andalusian mix of capers, olives, raisins and almonds – later enriched the but. Highly symbolic to the Maya, Pavo en Relleno Negro refers to the Creation and to resurrection: the intense black color of the burned chiles represents death or “no life” while the eggs buried deep inside represent hope and new life. To eat Pavo en Relleno Negro is to cheat death: having it right in front of you, but surviving and being nicely sated at the end.
How about that? Told you it's a great story and most dishes here have similar beginnings..... but here's the recipe:
Recado Negro.- The black chile paste (also called Chilmole) you will need which can be purchased at local markets or made from scratch: Make the first two in advance so you can have them available at the end.
2 tablespoons achiote seeds (or paste from the market)6 cups turkey, shredded (could use chicken if need be)
3/4 cup bitter orange juice (or a mixture of sweet orange juice and fresh lime juice)
2 lbs. dried ancho chiles, seeded and deveined
2 large whole cloves
4 large whole allspice
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 head garlic, peeled (about 10 large cloves)
salt to taste
Place the achiote seeds in a small bowl, pour the juice over them, and allow to soak 2-3 hours. Or
soak the paste with sour orange juice (or white vinegar) to make a thick liquid
Toast the chiles just until they give off their fragrance, soak them in hot water until they soften,
and drain them well. Place all ingredients in a spice mill or food processor and process until
they are well blended. They should form a thick paste, the consistency of a chilled cookie dough.
The "But"- Another important piece of this death puzzle:
1 lb ground pork
1 tsp black pepper, ground
1 tomato, finely chopped
1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped fine
2 tbl mint or spearmint leaves, finely chopped
1 hard boiled egg, rough chop
salt to taste
You combine all the ingredients and wrap them up in a cheesecloth square and tie it off securely.
You place it in stock to cook gently at a simmer for 30-45 min. Once cooked, you allow to cool
and then slice.
The rest of the recipe, you will need:
9 cups turkey stock (or chicken)
1/4 cup Relleno Negro (home made or purchased paste)
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
To finish you need to bring the turkey stock up to temperature and add the shredded turkey meat and cook bout 10 min. then add the Recado Negro, breaking it up in some stock first to avoid lumps before adding it to the stock, then add the sliced "but" and top it off with the sliced hard boiled egg.
NOTE: I've given you the shortened version of this dish since the haute cuisine one goes on for pages and pages.....
Pan de Cazon (Tower with Shark Meat)- The Peninsula with so much coastline offers great fish and seafood dishes, "cazon" is baby shark cooked in the Yucatecan / Campeche style and is wonderful.
8 corn tortillas (preferable homemade and tender)
1 cup black beans, refried (typical beans in this area)
For the "cazon"-
1/2 med onion, chopped fine
2 Epazote le aves, chopped (available at most latin supermarkets)
1 tomato, peeled & seeded, chopped fine (concase...)
1 lb Cazon (baby shark meat), grilled or cooked with onion and Epazote, shredded
For the Sauce-
1 tbl oil
1 onion, chopped fine
2 Epazote leaves, chopped
6 small tomatoes, cooked in water and ground up, strained (or tomato puree)
salt to taste
5 habanero chil es, roasted
salt to taste
For the Cazon-
Saute the onion in some oil. Add the shredded shark, the epazote and the tomato puree.
Add some salt and allow to cook so the flavors come together.
For the sauce-
Saute the onion in some oil, add the Epazote and the tomato puree. Allow to cook until thick. The
original sauce asks for the Habanero Chiles to be simply ground up with some salt and a few drops of water so it turns into a paste, but unless you are able to tolerate this kind of heat, I would sugges t you simply roast 1 chile, make small slits on the sides and once the sauce is done and cooking, lay the chile in it and allow it to permeate it and then remove. Save the chile for those that are truly brave.
Putting it together-
Fry the tortillas in some oil. Once fried, put in a plate and smear it with a small quantity of the black bean
Pour the tomato sauce over the tower and decorate it with some avocado slices and maybe the Habanero Chile as well. The hot sauce, if you decided to serve it, is placed on the side. Serve and enjoy at once.
NOTE: This is a pretty great dish and we have enjoyed it often. You can also use the prepared "cazon meat" and instead use it to stuff Xcatic Chilies (a yellow, mild chile which is a local specialty) as shown in the picture. These chiles are also stuffed with the ever popular Cochinita Pibil (the recipe is on this blog, use the search feature), or you can substitute other fish for this as well.
Yucatan and the whole peninsula is well known for it's amazing variety of ice creams and sherbets making the most of all the tropical fruits, and other ingredients, found in the area, but there are also other sweets available as well, such as this version of bread pudding.
Caballeros Pobres (Poor Knights)- To use the stale leftover bread always present in any home, but "dandied up" with ice cream and some spirits, it's not a poor dish at all!
2 cups milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 loaf stale French bread, sliced into 3/4-inch thick rounds
2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cone piloncil lo, chopped or 1 cup brown sugar
2 whole cloves
5 sticks of canela (stick cinnamon)
1/2 cup whole almonds or pecans
1/4 cup brandy or Kahlúa
Combine milk, sugar and vanilla, dip each slice of bread into the milk mixture, then put bread in a colander placed over a bowl to drain.
Separate the eggs. Beat the whites until stiff but not dry. Beat three of the egg yolks, fold carefully into the meringue, being careful not to deflate the whites. Heat oil in a heavy skillet until hot but not smoking. Dip each bread slice into the meringue to coat, then fry in the oil. When browned, flip rounds to cook the other side. Drain on paper towels.
Add the water, sugar, piloncillo and spices in a small saucepan. Simmer, stirring frequently, until sugar and piloncillo are completely dissolved. Allow to continue cooking until the syrup coats a spoon and reduces. Strain into another small pan; place canela sticks on waxed paper to cool; discard cloves. Add liquor, along with nuts, and continue cooking another 5 min, or until syrup re-thickens.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Meanwhile, in a deep baking dish or in individual soufflé molds, place fried bread rounds in one layer at the bottom. Pour on a large spoonful of the syrup/almond mixture. Repeat with one more layer of bread. Finish by topping with more syrup and almonds. Bake for 30-40 min or until syrup begins to boil and you see caramelization occurring on the top. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15 min before serving.
Garnish with the cinnamon sticks and top with a scoop of the ice cream of your choice.
NOTE: I also make bread pudding with egg bread or Panettone which gives a wonderful richness to the dish, I add raisins and almonds too. Here's the Creamy Brandy Sauce to top it with:
Creamy Brandy Bourbon Sauce: What else can I say but MMMMm mmm...... great on any desert.
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup half-and-half cream
1/3 cup brandy
1/3 cup bourbon
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
Place all brandy sauce ingredients in sauce pan. Heat gently and stir often. Don't over cook- only about 5 min. Pour over any dessert and enjoy!
What can I say except that the holidays are shaping up to be a very tasty with all these wonderful recipes. I only gave you but a sampling of the foods from Yucatan, these is so much more to try and learn about as dishes usually have a very interesting story to them which you can discuss while having them, but Yucatan is one of the most amazing areas of Mexico and I hope that one day you too will come to see it firsthand......