Sunday, October 7, 2012

Feasts of Fall

I was so busy this summer between working, going hiking on weekends, and getting ready for Burning Man, that I didn't get to do as much cooking and preserving as I would have liked. But now that fall is officially here, and harvests can't be put off any longer, I'm making up for lost time.

For example, I went from "Boy it would be nice to get my hands on some plums" to "OH MY GOSH I can't handle any more plums!" thanks to generous friends and parents sharing the bounty of their trees. Turns out a few grocery bags of plums go a long way. I pitted and froze a bunch, and did a couple rounds of canning plum chutney and sauce. I also made some plum desserts, mostly a tart recipe from my friend Maria which includes dried cherries and Grand Marnier.

I pulled out all the potatoes from the garden, and those will mostly just hang out in the basement until they get roasted, sauteed, or mashed. I did however grate a couple bags to freeze for quick hashbrowns, which I've never done before but seems like a good idea.
Hey, pop quiz! When is Mexican Independence Day? You might want to say Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) but think it can't be that obvious. If you've traveled much in Mexico, you probably noticed at some point that every city has a street named El Dieciseis de Septiembre (September 16th). That's because September 16th is Independence Day! Any idea what the traditional Independence Day food is? It's Chiles en Nogada, which is a dish of poblano chiles filled with shredded meat and spices and topped with a creamy walnut sauce and then pomegranates. I ate it years ago in Mexico and really liked it, and since then have always wanted to try to make it myself.

Unfortunately, in the years since I ate that dish, I've developed an allergy to tree nuts.

The second most common dish associated with Independence Day is mole, which I also love. Saying "mole" is sort of like saying "curry"- it's a sauce of many different ingredients, with a million different recipes and regional variations. During the multiple times I traveled in Mexico in 2005-2009, I ate as much mole as I reasonably could, from the dark brown Mole Poblano of Puebla, to the yellow and green Oaxacan moles. 

When I was studying abroad in college in Morelia, Michoacan, my friend Catherine's host mom asked me what my favorite Mexican food was. When I told her it was mole, she offered to make it for me and have me over for comida, the large afternoon meal of the day. I remember sitting around their table eating the delicious mole, thanking the host mom for making it. She repeatedly told me how much work it was: "He estado cocinando todo el dia! Mas que cuatro horas en la cocina!" (I've been cooking all day! More than four hours in the kitchen!) She wasn't put out or trying to make me feel guilty- just simply being matter-of-fact.

This year for Mexican Independence Day, I decided to finally try my hand at a version of mole. I found this recipe which I thought fit the bill, as it was 1) for Mole Poblano which is my favorite, 2) in Saveur which is reputable, and 3) by Rick Bayless, whose take on Mexican cooking for Americans I have long admired as authentic while still accessible. I hit up a local Mexican grocery store for the chiles, pepitas, tomatillo, tortillas, and chocolate. Then I began the long process of stemming and seeding the chiles, flash frying them in oil, soaking them in water, and toasting and grinding the spices by hand. Then I blended the chiles, soaking water, and chicken stock and strained it... and that was just the first day. 

On day two you fry a bunch of ingredients in the chile-infused oil: tortillas, peanuts (I left out the almonds), pumpkin seeds, and raisins. Then there is the whole process of sautéing the onions and garlic, adding spices, cooking the tomatillo and tomatoes, blending this batch, straining...
There was even more work after that, including an hour and a half of reducing and stirring, pan frying the turkey, AND THEN baking it all for another hour. I hadn't known exactly what I was in for when I started cooking, but the whole time I just kept remembering Catherine's host mom with new waves of appreciation.

Luckily, I was really happy with how the mole turned out. It tasted legit! I subbed chicken for turkey and it came out perfectly moist and so flavorful. Other Spanish-speaking friends came over for Independence Day dinner, which was really just an excuse to eat Latin-inspired food. Not only were they appreciative of the mole, but they brought delicious dishes of their own- fried plantains, beans with fresh queso blanco cheese, Spanish tortilla, goat cheese-stuffed dates, and hand-made tortillas. There is much more cooking to come this fall, though I think I'll wait awhile before taking on a recipe that involved.


CV Sagisi said...

So weird! I was just chatting with Archer about how I was going to make mole today, and she told me about your post. Great minds I say. Also wanted to alert you to this recipe that's a bit less time-intensive, but still big on authentic flavor. Plus, this woman's blog and show RULE. Very basic Mexicana recipes without a lot of fuss... here's the mole:

Hope you're doing well!


AmberAnda said...

Hi Casey! Thanks for checking out my blog, and thanks for the mole recipe! I swore I wouldn't make it again for awhile, but looking at that recipe, I'm tempted to try again soon :) It's awesome how she gives a history of the various ingredients and how they represent a confluence of Indigenous and Spanish cuisine. I still need to make the tres leches cake, maybe that will be for Day of the Dead. Take care!

Maria Lewis said...

That plum tart looks perfect! Nice one!

AmberAnda said...

Thanks Maria! Thanks for passing it on to Will, who passed it on to me :)