Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Independencia" Dinner: The Conclusion

"Still Life with Parrot and Flag" by Frida Kahlo (1951)

[Note: You can read the first part of this culinary adventure in my previous post.]

When it comes to my memories of "authentic" Mexican cooking, I don't have much to pull on. From my childhood trips to Mexico, I remember mostly delicious homemade soup and restaurant food (including a Christmas Eve dinner of El Pollo Loco).

During the holidays, my mother would sometimes pull out all the stops, slaving over dishes like chiles rellenos with red sauce, bacalao (salted cod), romeritos (a rosemary-like herb) in mole, and flan napolitano. I would invariably reject these dishes (well, except the flan), wishing my Mama would make a roast or ham or some other nice, normal American dish. Now I wish I'd been able to appreciate it more.

We still sometimes do the "traditional" Mexican-American Christmas dishes of tamales and pozole (pork and hominy soup), but time and taste has keep these old-world dishes off the holiday table for years.

So, it was with a real sense of adventure that I embarked on my mole-making quest. I'd rejected the 25-ingredient black mole recipe from Frida's Fiestas, figuring the red mole would be a little more manageable.

A quick note about mole: it is not "Mexican chocolate sauce." Almost all mole recipes are chili-based, with a mish-mash of ingredients that can include a bit of chocolate. This red mole recipe didn't incorporate chocolate at all, instead relying on cinnamon, allspice, and cloves for its spice, and roasted tomatoes and plantain for its base. It also included boiled pork loin, along with some potatoes and masa-based dumplings.

It was a deceptively complex recipe, full of roasting, blending, straining, and stirring. In other words, a lot of steps that I could mess up. I soaked the dried chilies for 20 seconds, not 20 minutes. The dumplings dissolved completely into the sauce. I even burned the sauce, leaving chunks of blackened potato at the bottom of the pot (we transferred pots, though, so it didn't completely ruin the mole).

The results:

Okay, mole doesn't photograph well at all. Just image the scent of roasted chilies, pork, tomatoes, spice...yum. I'll admit, all the little errors added up to a dish that didn't quite blow my mind, but it was definitely not a failed meal...

...especially when it ended with delicious flan.

Even after dessert, there was still one last thing to do to make our Independencia celebration complete: we had to hear the Grito de Dolores.
It's not a song, but a speech that is made every year on the eve of Independence. It's the battle-cry that the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gave in Dolores in 1810, to rally the people to rebel against their Spanish colonial government. This rebellion became the start of the full-on war for independence. Or so the story goes.
The Mexican president makes the speech from the National Palace in Mexico City, with thousands of people coming out to hear. This year's was extra-special, being the bicentennial, and was followed with an incredible fireworks display. Even if you don't speak Spanish, take a peek and see what I'm talking about:

I have to admit, I got a bit misty-eyed. Even sitting in my Bay Area apartment, with only a few loved ones, and even a day later, I felt a deep connection to my birth-country like I haven't in a long, long time. I suddenly wasn't worried about making "perfect" mole or representing my culture "correctly." I wasn't thinking about immigration reform in the US, or the drug wars ravaging Mexico. For one moment, I was just another Mexican, proud and free. It was...powerful.

So, all in all, it was a successful celebration. Mama has promised to show me how to make better mole when I come home for Christmas, and I think I may try some simpler dishes from the cookbook before then. It should be fun.

I hope ya'll enjoyed my culinary adventure/history lesson/trip down memory lane. Food is famous for bringing up feelings and memories, and this meal was no exception!

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