Cooking Like A Mexican

This week's recipe: Capirotada
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

Starting last February 10, which was Ashes Wednesday, through March 20, Lent is to be observed in Mexico by most Catholic groups. And, it is now a tradition in Mexico either if you are observant or not. In Spanish it the word for lent “Cuaresma”.

miercolesdeceniza.jpgFor many people this period is the perfect time for them to consider the importance of charity and it should comprise fasting, penitence, and prayer. Mexicans, I have to say are much more orientated to de penitent and pray than they are oriented to charity. But we are very family care orientated. We take care of our parents and relatives when they come to be old. We bring them to our homes to live with us and with our children sometimes even if it is necessary or not. For us, sending them to an old folks home is almost always out of the question. If they don’t live with us, then we support them with anything they need.

Lent is a solemn observance in the liturgical year of many Christian denominations, lasting for a period of approximately six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. Lent is taken to run from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday) morning or to Easter Eve. In the Catholic church, Lent lasts until Holy Thursday, while other denominations run it until Easter Eve.

The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week which is very traditional in Mexico.

This event, along with its pious customs, is observed by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Anglicans. For Mexicans this time brought the tradition of eating no meat on Fridays, and so popularized recipes of veggie dishes, seafood, and fish.

But there is one dish that is mandatory during this time of  Cuaresma. It is the Capirotada

Pronounced: kä-p–-rô-tä-thä, formally known as “Capirotada de vigilia”, is a traditional Mexican dish similar to a bread pudding.

There are various preparations of the dish, but it is generally composed of toasted bolillo, (which is like the French baguette) and soaked in a mulled syrup made of the following: whole cane sugar, which is known as piloncillo; clove and cinnamon sticks. Some of the typical ingredients include nuts, seeds, and dried, (and sometimes fresh), fruits, among these are: apples, dates, raisins, apricots, peanuts, pecans, almonds, pine nuts, and walnuts. In addition, aged cheese is added, which might explain why some people’s recipes call for milk. Many capirotada recipes do not include any meat. Other recipes include meat as a layer. The ingredients are largely the same as those used during the 1640s to make breads and cake. These ingredients and recipes have been recorded by the Holy Office of the Inquisition and saved to this day in the archives.

The basic ingredients carry a rich symbolism to the Passion of the Christ, and the dish is viewed by many Mexican and Mexican-American families as a reminder of the suffering of Christ on Good Friday. The bread is for the Body of Christ, the syrup is his blood, the raisins are the nails of the cross, and the whole cinnamon sticks are the wood of the cross. The melted cheese stands for the Holy Shroud.

During my research I discovered that there are as usual in Mexican food, at least ten different types of this dish depending on the region and several cooking methods as well.

6 or 8 eggs separated

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups vegetable oil

32 slices of French toast bread cut in one inch slices

For the syrup

10 cups of water

6 cones of piloncillo or 4 cups of brown sugar.

4 cinnamon sticks

10 cloves

1 tablespoon anise seeds wrapped in gauze

Rum to taste

For garnishing

1 cup raisins

1 cup lightly toasted peanuts in the oven

1 cup almonds, blanched and lightly toasted in the oven

1 1/ 2 cup cheese, grated

Preparation

To prepare the bread, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until peaks form. Then add the egg yolks and stir gently. Heat oil in a pan. Dip the bread slices in the egg mixture and, when the oil is hot, fry them in the pan. The bread should be golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels to remove excess fat.

To prepare the syrup place the water in a large pot and add the piloncillo, cinnamon, cloves and anise. Stir well and let simmer until piloncillos fall apart and make a thick syrup, for about 45 minutes. Add Rum. Let cool.

To serve, you place a layer of fried bread in a large bowl.  Pour a drizzle of syrup on the bread and then place the raisins, peanuts and almonds on top. Next, cover with another layer of bread and syrup, raisins, peanuts and almonds again. To finish, sprinkle grated cheese on top and serve immediately.

Makes eight to 12 servings.

Alejandra.