Champandongo from “Like Water for Chocolate”

Champandongo is homely in appearance, I’ll admit. If it weren’t for the avocado and basil garnish, I don’t know what this photo would have to recommend it. But take my word for it: what it lacks in good looks, it more than makes up for in taste. And I like its curious name.

Casseroles are not a favorite of mine, but this one works, blending and layering corn tortillas, queso fresco, beef seasoned with mole sauce, and special ingredients like dried pineapple and walnuts (which I substituted for the dried citron in the original recipe). I’d make this recipe again. Tomorrow, even, if I weren’t already planning to eat left-overs of Champandongo. In just the short time I have been typing, I have devoured the serving you see below in the last photo. All right, I ate too quickly. After all the time spent cooking, baking, the interminable time spent trying to get a few decent photos … oh no … I just licked my plate.

Tita, our beleaguered heroine from Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, is soldiering on, trying to balance her unrequited love for Pedro with her duties as family cook. “As usual, Tita was crying as she chopped the onion … The steam rising from the pan mingled with the heat given off by Tita’s body. The anger she felt within her acted like yeast on bread dough.” And then the line that gives the novel its title. “Tita was literally ‘like water for chocolate’ — she was on the verge of boiling over.”

In case you are wondering, yes, this is a full-blown romance novel and, no, I can’t put it down, even though this is my second reading.

Champandongo (my version)   serves 6-8

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb. (scant 1/2 kilo) ground beef chuck
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cups (7 oz./200 grams) walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml.) dried pineapple, chopped
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml.) red or black mole
  • 6 oz. (170 grams) queso fresco (or manchego or Monterey jack cheese), grated or thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (comino)
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml.) beef stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml.) sour cream, thinned with milk
  • about 9 corn tortillas
  • extra mole heated and spooned over individual portions (optional)
  1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat and cook onion and meat.
  2. Add tomatoes, nuts, pineapple, mole, cumin and beef stock.
  3. Stir and simmer 10 minutes over medium heat, being careful mixture does not cook dry.
  4. Add salt to taste
  5. Spread half of sour cream on bottom of casserole dish.
  6. Layer 2 -3 tortillas on cream, cutting to fit if necessary.
  7. Spread 1/3 of meat mixture over tortillas.
  8. Layer 1/3 of cheese over meat.
  9. Repeat layers of tortillas, meat and cheese, ending with remaining sour cream and cheese.
  10. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 F/ 180 C, or until bubbling around edges. Cover with foil if cheese starts to brown.


I don’t like leaving you with the desire to make this recipe, yet not having access to the same ingredients I used. The ingredient in question is the mole sauce, something I can buy freshly made here where I live in Mexico, but you will have to do the best you can, most likely shopping for bottled mole. If you live in an urban area with a Mexican grocery store, you are in luck and will have a choice of commercial moles. If the best you can do is shop the Hispanic aisle of the supermarket, look for Doña María brand of bottled mole sauce. It is very thick and you will need to thin it to a spoon-able sauce consistency with water or stock. Doña María is acceptable, but not the real deal. Freshly made moles are superior. If ever there was a reason for moving to Mexico, it would be to buy it fresh.

Mole (pronounced with an accent on the first syllable: MO-leh) is from the Nahuatl word for sauce. There are many different kinds of mole in Mexico, usually designated by their color. Yellow mole, red mole, black, green and more. Moles can include small amounts of chocolate, but not all moles use it. The list of ingredients is endless, with different combinations of dried, ground chiles, seeds, spices, sometimes onion, garlic and tomato.
Related Articles

Recommended Source for Mole: San Miguel Mole

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43 thoughts on “Champandongo from “Like Water for Chocolate”

  1. Pingback: Book Club Party Ideas for Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel |

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  4. I love like water for chocolate, I watched it the first time when I was 17 and was completely enamored, thank you for this lovely post, I am ordering this book tonight…take care

  5. gabriellemarielopez

    Thanks to you I just ordered another copy of Like Water for Chocolate! My original copy disappeared. I’ve read it several times, each time in one sitting! Thanks, K!

  6. Joy

    Good Evening, Love your blog, love the book and so excited that you wrote about it all and I am going to be making this soon! Am a Arizona gal living in Florida and miss good Mexican Food so your blog gives me great reasons to cook and to feel at home. Thank YOU.

    1. Hi Joy,
      You might find some small, Mexican restaurants in Florida where there are Mexican workers following the crop harvests. We found a tiny restaurant in Indiantown FL when we were traveling in the area. It was feeding citrus harvesters, but they welcomed us in, and we had an authentic meal that we still remember.

  7. Vicki in GA

    Love the recipe and reference to the “Like Water for Chocolate.”
    Have you watched the movie? I bought it years ago and have watched it more times than I can remember. Just listening to the words while I’m doing chores is calming.

    When I first bought the book, “Like Water for Chocolate” and started reading it, I was so sad because I knew the book would end – I’ve never felt that way about any book.

    Hint using Doña María mole – add a ripe banana or plantain fried in butter and/or a extra Mexican chocolate. Play with the recipe for a more authentic tasting mole.
    I normally mix the mole w/banana and chocolate, add chicken stock, then reduce the mole to the desired consistency. Doña María has a decent shelf life, but if stored too long the oil will taste rancid.

    I buy mole from It is very good.

    Happy cooking.

    Your photos are amazing.

    1. Yes, I saw the movie years ago when it first came out. I would like to see it again, now that I have re-read the book.
      Thank you very much for suggestions on using Doña María mole. I’m sure this will help a number of readers who want to try this dish, and Doña María will be the only mole they can find at the stores.
      I appreciate your comments about the photos. There are some days I spend more time taking pictures than cooking, just to get photos I’m happy with. If I were a better photographer, maybe I would have more time to cook. :)

  8. I am so happy to find your blog, I came over from Steamy Kitchen.

    I think this looks very good, but then I think foodies do look at food differently. We are lucky here in Sarasota, Florida to have many Mexican and Latin foods easily available to us. I have a Mexican store/meat market/taqueria within walking distance from our house. Also good to know that Mole Doña María is a good premade mole, because I’ve had that and is also easy to find here. I am looking forward to spending more time checking out the rest of your site!

    1. Hi Lyndsey, I”m glad you found Cooking in Mexico, also. Lucky you that you have easy access to Mexican ingredients. If you try the Champandongo with Doña María mole, please let me know what you think of the results. Happy cooking and please visit again.

  9. Pingback: Chilaquiles — tortillas and eggs with salsa verde « Cooking in Mexico

  10. Lovely site! I just returned from Mexico and needed to satisfy a yen (and make it up to my family who stayed behind) so I made my cheater chilaquiles (casserole style) because it is a quick dish, though you would probably cringe if you saw how I do it (unsalted tortilla chips. ) It’s a little like this dish (layering style), though I like the sound of your recipe for a change. Mole is a problem in the Northeast. have made it on occasion-just need to make a big batch and freeze some. So you have inspired me to make something new, thanks!

    1. Hi Sally,

      You weren’t at the Food Bloggers Camp in Cancun by any chance, were you? If so, I’m green with envy … all right, I just went to your blog. You were there. Good for you! I know what you mean about having to satisfy a yen for Mexican food. I live in Mexico, and I get cravings for chilaquiles all the time. I don’t have a problem with shortcuts. Whatever gets dinner on the table, especially if it is good for you. I hope you try Champandongo, and thanks for visiting Cooking in Mexico.

  11. darlene

    Kathleen ,
    I love the drizzle of mole over the top. Makes one want to dive in with a large spoon.
    question: Would dried ginger be too spicy for the dried fruit portion?

    1. Darlene, if you are a true ginger fan, then it would be a good addition. I assume you mean the dried, candied ginger. Perhaps you would want to cut it into tiny pieces. Let me know if you try this with ginger. Real fusion cooking!

  12. Wow, lots of new changes to your site. Congrats on the “Top mexican food blog” award. Mole is the food item I miss the most! And I agree with you, the packaged stuff just doesn’t compare…..

  13. meximissus

    “Mole Doña María” is the little home business that grew. I actually knew, by sight, the owners, probably now deceased, or perhaps their company taken over by big conglomerates, as it happened with, “Cajeta Coronado” that was taken over by Televisa.

    I was pleasantly surprised when many years ago, Mole Doña María, started appearing in Canadian stores.

    ¡Qúe tenga buén día!

    1. Doña María mole has been available for many years in the US. I’m glad to hear it is also in Canada. For many years, it was the only mole I bought, until we moved to Mexico. Televisa, the television conglomerate owns Cajeta Coronado? Who would have thought.

  14. meximissus

    I forgot to say, that “Mole Doña María” is the real deal! It has been made in the city of, San Luis Potosí, SLP, for at least 50 years. Maybe different style, but, it is, the real thing.

    1. Thank you, again. I meant that it was not freshly made, as are the blocks of mole we see in the Mexican markets and stores. Doña María is a commercially made product, not as good as the fresh, unbottled moles, especially not as good as home made mole, but it is really Mexican, as you point out. I have changed my text in the mole note to clarify this.

  15. I love that you are making the recipes from Como agua para chocolate… I wondered as I was reading that book if I would ever get around to trying out some of the recipes – you’re inspiring me! Great photos, you made the food look wonderful (even in casserole form). :)

  16. meximissus

    In México, acitrón, refers to candied biznaga (a round cactus) which is also put in sweet tamales “tamales de dulce”. Candied pineapple is a good substitution, and it also looks a bit like it, although, the biznaga texture, is closer to candied ginger, not the taste, though.

    1. Thank you for setting me straight on that. I have had candied biznaga in San Luis Potosí — I know exactly which cactus you mean. Citron is a large citrus fruit, while acitrón is the candied biznaga cactus. In “From My Mexican Kitchen”, Diana Kennedy recommends substituting candied or dried pineapple for acitrón.

  17. Lorin Johnson

    That actually looks yummy to me. I like casseroles, especially up here when it’s cold. How was that mole sauce? I only tried a small taster spoon at the market.

  18. Daniel Becker

    ¡Qué rico! Another one to try….

    What mole did you use? Almendrado or Poblano? And do you have any idea what “Citron” is in spanish? Is it Acitrón that’s used in chiles en nogada? It might be nice to use the real deal seeing as how I can find it here…

    1. I used a red mole that tastes like nuts may be one of the ingredients. I don’t think it is a mole poblano because of it isn’t dark enough. I am going to see the person who made it in a few days and will post ingredients, if she will share them with me. I hope you do try it. I have already eyed the left-overs, even though I don’t need to eat again. Yes, citron is acitrón.
      Correction: citron and acitrón are not the same thing. I should have learned a lesson from my Spanish class — just because an English word closely resembles a Spanish word, they do not necessarily share the same meaning.
      Citron is a large citrus fruit, while acitrón is candied biznaga cactus, a product more common in the interior regions of Mexico where this cactus is grown.

  19. I think it looks great! The only thing I will have to look for is the dried pineapple, I think I will try and make Mole. Have you every made anything like a Mexican lasagna?? Do you have a recipe??

    1. Thank you, Paul. I guess this is the closest I would have to a Mexican lasagna. Champandongo is described as such on other web sites, using the word “lasagna”. As far as the pineapple, I didn’t stick to what was originally called for, as you will see in the recipe in the photo. Some recipes use fresh orange. I think any number of different dried fruits would be OK to use.

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