Lent has arrived in the Catholic world, Mexico included. This period of time marks the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, and many Mexicans observe Lent by not eating meat and preparing certain dishes seen only at this time. I am not Catholic, but I appreciate Lent as a time to try different foods and recipes. This is the only time empanadas filled with tuna fish and canned peas make their appearance in the bakery departments of the big supermarkets. When we first tried this — and obviously we will try just about anything — we weren’t so sure about the taste combination, but now Russ and I look for this odd snack when we go grocery shopping during the days and weeks leading up to Easter. Torta de Garbanzo is another unusual Lenten dish with sweetened, ground beans, more reminiscent of an Asian sweetmeat than something you would find in a Mexican cookbook.
During our travels years ago, we visited friends in Sayula, Jalisco. Antonia and José Ojeda welcomed us warmly and fed us well. Antonia’s six-year old granddaughter was the young girl I mentioned in yesterday’s review of Taco Cuervo, when I wrote about trying to make perfect tortillas. She had laughed and laughed at my dismal results. Now she had another opportunity to see me in action, and must have anticipated the entertainment I would unwittingly give her this time.
We arrived at the beginning of Lent, and Antonia, knowing of my keen interest in the local food, asked me to help her make Torta de Garbanzo. This is the kind of opportunity I dream of — working with an excellent Mexican cook in her own kitchen, making one of her recipes. Somehow, I had the presence of mind to write down the recipe as I watched and helped.
Antonia brought out her metate, the heavy, stone tablet on which corn, cocao beans, and, in this case, cooked garbanzo beans, are ground to a flour or paste. She showed me, in a few efficient moves, how to grind the beans, and I went to work. The soft garbanzo beans turned to mush in no time, but when she added the almonds and broken cinnamon bark, I felt my arms start to tire. I thought of my nice Cuisinart food processor back in my kitchen, as well as every other appliance and gadget that makes cooking easier. The burning muscles and sore knees — yes, we were on the floor working — brought me up short. Here was Antonia, my senior, making quick work of this, while I failed to grind every bit of cinnamon bark until it disappeared into the garbanzos. She had to finish the job. If her granddaughter were around, she probably got another laugh, if not a snicker, from my performance.
Today, I’m making Antonia’s Torta de Garbanzo again, but the Cusinart is doing the grinding. I’m still a wimp.
I halved Antonia’s recipe, and now after eating a slice, I wish I had made the full amount. I also decreased the sugar, using brown sugar instead of panela, the hard, unrefined cones of dark sugar that also gave me sore arms that day. And where does a gringa like me find natas, the skin formed on boiled milk that is skimmed again and again until there is enough for a recipe? I used evaporated milk and it worked, but next time I’ll make natas. Antonia would approve. Almonds were blanched and skinned, and raisins were de-stemmed — the sweet, fruity, almost purple raisins I bought at Teresa’s store here in La Cruz still had some stems attached.
Torta de Garbanzo serves 6
- 2 cups cooked garbanzo beans, drained
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 cup natas, or evaporated milk
- 1 egg
- 10 blanched and skinned almonds (0r 1/2 oz. almond butter)
- 1/4 cup raisins
- cinnamon to dust surface
- crema (Mexican sour cream) and cajeta (dulce de leche) for garnish
- Pre-heat oven to 350 deg. F. (180 C.). Generously butter an 8″ round baking dish.
- In food processor, puree beans, sugar, cinnamon and almonds.
- Add milk and egg and process until smooth.
- Stir in raisins.
- Spoon into baking dish and dust top with additional cinnamon.
- Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until firm.
- Cool for at least one hour before serving.
- Garnish with crema and cajeta.
- If you double the recipe, use a 9″ baking dish.
- Pour boiling water over almonds to blanch. Remove from water after thirty seconds, and squeeze to pop the nut out of the skin.
- Cajeta, also known as Dulce de Leche, is caramelized goat or cow milk. It was called for in the original recipe, but instead of adding it to the other ingredients, I spooned some over the crema when the torta was served.
- José Ojeda is one of Mexico’s most famous knife makers. For thirteen generations, his family has been making high quality, award winning hunting and kitchen knives.
- How to Make Natas (cookinginmexico)
- How to Make Dulce de Leche (Cajeta) (David Lebovitz)
- Hand-Made Sayula Knives (Guadalajara Reporter)